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2. Check lead times before you specify

Hold on. Don't order that part. At least, not just yet. The network component you've specified for a particular job may appear to be the right one for the job, but, please, check its availability before setting it in stone and making your project dependent on it.

Spikes and delays

The bad news is that unpredictable spikes in demand and manufacturing delays do occur, pushing component lead times up. The good news, on the other hand, is that the components you've selected may well not be the only ones that can do the job you need doing. Often perfectly acceptable alternatives can be identified. By checking availability at the outset, you can specify components that are readily available, in preference to those which are not, taking into account any effects of the component changes as you go.

It is essential, though, to make such checks at the design stage of your project, before placing your hardware order. Changing project specifications later on is complex, expensive and time consuming. For large companies the problems are compounded as back-tracking through the authorisation process consumes enormous amounts of time

Indeed, the issue is no respecter of company size. Over the last ten years I have, on more occasions than I care to count, helped out even the largest telcos in the UK as they wrestled with it. Typically their usual supplier had been quoting lead times of six weeks or more – if they could quote a firm lead time at all – for a component that they needed there and then.

Costs up, time wasted

It may be that your design can accept an available alternative to the delayed or unavailable component. However, the alternative will typically be a more feature-rich version of the one you originally specified, and therefore more expensive. You've probably wasted hours trying to track down your preferred part, and now your project costs are up as well.

Some seven years ago I sold some Cisco Port Adapters to the largest telco in the UK at the time. They weren't available in the UK at the time, but I tracked some down in California. The only way I could make even a small margin on the sale was to sell them at global list price: no discount whatsoever. The customer paid it.

I cannot, therefore, over-state the case for investing a small amount of time, up front, in researching the availability of the components you are considering specifying for your project. This can be as straightforward as a quick phone call to your reseller or distributor, to ask if there are any issues with current lead times on your proposed kit list.

It may well save your sanity, as well as your project.