IT Asset Retirement: Best Practices for End of Life

With over a decade of experience in the hardware recycling industry, and having worked with thousands of customers, I’ve gained an extensive understanding of the best practices surrounding end-of-life management of IT assets. In this blog post, my goal is to share these best practices, offering guidance and actionable tips to help you navigate end-of-life processes in a way that ensures security, compliance, and sustainability. 

An end-of-life strategy isn’t just about saying a final farewell to your computers and other data-bearing assets – it’s about doing it thoughtfully, securely, sustainably, and in a compliant manner. 

In fact, from a data security and sustainability perspective, the final chapter of an IT asset's lifecycle is often more important than deployment. This is because the device accumulates a substantial amount of data by its end-of-life stage. In this blog post, we’ll share best practices, tips, and key considerations for navigating the end-of-life journey for corporate computers. 

First, lay a solid foundation with an IT asset management (ITAM), IT service management (ITSM), and/or an mobile device management (MDM) tool – and ideally zero-touch deployment

Let’s start with the essentials first: building a solid foundation with the right tools during your devices’ lifespan. This will streamline the transition process as your devices approach end of life down the road.

The importance of ITAM, ITSM, and MDM tools

Every company should have either an ITAM and/or MDM tool in place. Together, these tools combined track asset purchase dates, calculate depreciation schedules, provide audit logs, orchestrate remote wipes, log out users after a certain period of inactivity, and more. 

ITAM tools are excellent for tracking warranty dates and ultimately end-of-life dates. Smaller companies with fewer than 250 employees can often suffice with just an MDM solution, especially in cases where their entire hardware fleet is uniform, such as Apple environments using JAMF. Some MDM tools have lightweight ITAM functionalities built in as well. 

As companies scale, they should adopt both ITAM and MDM tools. Used together, they give IT even more visibility and control over enterprise assets. Best-in-class lifecycle management involves running both. Likewise, for those with a diverse fleet, it’s not uncommon to double up on MDM tools (e.g., JAMF or Kandji for Apple devices and KACE for PCs) to truly elevate the employee experience and give IT professionals more control over end user devices.

An ITSM tool also plays an important role in the technology stack, as it facilitates the management of end-of-life processes for devices. When a device reaches the end of its life, the ITSM can automate tasks such as assigning responsibilities to IT staff, tracking the return of devices from users, and handling service tickets related to the decommissioning process. 

How recycling vendors can integrate with these tools to streamline end-of-life processes

A robust recycling vendor will offer integrations with both MDM and ITAM tools, further streamlining end-of-life processes. Using the MDM, you can automate the asset removal from the MDM and also unlock the device (for instance, Jamf can remove devices from Apple DEP). With an ITAM, the status of the asset can be updated to “Dispose” – or any other chosen tag of your preference – to indicate that it’s been transferred to the recycling vendor. Additionally, a certificate of destruction (COD) can be pulled in and stored in the ITAM. 

Zero-touch deployment

Ideally, organizations should strive to implement a zero-touch deployment strategy as well. With zero-touch deployment, the entire process from initial configuration to final deployment is automated, requiring minimal to no manual intervention. This approach streamlines the setup process, accelerates the readiness of devices for end users, and reduces security risk by eliminating manual actions and human error.

With these elements in place, the groundwork is laid for a smooth transition into retirement. 

How to create an effective end-of-life strategy for IT assets: key considerations and best practices 

Next, we’ll dive into industry-recommended best practices that will help you develop a robust end-of-life policy. From setting a timeline for retirement to selecting the right hardware recycling partner, every decision counts. 

Here are some key considerations: 

Determining the retirement timeline for computers 

The industry standard is a three-year refresh cycle for laptops and mobile devices. Often that aligns with the timing of the warranty expiration or purchased service plan. Additionally, the timeframe between new hardware releases is sufficient to ensure that end users have adequate computing power.

Soft vs. hard refresh approaches

There are two types of refresh cycles: soft vs. hard. 

A soft refresh policy is reactive. With soft refreshes, there’s a defined policy for when to retire computers, but IT usually waits for user-driven complaints or device failures before initiating replacements. 

Meanwhile, a hard refresh is proactive. IT actively replaces computers nearing their end of life in anticipation of potential issues. 

While hard refreshes are a best practice, they require significant resources like dedicated ITAM or IT logistics teams. As a result, this strategy is often only adopted by larger, resource-rich organizations with scale. Smaller companies lack the need and resourcing for it. 

Refreshing devices is critical from both a security and performance standpoint. After three years, many devices are unable to upgrade to the newest operating system or software versions. As a result, this limitation turns them into security liabilities. Their inability to install the latest security patches makes them increasingly susceptible to hacking.

Additionally, performance issues (like frequent crashes, freezing, or slowness) can incur significant productivity losses that ultimately outweigh the expense of new hardware investments. For example, consider a small company where 50 employees experience a 30-second system lag five times an hour. Using some average salary assumptions, productivity losses would amount to a staggering $124,000 per year. 

Warranty details

Warranties may also impact your end-of-life policy. It’s important to understand the duration and scope of coverage of your warranties (e.g., does the plan cover broken screens?). This also includes differentiating between various plans, like AppleCare vs AppleCare+. 

Having a warranty enables quick and efficient repairs with a structured plan. Properly repairing machines not only prolongs their lifespan but also improves end user experience, as employees can rely on consistently functioning equipment and minimize downtime.

Protocols for handling broken or used computers

It’s also important to devise a strategy for handling broken computers that are not economical to repair. For example, fixing a broken screen on a two-year-old computer for $900 may not be cost effective. Or consider a two-year-old computer that becomes available because an employee has left the company — should this be converted into a loaner or reassigned to another user? Additionally, there are computers that have reached their scheduled refresh date and have been collected. These should be clearly designated as end-of-life.

Retrieval from remote/hybrid employees

In today’s decentralized work environment, you must have a reliable method to retrieve computers from remote or hybrid employees. Some hardware recycling vendors now offer software-enabled solutions that seamlessly retrieve laptops from remote employees, ensuring security and efficient hardware management.

Pre-disposition checks

Before entrusting your device to your end-of-life vendor, ensure it undergoes a thorough evaluation by your IT team or an MSP. Key aspects to confirm during this evaluation are: 1) verifying that it’s the correct device, 2) determining whether the device is truly outdated or beyond repair before proceeding with disposition, and 3) confirming that all data has been securely wiped. 

This comprehensive check ensures a safe handling of the device at the end of its lifecycle. However, it’s important to recognize that not all these steps may be necessary or feasible in every situation. For instance, if a laptop is damaged to the extent that it’s inoperable, wiping the data may not be possible. In such cases, ensuring secure physical destruction becomes more relevant. Similarly, if a computer was provisioned before the implementation of an ITAM or MDM, verifying the exact serial number may not be feasible. In those scenarios, you may need to rely on other identifiers. Adapt the process and choose the steps that are most relevant to your environment.

Updating asset status in ITAM tools for end-of-life tracking

It’s important to update the status of the asset in your ITAM system to reflect its end-of-life phase. This status could be “Retired,” “EOL,” or a similar tag, signifying that the asset is no longer in active use but is still within the company’s possession. Once the asset is received by the recycling vendor, the status should then be updated to a final designation like “Disposed” to indicate that it’s been officially disposed of. This step ensures accurate tracking of the asset throughout its lifecycle.   

Ensuring a unified global approach

Keep in mind that your end-of-life policy can change over time. It will likely evolve based on your company’s size, geographical footprint, and technological infrastructure. 

As your organization expands, the complexity of managing end-of-life processes increases, particularly if you’re operating across different global regions with varying regulations and environmental standards. As a result, it’s critical to adopt a unified global strategy for the disposal or repurposing of IT assets. To do so, you must establish consistent policies and procedures across all operational locations. A unified strategy ensures compliance with international and local environmental regulations, optimizes costs, mitigates risk, and helps maintain a consistent standard for data security. 

Once you’ve established an end-of-life policy that fits your organization’s requirements, the next step is to choose your recycling partner. 

Evaluate potential recycling partners: key questions to guide your choice

Selecting the right hardware recycling partner is crucial — not just for the sake of environmental responsibility and data security, but also for asset recovery value. 

Here are some questions to consider when choosing your recycling partner:  

  • Do they offer a robust API to build on and automate the entire end-of-life process?
  • Would you have a global account manager or just submit tickets to a service desk without dedicated coverage?
  • Do they have enterprise grade software that supports SSO for security? 
  • Do they uphold stringent vetting processes – like comprehensive background checks and training programs – for their asset collection personnel?
  • If they partner with third-party logistics providers, do they perform on-site audits and physical inspections of their facilities?
  • Do they maintain tracking of assets en route to their final destination?
  • Do they use standardized, secure transportation and packaging protocols to prevent damage and loss during transit?
  • Do their trucks advertise "e-waste” on them? If so, they may be easy targets for theft.
  • Are they capable of tailoring an end-of-life policy that aligns with your company’s unique requirements and objectives?
  • Do they have any charitable or donation programs? How does that process work? 

The shift to sustainability: giving back to communities in need

Today, many large enterprises are increasingly focused on giving back to the community and boosting employee engagement. Sustainable end-of-life IT asset management – repurposing and donating unused assets – is an effective way to advance these organizational goals. By transforming potential e-waste into valuable resources for communities in need, companies help bridge the digital divide and keep waste out of landfills. 

Companies not only demonstrate their commitment to sustainable practices and corporate social responsibility, but employees also experience a deeper sense of pride and purpose, knowing their company is actively contributing to positive social impact.

By asking the right questions and making informed decisions, you can turn the inevitable conclusion of your IT assets' lifespan into a strategic advantage. In the world of IT asset management, every ending is the beginning of a process that can benefit your business and the broader community.

Revivn is a hardware lifecycle management platform providing enterprises with a white glove, all-in-one software-enabled solution for managing and repurposing their IT assets. With its ITSM and MDM integrations, Revivn can create intelligent workflows to automate the entire end-of-life experience with its API. Contact us to learn more: 

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