Bad Times Force IT to Deal with Orphaned Hardware, Software

Pat Beemer, the IT director at Seattle Lighting Fixture Co., has a lot of orphaned computer hardware and unused software licenses on his hands -- the result of what he called "serious" layoffs at the company in recent months.

By Lucas Mearian
Mon, March 23, 2009

Computerworld — Pat Beemer, the IT director at Seattle Lighting Fixture Co., has a lot of orphaned computer hardware and unused software licenses on his hands -- the result of what he called "serious" layoffs at the company in recent months.

"Some of these PCs had sensitive data on them," Beemer said. "We're scratching our heads [over] what to do with them." He added that the company is working with software vendors to renegotiate licenses for products that are being taken out of service either temporarily or permanently.

The Seattle-based retailer has plenty of company dealing with orphaned hardware and expensive unused software licenses.

The troubled economy has forced many companies to lay off substantial numbers of workers, leaving countless desktop computers, laptops, handheld devices and even large servers -- often holding sensitive corporate data -- gathering dust in vacant cubicles or in stockrooms. And in many of those cases, companies are still paying monthly or annual license fees for software installed on the unused machines, analysts said.

There are processes that can be implemented to effectively deal with those issues, analysts say, but such projects become much more difficult with the loss of experienced workers.

Employment numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that companies will probably be dealing with the problem of orphaned IT products for quite some time. The bureau reported that nonfarm employment fell by 651,000 in February, 655,000 in January and 681,000 in December. And from December 2007, when the recession began, through February 2009, 4.4 million people lost their jobs, the BLS said.

"Let's say half of those [laid off] are knowledge workers," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Peter O'Neill. "A knowledge worker usually has a copy of Microsoft Office, so you can make a direct correlation" between the number of layoffs at a company and the number of software licenses outstanding.

The soon-to-be-released results of a software budget survey Forrester conducted between December 2008 and February 2009 show that more than one in five businesses that audited their software over the past year are paying for at least some unused software, or shelfware.

At the same time, the Forrester survey of 776 U.S., European and Asian companies found that only 35% of the respondents were using a third-party firm to audit software licenses, so the percentage of companies with unused software is likely even higher.

O'Neill said that the survey also found that, on average, 15% of corporate software maintenance payments are for licensed shelfware.

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