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When To Buy And When To Rent An ARS: 5 Key Considerations



People often ask, “is it better to buy or rent an audience response system.” The answer is, of course… it depends.  Here are some of the key things you should consider to answer this question:

1. How often do you plan to use the system?

Investing in an audience response system can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Clients who run a serious financial analysis find that the financial life of a response system is three to five years. So, if the purchase price of hardware and software were the only costs, a rough rule might be that if you plan on using a response system more than five times, you should buy. 

However, it isn’t quite that simple. Hardware typically rents for about 10% of the purchase price. With that in mind, you would actually be better off obtaining an audience response system rental if you plan to use it less than ten times over five years.  

Most clients find that the top cost of owning or using audience response software and hardware is the time involved for a skilled team member to learn, operate, and maintain the system. Like a computer, or any other piece of technology, the “people costs” are significantly higher than the tools themselves.

2. How many people do you need to equip to participate in your session?

If the size of your typical meeting varies widely, or if you only have a large audience once a year, it may make better sense to rent or purchase a small ars system. You can always rent additional interactive keypads to increase the capacity of the system. Many clients find this type of “plus up” rental arrangement is a good solution for infrequent larger events. 

3. Who will operate the system?

This is a question that is often overlooked. In order to answer it, you must ask yourself; do you have personnel on your team who can learn how to use the hardware and software? Will they use it several times a year to maintain their skills? Will they have the time to master more advanced functionality that may be required? Can they maintain the equipment through such activities as battery changes and software upgrades? Do you have other team members who can take on these duties if the primary person is unavailable or leaves the firm? And, most important, how much is your person’s time worth? 

Recently, we helped a client with a self-service rental. He bills his time at $350 per hour and easily spent about 20 hours re-learning his system. He could have hired a system expert to do that work at a fraction of the cost with far fewer headaches.

4. How will you store and maintain the system? 

Small systems are easy to store and maintain. However, if you plan to buy a larger system with hundreds of keypads, you will need significant storage space. You will also need someone who can clean the keypads on a regular basis and change batteries once or twice a year.

Over time keypads will be lost or require repair or replacement. Who will do that? The person maintaining the system will also need to regularly install software updates to the control computers used for polling. Most software publishers deliver multiple updates and upgrades per year. The system manager will need to perform upgrades to the computer operating system and application software regularly.

5. How will you use the system? 

If you plan to do basic surveys for small workshop audiences that have four or five answer choices, then a team member with moderate skills in computer systems can learn to operate the system with a few hours of web training. On the other hand, if you plan to do more complex polling applications such as group decision making, quiz competitions, or high stakes voting, then you'll need someone with more significant computer skills. They will need to invest significant time learning the more advanced software modules and tools associated with those applications.

If you plan a simple implementation, it might be a good idea to purchase. If you plan to use advanced functionality, or if you only use the system a few times year, it may be better to rent and let an expert come on-site to set up and operate the system. 

Those are some of the key considerations you should think about as you compare system rental or purchase.  

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Daniel Bohannon
Posted by Daniel Bohannon

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