Six tips for safely choosing an IT asset disposal partner

Picking the right company to help retire your IT gear could not only save you some cash and headaches, it could protect you from a regulatory nightmare

The prospect of disposing of old IT equipment -- PCs, servers, storage gear, and the like -- may very well fill your heart with dread. After all, you're putting a lot of faith in a third party that the machines will be thoroughly wiped of confidential information, resold for a fair price, and, when applicable, properly disassembled, recycled, and disposed of. If your partners' practices end up being sloppy -- or downright criminal -- you could find yourself in regulatory and PR hell as confidential data protected by HIPAA or SarBox ends up in the wrong hands or 500 of your PCs end up in a landfill or river somewhere.

[For more on electronics recycling, please read "Reap the rewards of hardware recycling" and "Disposing IT assets."]

The good news is, as the burgeoning ITAD (IT asset disposal) market -- estimated to be $5 billion industry -- grows, best practices are emerging to help companies choose the right service provider. In fact, IDC this week unveiled its ground-breaking GRADE (Green Recycling and Asset Disposal for the Enterprise) certification program through which the research company identifies ITAD providers that meet at least 75 percent of a preset list of 34 ITAD-related functions and tasks, taking into account application offerings, onsite services, logistics, in-plant processing and post treatment. Of the 25 ITAD providers IDC reviewed since starting work on the certification four years ago, only five made the, well, GRADE: Dell, HP, IBM, Intechra, and Redemtech.

David Daoud, an IDC research manager who worked on the certification program, notes that the list of five is by no means exhaustive and that other ITAD companies may be equally suited to meet your every need. That loops back to the question, though, of how you might go about choosing, even from a short list. Following are some points to ponder as you shop for an ITAD provider.

1. Be sure the company does what it claims. The smooth-talking representative from We So Green, Inc. may speak convincingly to just how diligently his organization works with third parties to ensure your PCs and servers are purged of proprietary data before being disassembled and recycled in compliance with environmental regulations. But unless you check, those third parties' only tools might be sledgehammers for smashing machines and pickup trucks for hauling the debris to the local landfill.

"You should look at the quality of processes that the [ITAD] company provides," says Chip Slack, CEO of Intechra. "[You should be] going to visit on-site, looking at the certifications, looking at downstream audit process, validating the quality of what they're doing and what ultimately happens to assets. "

That's not to say that an ITAD provider that works with third parties isn't to be trusted, Daoud notes. Even some of the companies that have achieved GRADE certification "use outsourcing or third-party partners to do some of the work, like logistics or recycling operations. Typically, they put in place stringent auditing and monitoring processes that ... establish maximum security," Daoud says.

Other questions you might ask the provider include "How much carbon emission reduction has been achieved through this process?", "How are the toxic products treated?" and "Has anything been exported, and where?"

2. Ensure the process is secure. Never forget that when you're handing your computing equipment over to a third party, you could be taking a risk. You’re effectively giving them confidential information stored on equipment containing hazardous material. If it ends up in the wrong hands or in the wrong place, you're in trouble.

Making sure your ITAD vendor properly purges your machines is a good start. For example, "potential providers should be able to demonstrate that they follow Department of Defense 5220.22-M standards for wiping data on any storage device, using a tool that flags when sectors are inaccessible and provides robust reporting of configurations and confirmation the wipe has been completed," as noted by a report by Intechra titled "Beyond the Basics: 6 Critical Requirements for Selecting the Right ITAD Provider."

Beyond that, you want to be sure there's strict security in place from the time your gear is collected to the time the machines are ultimately recycled. Otherwise, it's entirely possible a machine or two might end up stolen at any time after it's in your partner’s (or your partner's partner's) possession.

3. Get the most for your money. Those machines you have piled up in the spare cubicle or warehouse may very well have market value, depending, of course, on how old they are, what condition they're in, and so forth. Thus, it may be in your organization's best interest to work with ITAD providers who can help you figure out the value of the gear, then sell it for you for a negotiated price.

Companies such as HP, in fact, will go so far as to sort through all of your end-of-life gear for you, if you wish -- even if it's spread out at different facilities around the globe. "We'll give it a complete audit test, and tell the customer what they've got and what shape it's in," says Jim O'Grady, director of global lifecycle management for HP Financial Services.

The payback can be significant, too, notes Intechra's Slack. "Clients that are regularly refreshing their assets - on a three-year refresh cycle -- are typically going to get back more than others," he says.

4. Find a provider with a useful Web toolbox. Companies should consider whether would-be ITAD providers have Web apps through which they can assess the company's services, notes IDC's Daoud. "It enables a client company to assess what kinds of services the provider offers, what is costs, and the potential revenue that a service could provide to them," he says. "You go to a private Web site and can enter all your details of the products you're going to retire. It will give you costs assessment and revenue analysis."

5. Consider what brands you use. If your company only uses one vendor's brand of hardware, you might find benefit in employing said vendors ITAD's services. (That is, if the company meets your other needs.) The benefit here is, you're likely going to be able to negotiate better payback for your gear if you take credit toward new gear instead of cash. Moreover, it could prove convenient to have just one trusted vendor handling as much of your IT gear needs as possible, from delivering new gear to tracking what you have to collecting the old and properly disposing of it.

If, on the other hand, you have a heterogeneous IT hardware environment, it would behoove you to go with an ITAD provider that can handle it all. Companies such as Intechra and Redemtech -- which don't sell hardware -- can certainly handle all types of hardware. According to HP's O'Grady, though, "you'll find very few vendors in the market that are able to cross all technology lines."

6. Factor in scale. Depending on the size of your organization, some ITAD provider simply may not be able to meet your needs. For example, Intechra has sites throughout the United States but currently none abroad. IBM and HP, meanwhile, do operate worldwide; Redemtech has operations in Canada and Western Europe.

As noted by Intechra's white paper, "A provider with many facilities not only reduces the cost of transportation, but also assures the capacity to meet your asset-processing needs wherever your business is concentrated."

Although the above advice should prove valuable as you search for the ideal ITAD partner, I'll readily acknowledge that it's by no means comprehensive. For more information on the subject, you could check out IDC's report "2008 Assessment of U.S. IT Asset Disposal Service Providers," available via the IDC site. You might also download Intechra's white paper "Beyond the Basics: 6 Critical Requirements for Selecting the Right ITAD Provider" [PDF].

Ted Samson is a senior analyst at InfoWorld where he writes his Sustainable IT blog. Subscribe to his free weekly Green Tech newsletter.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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