This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of E-Scrap News. Subscribe today for access to all print content.

 

Everything changes during a pandemic, including the way essential businesses operate. We’ve all read about the changes in policies and procedures at hospitals and grocery stores. But how has the pandemic shifted the ITAD industry?

At NextUse, a service provider located in Dover, N.H., we’ve seen the impacts firsthand. And that put us in a position to lay out some of the practices operators would be wise to begin implementing as the pandemic continues to unfold. Some of these changes will likely remain in the ITAD sector for the long term.

View from the trenches

At the outset of the pandemic, NextUse didn’t cease operation – ITAD has been classified as “essential” work – but due to regional lockdowns affecting clients’ ability to execute jobs, our company did need to implement some furloughs, temporarily reducing staffing by as much as 50%. This impacted front office roles more than operational ones.

Further into the year, customers across the country began moving to close offices and end leases as part of migrating to work-from-home arrangements or to downsize workforces as revenues plummeted.

Keeping unused offices open is that last thing that many financially struggling companies can afford to do. So in many cases, corporate tenants were forced to vacate their spaces as quickly as possible, even under these less-than-ideal circumstances. And this created a need for ITAD services.

In late July, NextUse opened facilities back to full staffing and began hiring to help meet the client demand.

This transition involved formulating comprehensive protocols for operations in the office, processing facility, and at client sites during the ongoing pandemic.

NextUse has been fire-drilling managing projects since the end of July, many on very short notice with unusual or unique requirements, requiring flexibility to accommodate.

Best practices around safety in new era

The priority for ITAD vendors is the safety of their staff and clients. And as we develop protocols for working amid the pandemic, this point becomes even more important.

ITAD, unfortunately, is not a work-from-home job. It requires personnel from both the client and the vendor to interact, typically at least two times.

The first area of contact comes in project preparation. No matter how many forms, emails, photos and spreadsheets are exchanged between the client and vendor, the best tool to ensure the job is handled correctly on the first try with minimal risk is a walkthrough.

Typically, a client representative with familiarity with the location, the project’s objectives and the assets meets with an ITAD representative. Together, they physically walk around the space, going over every aspect of the job from the loading dock to the office space and data centers that need to be decommissioned.

The idea is to avoid any surprises that will unexpectedly require additional equipment, personnel or time, which pre-pandemic would have raised the cost of the job, but which now also increase exposure and risk for the personnel involved.

If the pandemic drags on long enough, clients and ITAD vendors may regularly resort to a “virtual walkthrough” using streaming video technology to allow the client to be on-site and connect with the ITAD representative remotely. This allows the vendor to ask questions, request something be looked at closer or from a different angle, and generally serve the same purpose as a physical walkthrough.

The second juncture where COVID-19 risks are present is project execution.

The project day usually looks something like this: The truck(s) to haul the assets and vehicles with technical and support personnel from the ITAD vendor arrive at the building. They unload tools, ladders, pallet jacks, wall and floor-coverings, and everything else needed to disassemble equipment from server racks and workstations and conference rooms.

Workers transport material safely to the trucks and pack assets securely for transport back to the processing facility. With some items being large and heavy, at times requiring multiple people to maneuver safely, it’s often impossible to maintain social distancing, so PPE becomes critical.

A client representative will also be on hand through all this to facilitate any last-minute client requests and to help resolve any unexpected circumstances that arise.

During both preparation and execution, the guiding principles are minimal interaction, social distancing where possible, PPE at all times on-site, and regular disinfecting of the assets and work surfaces. This final step is critical because material may be handled by client and vendor representatives within days or hours of each other.

Inside the NextUse facility.

The data destruction lab at the NextUse facility. ITAD operators’ expertise in data security is a major selling point in the current environment.

Understanding changes at the client level

A key component of effective customer service is knowing the needs and concerns of your clients. Therefore, it’s critical that ITAD companies realize the pandemic is affecting clients’ ITAD processes and procedures as well.

Pre-pandemic, organizations had dedicated IT asset management (ITAM) staff and hardware asset managers (HAM), as well as cybersecurity personnel and facilities teams. They all played a part in decommissioning and retiring IT assets while prioritizing data security and chain-of-custody of items until the hand-off to the vendor.

Smaller and even some mid-size clients may not have had dedicated staff, with some teams traveling between locations regionally, nationally and even internationally to facilitate installs, moves, adds, changes and disposal projects.

With rolling city, state, or regional lockdowns, travel restrictions, and safe-travel concerns, many organizations are now having those dedicated asset management experts work remotely. They will interact virtually with personnel from the project location in question, but this means that at times a client will not have a fully-up-to-speed staffer physically on-site.

It’s also important to note that pre-pandemic, these sorts of site closures and retiring of IT assets were usually part of a long-term plan in response to a slow-moving development such as a company merger or an economic downturn. Since the pandemic began, companies have had to make decisions fast, sometimes moving entire workforces to work-from-home models in a matter of days. Many businesses have also faced the possibility of financial penalties tied to lease agreements.

This all means that clients are needing reliable service and fast turnaround times in a way we have never seen previously. This is certainly a challenge for ITAD operators, but it’s also an opportunity for those who can step in and meet client needs.

Service adjustments

The pandemic is forcing organizations to disrupt their IT assets’ lifecycles. They have assets that aren’t at end-of-life, still have value, and would still be in production if the offices were still being staffed and operating.

As a consequence, two less-frequently used services for ITAD vendors are seeing more demand.

The first is the storage of assets. Organizations aren’t going to pay the lease on expensive, unstaffed office space to act as a secure storage facility, but at the same time they can’t put valuable IT hardware (carrying sensitive data) into a self-storage shed on the side of the road.

Certified ITAD vendors have secure facilities and are used to acting as logistics and processing hubs for clients. Most importantly, they have varying qualifications for data security and destruction, with some holding NAID AAA and ADISA data security-specialized certification.

The other ITAD offering that is growing in use is the relocation of assets. Some businesses will realize during the reorganization of their office spaces that some of their IT assets can immediately benefit their remaining facilities, being used to replace aging assets. Assets might also be utilized as back-up devices for business-continuity purposes.

Most ITAD vendors can do any level of processing a client desires, from factory-resets on networking devices to sanitizing data off of data-bearing assets.

Many are also experienced at packing delicate IT assets for shipping all over the world to ensure they get to their destination undamaged, often utilizing packaging material specialized for IT assets.

For example, stacking laptop computers on top of each other laying horizontally is likely to damage the screens and keyboards on the bottom rows of units due to the weight. An experienced ITAD vendor will use dividers and separators that allow the devices to be stored standing vertically.

Keeping cooperation in mind

The ITAD industry, like every other, is operating under new, fluid conditions, requiring both clients and vendors to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Everyone involved wants to prioritize mitigating the risk of impacting the health and wellbeing of personnel involved.

But ITAD projects still need to ensure data security and responsible recycling – and, increasingly, storage or relocation options. Such services must be provided as cost effectively as possible. Both clients and ITAD vendors need to be aware of the restrictions each is operating under, and they should strive to be as cooperative with each other as possible in order to successfully execute ITAD projects in these challenging times.

Mark Dobson handles digital marketing and business development at NextUse and can be contacted at [email protected]

NextUse is a NAID AAA certified data destruction and IT asset disposition (ITAD) business running global retired asset management and asset buyback programs for several Fortune 100 companies. NextUse provides complete ITAD services, including removal, asset tracking, chain of custody, secure data destruction, remarketing and recycling.