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Why every business needs a clear policy on IT asset recovery and decommissioning

The recent interest in IT Asset Recovery and refurbished hardware has led to a market emerging where the values of particular models and components rise and fall in the same way as any other traded commodity, and IT Asset Recovery has moved up the agenda.

The question of what to do with discarded IT equipment after a system upgrade is an interesting one. The options are to discard the waste as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), give it away to a deserving cause, or a third option, find a new owner for the equipment and realise its value in financial terms.

One of the difficulties with IT equipment is that businesses regularly discard products that still work – which is a technical necessity, to keep up with product developments and latest versions – but it's a wasteful habit in terms of the impact on the environment, and it doesn't necessarily realise the full value of the systems. Although accountants may write servers and workstations off after four years, the machines still have value – if you can find someone who is willing to purchase it.

IT Asset Recovery is the process that unlocks the real, current value within this equipment. As most people know, there are precious metals such as copper and gold in the printed circuit boards inside computers, and this waste can be recycled, so that it becomes a source of materials such as cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead. However the carbon footprint of the machine is still an issue. PCs, workstations and servers have huge carbon footprints, which represent the amount of carbon emitted at the manufacturing stage, and if equipment is replaced before the end of its working life, the carbon footprint created is shockingly high.

However, if equipment can be re-used this is far more sustainable than recycling as the residual value of the machine is higher, and it isn't added to landfill (or at least not for another year, or two or three.) Pre-used IT equipment that's in good condition can be re-sold and re-used. And in the current post–recessional business environment, more and more companies are becoming interested in establishing the exact value of the equipment they are removing, in turn disposing of it in a way that is as sustainable as possible.

This all explains why refurbished and re-marketed machines have become very popular in the tough economic climate of the last 3 years. While there has been a real rise in the number of companies who would like to sell their older equipment on for re-use, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of companies who are in the market for inexpensive pre-used machines. So a whole new market is emerging in equipment for "Re-use".

Some equipment can be re-used straight away. Although servers become faster every year, many businesses can function just as well with last year's model and would be glad to save on the capex costs of a new machine. Rather than submitting to manufacturers' short product lifecycles and buying new equipment every three years – they simply specify the machine they need and purchase a re-furbished model. This can save huge amounts of money and massively extend the scope of an organisation's IT budget.

The obvious concern for anyone contemplating the re-use and recycling of their IT equipment is the risk that data may remain on the disks, especially sensitive data such as credit card numbers or medical records, so it's essential to have a formal policy that ensures that any data is completely removed from the disks and drives.

There are several ways of doing this, and organisations will choose the method that suits their needs best. They could choose to use a software-based processes, such as Blancco, which removes data, and provides certification to confirm that, or they may consider degaussing or mobile services which shred disks and destroy them completely. In practice, most equipment sent for re-use has had the hard drives removed, dissembled, reconfigured, tested and prepared for re-sale to a new owner.

There's some useful advice on an IT Asset Disposal Strategy from the Information Commissioner's Office here which details the points to consider when disposing of IT equipment that may contain personal data.

Whether the data is personal or commercial, it's equally important to conduct a risk assessment and follow best practice advice, to make an inventory of the equipment for disposal, and to be clear about who is responsible for removing the data when the equipment is taken away.

Businesses who want to make the most of their investments in hardware should have an IT Asset Recovery and Decommissioning Programme that ensures there is no risk to their data, is kind to the environment, and most importantly, realises the true value of the hardware.

Danny Carri is commercial development manager at LA Micro