Public sector failing on IT disposal

Public sector organisations need to rethink how they dispose of IT equipment, according to a report from the National Audit Office.

The NAO report found that most public organisations fail to fully consider the environmental, security and legal implications of reselling or disposing of IT equipment.

"Government has so far not given enough thought to how it disposes of its computers and related equipment," said Sir John Bourn, the head of the NAO, in a statement. "Growing concerns about the environment and the increasing volumes of equipment means this issue is becoming more important."

The report forecast that the volume of public sector IT equipment being disposed of is growing from 2.7 billion in 2005-06 to 4.1 billion by 2010-11, an increase of 1.7 million to 2.6 million units.

With so many ways to dispose of IT - including resale, donations, refurbishment, recycling and landfill - the public sector needs to closely examine what happens to equipment when it leaves organisations' offices.

The NAO called on central government bodies - including the Office of Government Commerce, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Environment Agency and Defra, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - to analyse the issue as a group in order to look for ways to reduce the amount of ICT equipment being bought and use its buying power to encourage IT manufacturers to make greener technologies. As well, the public sector should look at passing on IT equipment for free or at a discount to schools or charities, the report said.

"Government needs to understand better the trade-offs between securing better immediate financial value and the wider environmental costs and benefits associated with the disposal of ICT equipment," said Bourn. "It should then use this knowledge to develop appropriate procurement and disposal strategies."

The report also suggested organisations could cut costs by following the lead of the private sector and shortening their IT refresh cycle from five years to three, which would increase resale earnings by 70 million annually, the report found. While procurement costs would also increase - by an estimated 1.8 billion - the report suggested productivity and maintenance savings tip the balance.

Morse analyst Andy Cox agreed: "Local and national government could potentially make millions of pounds of savings by undertaking analysis to understand the optimal time to retire old assets and buy new ones. It might sound surprising, but once you consider maintenance, management and energy costs, its often cheaper and more environmentally friendly to retire a product after three or four years rather than five or six years."

Indeed, Cox said the public sector needs to look to enterprise for advice on disposing of IT assets. "Managing the lifecycle of IT assets is something the private sector has got a lot better at in recent years. The public sector should be following its lead," he said.