Managing technology turnover

IT execs share tips for squeezing new life out of surplus gear and disposing of old equipment.

A decade of annual corporate acquisitions has kept Devon Energy's IT department on a treadmill of systems integration, but the business growth also has generated a slew of extra resources.

Some companies brought in a battery of tools including AS/400 servers, Windows desktops and Sun workstations, and industry-specific applications, while others contributed older, unusable items needing retirement. The IT department exhausted thousands of hours on transition work in consecutive six- to eight-month cycles. Deciding what to keep and what to toss has been part of the daily grind in managing steady growth, says Rick Manner, vice president and CIO of IT for the oil and gas producer in Oklahoma City.

Surplus technology is a common result of corporate mergers and acquisitions. Yet scheduled upgrades, project changes and just plain obsolescing hardware can contribute to the constant churn of IT gear. Inventory tools can ease the job of managing the reallocation of hardware and application licenses, while tech recycling and disposal providers can help get rid of what you don't need.

At Devon, the synergy between acquired corporations has let IT trim some low-end and older hardware across the corporation.

IT constantly evaluates device condition and uses asset management tools from Altiris to identify newly acquired, nonstandard and inferior equipment. Devices falling below the minimum get upgraded to the standard of a 2-GHz, Pentium 4 desktop with 512M-bytes of RAM or a Sun Blade 1000 Unix workstation

"You do pick up a few extra pieces of equipment because you have combined two companies and cut out some commonality," Manner says, referring to consolidation. The upside, though, is that the cream of the crop hardware improved Devon's IT assets. "We've got the talent and the systems up to what I'll call 'state of the practice,'" Manner says. "As new acquisitions come up, there will be more reductions and savings."

Assessing and selecting the best hardware and software assets among two companies is easy when both parties share common platforms and systems.

Devon saved money by letting maintenance fees expire for NetWare because it won't be used. Reductions from the merging of exploration and production workers has also freed some expensive applications, letting IT shuffle extra GeoQuest and Landmark E&P software licenses to other locations.

Manner says he sees application licenses as renewable assets. It's less expensive to renew the maintenance contract than it is to buy new licenses, he says, and IT budgeted $6 million in maintenance fees this year. "You pay maintenance on the licenses you're going to use. Many times we'll know that we're going to grow in an area, and we'll just hang on to those and renegotiate when the contracts are up."

Required upgrades and outgrown hardware are the most common way that assets pop up in Northern Trust's IT inventory, says Lisa Coffman, vice president of IT for the Chicago firm.

Hardware hitting the end of its life cycle is replaced regularly, and user needs drive asset requirements. "It may be a group that needs a special kind of network card to support a certain application that they use or a function that they're doing, and an older machine may not accommodate that newer hardware," Coffman says.

While budgeting is done annually, Northern Trust's IT department conducts reallocation planning on a daily basis.

The company uses LanDesk and Remedy tools to track current and future needs per processor and memory requirements of staffers who are targeted for upgrades.

Coffman says it's a domino effect, and resources are shifted monthly because something has come up or it's time to move forward with a project. "We look at what they're requesting, what was budgeted, and what else is going on," she says. "While our investment group needs the fastest machines, other groups are sitting there on low-end machines. We'll reuse intermediate-level assets for another group and replace machines that are ready to fall off the books."

Each Northern Trust location works with an equipment disposal vendor to get rid of unwanted machines, but IT is working to find a global service for recycling and certifying hardware destruction.

Tech disposal firms also can help with donation efforts, says Nicole Lee, business adviser for the foundation department of BP in Chicago.

The last PC upgrade across the energy corporation freed 13,000 pieces of equipment, desktops, monitors, keyboards and the like, which the BP Foundation donated to nonprofit groups. Redemtech cleaned and broke down the equipment and then shipped it to the Technology-For-All nonprofit organization. Technology-For-All staff retrofitted some of the PCs with new operating systems and memory for charity groups.

Lee says it's a nice way to put surplus equipment generated through the normal course of equipment upgrades to good use.

Taking out the trash

Here are some things to think about when disposing of old equipment:
Prepare an itemized inventory list of hardware that includes serial numbers, quantity and weight of the items.

Use tech disposal providers that

certify proper recycling of hardware.
Research a tech disposal service for the types of hardware it handles, geographic reach and compliance with regulations.

Incorporate the hardware’s recycle

and disposal path into your asset management system to meet poten-tial privacy compliance audits.
Assume all hardware contains proprietary data and work with a provider to wipe hard drives clean. Check on tax credits and other financial perks for acting in an environmentally responsible manner.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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