Properly handling end-of-life IT assets

Refurbishment and resale are now being recognized as the ultimate solution but how do companies get used technology out of their offices and into the hands of those who need it?

With major OEMs arguing about who recycles the most electronics and with e-waste legislation on the rise across the world, green computing is a hot topic. However, many companies are still in the dark about how to properly get rid of old IT equipment in an environmentally friendly way that also ensures the secure destruction of sensitive data.

While recycling is often cited as the answer, refurbishment and resale are now being recognized as the ultimate solution. But how do companies get used technology out of their offices and into the hands of those who need it?

Without knowledge of trusted options, many companies simply store devices, which is not only a waste of space but also a potential security and environmental risk. Another result of inadequate end-of-life IT asset management is continuation of software licenses and service agreements that, believe it or not, can end up costing companies millions of dollars per year. Also, time spent in storage greatly devalues equipment that could have generated income on the secondary market if retired in a timely manner.

While corporate IT departments are understandably concerned about unnecessary software licenses and data security, they are also increasingly interested in the environmental impact of disposing of used equipment. Recycling is certainly an important last resort, but the huge and largely untapped market for used devices makes refurbishment and resale a profitable -- and more socially responsible -- alternative. Recent UN University research by professors Rudiger Kuerh and Eric Williams reveals that passing on a PC for someone else to use is up to 20 times better for the environment than breaking it up and recycling it.

As long as enterprises rely on ad hoc solutions for disposing of retired IT assets, systems are going to end up in closets and warehouses wasting space until someone decides to get rid of them, often in a dumpster. To ensure proper management of old technology, enterprises must work with established IT asset recovery providers that handle the end-to-end process -- reverse logistics, software asset inventory analysis and reporting, thorough data destruction, device refurbishment and resale, and finally, recycling.

To ensure an effective asset recovery program, IT management should have a clear understanding of average monthly asset retirement figures and which environmental and industry regulations affect the company. While companies can try to shoulder the load themselves, even the most effective in-house asset recovery program will likely need an experienced partner to see it through properly. Choosing a company to deal with retired technology should not be undertaken lightly, and ultimately will require due diligence regarding specific qualifications and other aspects of their business.

Asking the following questions can be a good way to start. Any IT asset recovery company that does not have satisfactory answers is probably not one worth pursuing:

  1. What are your tracking and automation capabilities to manage assets?
  2. Can you process all types and ages of IT equipment and recover value from systems, parts and raw commodities?
  3. Have you developed a holistic data sanitization process that sanitizes all types of media -- such as IDE, SCSI and fiber -- and is verified by using forensic tools?
  4. Do you have destruction capabilities such as degaussing, dismantling and refining for data that cannot be erased?
  5. Can your operations scale to meet your partner's needs and are they ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certified to meet standards of quality for process management?
  6. Do you provide documentation and full reporting of your processes and perform internal and external audits?
  7. Have you developed value-added operations such as repair, refurbishment, salvage or recycling capabilities to ensure that quality products are being resold and for the best price?
  8. What sales channels have you developed to maximize recovery values for systems, parts and raw materials?
  9. Can your reporting systems provide robust data and integrate with your partner's inventory or asset management system?
  10. What risk protection do you offer to your clients -- that is, indemnification, errors and omissions insurance, pollution insurance?

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Jeff Zeigler

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