Is Disposing Of, Reselling, Or Recycling End-Of-Life IT Equipment Really Strategic To You?

Yesterday, I participated in one of the regular content planning sessions for us analysts on Forrester’s IT Infrastructure & Operation’s Research team. Similar to investment managers and their portfolio of stocks or bonds, we spent time making buy/hold/sell decisions on what we will research more, continue to research, or stop researching. Among the many criteria we use to make these decisions, like client readership, inquiries, or consulting, the strategic relevancy to IT is an important factor to consider. And there was some heated debate around research themes we may phase out down the road…

Enter the discussion on IT asset disposition – or the process of reselling, donating, or recycling end-of-life IT equipment. While every organization eventually has to dispose of its end-of-life IT equipment, it’s long been an afterthought. And the data backs this up. Forrester finds that 80% of organizations globally use their OEM, third parties or a combination of the two for IT asset disposition. But when asked how important IT asset disposition is relative to other IT asset management processes, it’s far and away the least important. As an indicator of this, I recently surveyed over 300 European IT professionals where 77% of respondents ranked IT asset disposition “less important” or “least important.”

This begs the question, is disposing of end-of-life IT equipment really strategic?

I’m leaning towards no. And in short, here’s why: Just because you have to do something, like disposing of your end-of-life IT assets, it doesn’t mean it’s strategic. Don’t get me wrong, there are ample opportunities to improve IT asset disposition processes which support strategic imperatives like profitability (e.g., spend less disposing of IT assets, resell assets to offset costs), risk mitigation (e.g., data privacy, security, public perception), and corporate-wide green or environmental sustainability plans (e.g., Green IT 1.0 or “green for IT”, Green IT 2.0 or “IT for green”). But if you were to ask you CIO, CEO, or CFO if IT asset disposition was strategic, their answer would likely be no.

What do you think: Is disposing of end-of-life IT equipment strategic to your IT organization? Why or why not?


e-waste management is as must

I'm not sure whether e-waste should be a strategic practice but I'm sure disposing the IT assets in a proper way should be a must for each company and individuals.

If a company wants to act sustainable there are plenty of reasons to implement a e-waste concept. We know that only about one-third of Europe’s e-waste is recycled, while as much as 80 percent of US e-waste is exported to China. We know as well that in Ghana computers will burned and ripped apart for their rich minerals. This will contaminate people and environment. Recently I read that the next big e-waste wave will happen with the upgrade to Windows 7 of many companies.

I guess that's enough motivation from a environmental standpoint. Combined with the financial impacts you have described in your article it should be a low brainer for every sustainable company to investigate in this topic. If tagging e-waste as strategic topic will help to make people aware of this huge problem then let’s do it.

This is the reason why SAP is addressing e-waste beside of IT energy reduction and dematerialization in its Green IT strategy ... in the role as exemplar as well as enabler. You can see more about that at SAP TechEd 2010

+++Views are purely mine, not SAP's+++

Attack e-waste through sourcing and vendor management

Thank you for your insightful comments Timo.

We're both in agreement that e-waste is a problem that organizations need to address better. And timing is now due to a major wave of upgrades and hardware refresh. To your point, there is a large, albeit looming, supply of PC-related e-waste we're going to have to deal with from Windows 7 upgrades. And beyond the PCs, hardware refreshes for servers, networks, office peripherals, and telephony have been deferred due to lack of budget stemming from the recession.

The examples you've cited about lagging e-waste recycling rates in both Europe and the US points to broader regulatory issues (in the US it's not illegal to export e-waste abroad) and lack of consumer awareness (storing or simply throwing away/landfilling e-waste versus recycling it). It's also a call to the tech vendors to strive to use materials that can be recycled, and then reintroduced into the manufacturing stream to create new IT equipment... not just floorboard or tile.

So what can enterprises do about it, beyond trying to improve legislation and awareness? My recommendation is to focus on sourcing and vendor management practices. All enterprises have a choice when they're procuring and disposing end-of-life IT equipment. At the point of purchase, enterprises should use eco-labels to identify products that are more sustainable. And when the equipment reaches its end-of-life, there is a myriad of highly credible IT asset disposal service providers - from the vendor/OEM (e.g. Dell, HP, IBM) to third parties (e.g. CloudBlue, Intechra, Redemtech, TechTurn) - that can resell, refurbish, donate and recycle using environmentally sound practices backed up with corporate sustainability commitments.