CIO OUTLOOK

Old PCs don't have to be a disposal horror

Mike Hale

How do you intelligently get rid of 16,000 old PCs? You can't plow them into a landfill.

The question became more than academic in Georgia during the past year. As I reported in an earlier column, Georgia officials elected to modernize their information technology infrastructure as a part of their year 2000 preparations.

The state has replaced more than 16,000 PCs in about 40 agencies. The threshold for replacement was any machine less powerful than a 66-MHz 486DX with 8M of RAM. My department's research indicated this was the minimum configuration for running Microsoft Windows 95 and therefore a good PC replacement standard.

As the replacement project took shape, there was a growing awareness of the need to take a formal and deliberate approach to redistributing the replaced PCs to worthy organizations around the state. So far, Georgia has put 3,200 PCs, mostly 33-MHz 486s, into the pipeline for refurbishment. The state is using the services of three nonprofit organizations to handle the refurbishment:

' Tech Corps, at ustc.org, an organization that helps schools obtain and use technology resources

' Free Bytes, at www.freebytes.org, which distributes used PCs to federally tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations

' Some of Georgia's technical and adult-education schools that have electronics programs.

Each machine will be in good working order, with an operating system and office software. Georgia will charge recipients $45 per machine. Third-party advisers will help state officials figure out who among the many expected applicants will receive the machines.

The logistics of such an operation were daunting. Georgia officials found out quickly that dealing in such volume was a challenge.

But the state had help. In a partnership with the state, Microsoft Corp. donated 1,000 software licenses. Compaq Computer Corp. helped with the hardware rollout. American Computer Technology Inc. of Fairfax, Va., supplied transportation from the donating agencies to the refurbishing site. Many technical and social-services support organizations helped Georgia identify potential recipients.

Although the surplus property division of the Administrative Services Department was unaccustomed to dealing with thousands of machines at once, its assistance was invaluable. It structured the program within the legal framework of the Georgia Code and provided many good tips on how to save time and money.

One principle that Georgia agencies have tried to maintain throughout the project is making the PC distribution available to needy organizations that lack sophisticated technical facilities or the means to acquire expensive support. I will be asking companies, groups and schools in local communities to reach out, identify those who are in need, and assist with support and training.

Mike Hale is chief information officer of Georgia. He previously was executive director of Florida's Information Resource Commission, and he is a retired Army colonel. His e-mail address is mhale@itpc.state.ga.us.

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