Laptop battery recalls haven’t fazed ICT departments

The drama over replacing potentially explosive batteries has had some benefits, tech chiefs say

The need to swap out millions of laptop PC batteries made by Sony because they might cause fires isn’t fazing one group of ICT managers, who recently described the internal disruptions as “minimal” and “part of the cost of dealing with technology”.

In fact, despite a report by a consulting firm estimating that the replacement process could impose hidden costs amounting to nearly US$400 million (NZ$600 million) on corporate users, two ICT managers interviewed by Computerworld US say the battery situation has had a silver lining for their organisations.

“We used the recall as an opportunity to put our hands on everybody’s laptop to provide them with software updates and also the replacement batteries, if needed,” says Bill Moore, technical infrastructure manager at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Only about 20 of the museum’s 150 laptops needed new batteries, he says, but the recalls were “a good excuse to bring in the laptops of users who didn’t want [the] hassle [of] coming in before.”

Eight out of 25 laptops needed new batteries at Riester, says Dan Peterson, director of IT at the Phoenix-based advertising firm. The labour amounted to about ten hours of work by an intern, “so our costs weren’t too high,” Peterson says. “Actually, I kind of wish more laptops were affected because most of [our] users need new batteries anyway.”

The replacements of the lithium-ion batteries began in August, when Dell recalled 4.1 million of them, a total that was later increased by 100,000. Since then, vendors such as Apple, Lenovo, Toshiba and Sony itself have recalled batteries sold with their laptops. Sony recently issued a new recall in the US. It now says it expects to replace 9.6 million batteries altogether.

A report on the recalls released this month by analsyt firm J Gold Associates says that replacing each affected battery will cost companies US$125 (NZ$185) on average, based on the work-time lost by end-users and ICT technicians, plus the cost of shipping new and old batteries between offices.

Analyst Jack Gold, who wrote the report, calculated that the unreimbursed costs would add up to US$625,000 for a company that has to replace 5,000 batteries. In all, he predicts that swapping out the estimated three million recalled batteries in corporate laptops will result in added costs of US$372 million.

“That’s an overhead tax on using laptops, and, of course, manufacturers won’t cover that cost,” Gold says. “In fact, they may laugh at you if you ask to be reimbursed.”

Peterson was the only ICT manager out of the 15 interviewed who said he had informally tallied the so-called soft costs of replacing the recalled batteries.

The government of Kane County, Illionois, replaced the batteries in about 50 of its 400 Dell laptops but didn’t bother counting the labour time involved, says David Siles, the county’s chief technology officer. “Sometimes it costs more to track the soft costs involved with repairs than to just deal with them,” he says.

Schon Crouse, a mobility integration analyst at the Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says the hospital has replaced the batteries in 20 of its 150 Dell laptops.

As for the staff time that went into the replacement effort, “you’ll never get that cost paid back,” he says. But the hospital didn’t track how much time its workers spent on the batteries, he says.

Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group, says many large companies should be able to minimise the time and effort involved in locating affected batteries because desktop management software can match the names and locations of users to PC and battery serial numbers.

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