Collecting and Tossing the Hardware

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-11-19

After the Layoffs: Collecting 52,000 Laptop and Desktop Computers

When Citigroup announced Nov. 17 that it will eliminate another 52,000 jobs, the news marked the latest in a growing string of moves by companies big and small to pare jobs as a way of cutting expenses in hopes of surviving the financial crisis that has engulfed the economy.

A result of the massive numbers of layoffs is the technology those ex-workers will leave behind, forcing IT departments to deal with thousands of desktops and notebooks that are no longer being used. The question for IT is: What happens to all those PCs now?

While there is no one quick or easy solution to the question of what happens to PCs when layoffs happens, there are a number of options out there once desktops and notebooks have been inventoried and accounted for by IT managers. The possibilities of what to do with older PCs or ones no longer in use range from recycling older desktops and laptops to repurposing machines for new tasks and even charity donations.

Before looking at what to do with the PCs that are no longer needed, experts believe the first step is to make sure a company does not buy more desktops and notebooks than it needs when the economy remains unstable and layoffs loom.

"With hardware, if you purchased it, then you are just stuck with it and you have to find a way to dispose of it," said Alvin Park, an analyst with Gartner who examines asset management and IT procurement. "You could resell it or try to get the vendor to take it, or you could try to cancel orders that you have placed. However, all this has to be done on a contract-by-contract basis."

The Refresh Cycle

In Park's view, IT managers have to be aware of the company's PC refresh cycle if and when layoffs are announced. Park advises that IT managers who have leases from vendors for PCs look at the contract and see if there is a way to cancel or at least delay an order if those desktops or notebooks are no longer needed.

If an enterprise does eliminate a significant part of its work force, one of the most direct ways to deal with the leftover desktops and notebooks is to repurpose those machines either for other tasks or to assign those PCs to other employees who may have older equipment.

Robert Rosen, CIO for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and an eWEEK Corporate Partner, said employees who have been let go are taken out of the active directory to ensure they can no longer access their PC. The desktops are then re-imaged and made available.

While the work for the IT department can be intensive, Rosen has tried to ensure that his department uses some automation to cut down on checking each desktop.

"The way we are set up, our desktop support people fire off a half dozen re-images and then go do something else," Rosen wrote in an e-mail. "So while there is a fair amount of labor, it is not too bad as they don't have to stand there while it is going on."

Collecting and Tossing the Hardware

This way of dealing with PCs can become more complicated if an employee works at home, but Rosen said he only could recall one incident where additional steps were taken to collect a PC.

If an IT department decides to dispose of older PCs that no longer meet standards, Doug Washburn, an analyst with Forrester Research, said several companies offer recovery, recycling and disposal services. The companies include big-time players such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM and lesser-known but important asset recovery services companies such as Intechra and Redemtech.

While IT departments are still responsible for making sure that all desktops and notebooks are properly accounted for, Washburn said these service providers can help with other aspects of cleaning up PCs, including wiping the hard disk drives clean of data and making sure hardware is disposed according to regulations set by the United States and European law.

These IT service providers can also completely destroy PCs if there is a concern about security and data being compromised.

"The benefit here is that when you are sourcing PCs or servers, you can tie into the contracts that these companies like HP and Dell will come and dispose of your PCs," said Washburn. "If you are buying thousands of PCs or servers from these organizations, they might give you a bit of a discount on the recovery aspect."

These asset management providers can also provide a detailed inventory list that allows IT managers to see what is being disposed, and an administrator can check that list against the in-house PC inventory.

Donated Desktops

Another avenue open to IT departments looking to deal with unwanted PCs is charity. Paul Baltzell, a director of Distributed Services for the Indiana Office of Technology, said in the case of PCs owned by government agencies, older PCs that meet certain standards-desktops that use at least an Intel Pentium 4 processor, for example-can be fixed and donated to schools or other nonprofits.

One bonus to donating PCs to charities is that enterprises that do so may be able to claim a tax credit.

"If we have machines that are older and have not been refreshed just yet, we will send it out to our surplus department ... and if the computer is still in good shape, surplus will distribute it to the schools," said Baltzell. "I would say in a business case that a lot of these PCs can be donated and you can get a tax credit for it. That's definitely an option."

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