Obsolete electronics gathered for recycling.

Frank Milia of IT Asset Management Group says businesses need to tighten their protocols for managing end-of-life assets. | Penofoto/Shutterstock

I was doing business development for an ITAD firm during the growth and early maturity phase of the industry. At that time, we were referring to the entire space as the “Wild West” because there were few to no e-waste regulations, certifications were emerging but scarce, and the customers in need of disposal services commonly were unaware of what legitimate options existed. 

Over the last couple of decades, the industry has evolved and a whole sector of legitimate ITAD companies has emerged and advanced not only how end-of-life equipment is handled but how organizations should manage their waste, relocate and redeploy equipment, protect retired data-bearing assets from unauthorized access and track assets of all kinds from cradle to grave. 

The ITAD providers built out new service offerings in response to their customers’ evolving needs. Settlement reports went from weights by product category to detailed serialized audit reports. Blanket data destruction certificates were updated to meet the NIST 800-88 standards. Reports built in Excel turned into online customer portals integrated with disposal providers’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. On-site inventory and on-premises destruction services became more common as companies had greater concerns over their chain-of-custody obligations during shipment. The list goes on and on. The customer would ask for something more robust and the industry would answer.

We are now at a stage where the ITAD service provider is more sophisticated than the average customer. This is not to say that there may not still be hundreds, if not thousands, of unsophisticated providers, or that there are not many businesses properly managing end-of-life equipment disposal. However, the organizations that are following and executing a strict asset and data disposition program are the minority.

Customers now in the ‘Wild West’

Frank Milia, IT Asset Management Group

From the ITAD industry’s perspective, it is now the customer that is operating in the “Wild West.” Most companies do not have clear written policies and procedures that account for the complexity of managing the disposition process. If they do have a strong written program, they might fail to assign accountability, training, maintenance, measuring and instituting corrective actions for failures of the program. Sometimes a program will lack a budget or procurement process that guarantees a suitable solution and that competent vendors are selected.

It is still common to find organizations with little to no plan for how to deal with end-of-life equipment, hospitals that work with e-waste processors that have no third-party certifications, law firms that sell data-bearing equipment on eBay, school systems with no budget for recycling services, or banks that off-site storage media without proper due diligence, contracts or security methods in place. 

Most organizations don’t have the clear business incentive needed to justify the proper focus and effort to perform asset management and disposal to a high standard. The ITAD industry has tried to scare their customer base to act better by promoting examples of the financial results of breaches, environmental fines or other risks associated with improper disposal of equipment. This tactic has been largely ineffective. 

We need the average customer, especially the small- and mid-size businesses that make up so much of our economy, to institute the best practices that evolved from the ITAD provider-customer relationship. This is only going to be accomplished when the stakeholders in these organizations are convinced that there is a business benefit to practicing all asset management, including disposal, correctly. 

Other ways for the ITAD industry to promote itself

The ITAD industry should be making the effort to promote and measure the value of these services above just the risk and costs of potential data breaches. 

This effort can include measuring and promoting ESG, calculating value adds such as labor savings and reduction of soft costs that can many times go unnoticed at large organizations, and providing a clear monetary advantage for working with providers that properly refurbish or otherwise sell equipment on the secondary markets in responsible ways.

There have never been more resources for generators of surplus computer equipment to improve their practice. Customers can get support from certifying bodies like Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), e-Stewards, and the International Secure Information Governance & Management Association (i-Sigma), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. There are also countless educational platforms like Udemy, and organizations like the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM) that provide ongoing educational opportunities that will help support and grow the skills of those tasked with asset management.

Using these resources, customers can identify how to write better policies and identify better solution providers that will ultimately help them carry out their disposition program as effectively as possible. It’s time more businesses let the asset management and ITAD experts in to improve how IT, security, facilities and finance departments operate and measure the success of a well-developed disposal program. 

Frank Milia is the chief operating officer at IT Asset Management Group.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a subject you wish to cover in an op-ed, please send a short proposal to [email protected] for consideration.