The world is drowning in garbage, and we’re all starting to suffer because of it.
One of the worst is electronic waste, or e-waste. Computers, phones—pretty much any kind of consumer electronics that end up in landfills can contain toxic chemicals that may leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater.
Take an old cathode ray tube TV, for instance. Just one contains about 5 pounds of the heavy metal lead, a powerful neurotoxin that can cause heavy-duty blood and brain disorders. Leave a bunch of them out in a landfill somewhere without proper disposal and you run the risk of contamination.
We produce 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste every year, but only about 12.5% of it ends up being recycled. It’s not just a problem for developed nations, either; a large part of e-waste end up being dumped in developing nations per year.
It’s a bit of an uphill battle, to say the least, and the world definitely needs all the help it can get. Over in Glasgow, that help is being provided by Grant Morgan, head honcho of Glasgow Computer Recycling.
Set ’em Up, Tear ’em Down
“I’ve been in the IT game for a long time,” Grant says. “I used to work on a contract basis, as a lot of people in the IT industry do.”
As Grant tells it, the last company he worked for put him on a three-month rolling contract. While the work was satisfying, there was always some amount of uncertainty; you would only find out on the last Friday of the three months if your contract was renewed.
“You can’t really plan your life because you never know if you’re getting renewed,” he explains. “It’s also not good from a customer service point of view; you’ve got meetings the week after and the customer knows your contract is up.
“They’re saying, ‘Are you gonna be at our next meeting?’ and you’re all, ‘I don’t know, ask my boss’.”
So how does someone who spent most of his professional life up to that point setting up computers and IT systems transition into taking them down and literally breaking them apart? Some on-the-job serendipity had a hand, as it turns out.
“As a consultant, I did the end to end management right from the start to sign off and hand over,” Grant relates. “But a big and increasingly difficult part of that was disposal. That essentially planted the seed of “Why don’t we get into disposals?”
Grant notes that the uncertainty of the contracting game was a large part of what spurred him into getting out, but when the thought of moving on to computer disposals came up, he realized that he didn’t really know anything about the recycling industry.
“I’d been wanting to get out of the contracting game for a while because of the uncertainty,” he laughs, “but then if I move in this direction there’s even more uncertainty!”
A Solid Process Foundation
Grant readily admits that in the early days, he and his team had a steep learning curve to conquer. Fortunately, he had two aces up his metaphorical sleeve: his IT experience and his process-heavy approach.
“I’m a big process kind of a guy,” he explains. “You need a process so you can do things consistently and properly, so I spent a lot of time getting the process right in the first place. I think that’s a big thing that helped us get past the rigors of starting the business.
“I think having a robust system in place makes things easier because you’ve got the system doing the heavy lifting and not necessarily people—if that makes sense.”
In Glasgow Computer Recycling’s early days, Grant and his team made do with a big spreadsheet that contained all of their tasks. It wasn’t as easy as “pick up computer, recycle, send invoice” either.
“There’s a lot more to computer disposals than you’d think,” he explains. “We need to keep our antivirus software updated regularly, for example, and that’s a daily task.
“And then there’s ISO certification, which is a big thing for us, and for that we need to check things daily, weekly, monthly.
“So we basically ended up with just a very big spreadsheet and a paper task list for everyone. The processes were solid, but the actual ticking off tasks part was a bit of a slog.”
An End-to-End Solution
That all changed when Grant came across WORKetc. For over two years now, WORKetc has been doing the heavy lifting for Glasgow Computer Recycling.
“WORKetc has been, for us, a real end-to-end software solution. When we get in contact with a customer, they go right into WORKetc, and I think the beauty of the system is that we can then follow that contact through the whole sales process.”
With some help from WORKetc’s product specialists, Grant turned their old spreadsheet-based customer tasks list into one big default project template. Depending on what the customer needs, they can easily customize the template and turn it into an active project.
“We can very easily tailor that and remove stuff that we don’t need for a particular customer,” says Grant. “Some of them need certification, for example, while some of them don’t.
“And then we have a nicely structured project so we follow all the way through then, we generate an invoice that synchronizes with Xero. We can then schedule follow ups and do mailing lists from WORKetc as well.”
The One Dashboard
According to Grant, WORKetc doesn’t just make everything go faster, it lets them pinpoint pain areas in their processes. And for such a process-oriented guy like him, that’s something that can make or break a system.
The system’s ability to create smartlists—highly-customizable reports that let users create custom lists of literally any type of data in WORKetc—is one aspect that Grant values a lot.
“It’s like our own personal customized dashboard,” he explains. “We’ve got two of those smartlists now: one for our internal tasks like checking the antivirus is up to date or checking what weekly tasks we have coming up for next week, and then another smartlist for customer tasks.
“We’ve also done a new smartlist that has all of our past tasks. We can then slice and dice that data to analyze, for example, the time it took between equipment collection from a customer and issuing a certificate of destruction.
“It’s going to enable us to do all sorts of KPIs that we couldn’t previously do when we were still just working off of a paper checklist. Without capturing this data in WORKetc we probably wouldn’t be able to do that in a viable, efficient way.”
Glasgow Computer Recycling serves the entirety of Scotland and the UK (“Or, as far as anyone will pay us to go,” Grant says with a hearty laugh). While there’s always e-waste to recycle, Grant notes that the company has been feeling some growing pains.
“I’ve seen in the news about China stopping buying scrap metal and selling steel back here,” says Grant. “That’s had quite an effect on us.
“Let me put it this way: we’ve got a skip, a dumpster, outside,” he explains. “It’s not massive, but it’d take about one and a half tons of metal. Now a computer carcass, that would weigh maybe two kilos, tops.
“So it would take a lot of computers—a few hundred, easy—to fill that skip. That’s a lot of computers to get a ton and a half of metal. We used to get about a hundred and fifty for that skip, and now we get nothing.
“There used to be a value to that, and now there’s not. That’s world economics for you.”
With the scrap metal side of the recycling equation having seen better days, Grant notes that it’s doubly important that he and his team emphasize the value of their service level when it comes to dealing with customers. For that, he’s wrung a lot of use out of WORKetc’s email templates.
“When we get a customer’s equipment back here, we always let them know that it’s arrived. They’ve basically entrusted their data to us, so we like to let them know that we got it.
“So we have an email template that’s very quick to send. I’d be working on the project in WORKetc and it’s so easy to click on the customer’s name, select the template, and hit send right from the project template.
“We’ll not be in touch with them for at least a couple of days until their equipment is processed, so without that email they’d be left wondering what happened to their stuff.
“It takes maybe 10 seconds, but it lets you do a task that’s a really nice comfort factor for the customer. It’s a really good and powerful thing to do, from a customer relationship perspective. But because it only takes us 10 seconds it’s really easy.”
Past, Present, Future
Grant and his team of computer recyclers may be waging an uphill battle against e-waste, but he’s very confident in the processes and the system that help him run his company.
In fact, he’s already looking towards the future. For a former consultant with no way to reliably plan out his own future due to the vagaries of a contract, that’s something worth savoring.
The company’s past, however, along with its old processes and, seen through the future’s perspective, positively quaint spreadsheet-and-paper system, remains a formative force that drives Grant and his team towards further growth and excellence.
“I recently got in touch with an old customer today, actually,” he relates. “Our last transaction with them was from October 2012, and like I mentioned, back then we used to have this spreadsheet with all our tasks on it.
“They were fundamentally the same tasks that we now have in our WORKetc project template for customer disposals, but it made me laugh looking at it again. It’s just a very big spreadsheet!
“We didn’t have a dynamic project we could easily customize; no tasks that could be assigned to different groups; no smartlists. Now we can just export all of our tasks and run analysis on it to get our KPIs off it.
“Think how far that’s come.”