This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on May 9, 2022 - May 15, 2022
Devices such as mobile phones are ubiquitous these days, be it among adults or children. Walk into a family restaurant, and chances are you will see children glued to their tablets or phones as they play games or scroll through an endless amount of online content.
As manufacturers introduce sleeker models and increased camera megapixels to pull in more customers, there are concerns over the disposal of older models that are at the end of their life cycles.
In 2021, there were an estimated 6.4 billion mobile phone users in the world. As every generation of electronics gets a little more efficient, the matter of e-waste and responsible disposal becomes increasingly urgent, with mobile devices accounting for 12% of e-waste currently.
Without the proper disposal of e-waste, useful and rare resources in the devices go to waste. When these devices end up in a landfill, they are subsequently incinerated, which then releases toxic gasses into the atmosphere.
A transition into the circular economy, where existing materials and products are reused and refurbished to reduce waste — in contrast with the traditional linear economy, where manufactured products are destined for the landfills — is necessary for a more sustainable future, says Teh Chai Peng, founder of enterprise mobility-as-a-service (EMaaS) company Complete Human Network (CHN).
After spending more than two decades in key leadership roles in organisations such as IBM and Oracle, Teh started CHN in 2012. To reduce e-waste, devices need to be refurbished, recycled and repurposed. By providing EMaaS, CHN is able to reduce carbon footprint and e-waste.
A large number of devices is required to operate a business, ranging from the hundreds to tens of thousands, depending on the size of the organisation. As every year passes with new software launches, devices eventually become obsolete, mandating hardware updates.
Teh explains how insurance agents use tablets when they approach clients, present information on their products as well as to obtain the signatures of clients. As the insurance application used by the agents evolves, this will require the use of newer tablet models.
“The only thing that is going to grow is the need for mobile devices of different formats, sizes, and operating systems. The e-waste problem is only going to increase,” says Teh.
Device manufacturers have disassembly plants where raw materials such as cobalt from batteries and aluminium from casings are extracted for reuse.
As a result of the careless disposal of raw materials, crises such as the global chip shortage have arisen, which has caused delays in the production of devices as well as in automation. Such problems can be averted if devices are disassembled responsibly, allowing the raw materials in them to be used, says Teh.
EMaaS brings equilibrium between the end-users and the manufacturers while moving towards a sustainable future and zero waste. “It’s not a device manufacturer’s job, neither is it the consumers' nor the businesses' alone. It has to be played by all parties, and we are the one that is facilitating this mechanism for everyone,” says Teh.
Going back to the case of tablets being used by insurance agents, Teh says most of these devices tend to be disposed of at landfills or left to rot in storage. CHN provides a unique solution to businesses, where the responsibility of purchasing and disposing of these devices are taken off their hands.
“What we are doing with EMaaS is to be able to help them [businesses] to subscribe to this as a service by not having to own the hardware, but every two years, we give them a refreshed model,” says Teh.
CHN collects, refurbishes and sends the old models to businesses that use them. It refurbishes, recycles and repurposes, and this cycle continues to the end of the device’s life, where it will be sent to the manufacturer to be dismantled.
Procurement of large fleets of devices presents businesses with key problems due to the lack of skillset and knowledge of managing the complexity of the technology.
“The complexity is really mind-boggling ... To be able to manage the kind of integration in terms of technology, and also to be able to manage different kinds of devices coming together from different types of brands, different operating systems, and so on,” says Teh.
She encourages businesses to focus on their core competencies while allowing CHN to take on device management. “Build on your core competencies, outsource the complexity of digital transformation and device management to us and we will help you to grow.”
A data wipe is administered on all devices when they are collected by CHN, as data security is absolutely crucial in the world of mobility. To pre-empt cybersecurity attacks, CHN includes a mobile threat prevention service from the very beginning.
CHN is able to reduce its capital expenditure in procuring a large number of devices by converting it into operating expenditure. Its provision of devices as a service offers businesses a way to improve their cash flow. The businesses benefit from regular tech refreshes while being able to spread their payments across a longer period.
Teh believes that enterprise EMaaS is the future for businesses moving forward as it provides value from the angle of stakeholders, cash flow, technological refresh and the environment. “Nobody’s going to go to the store to buy a device anymore. And you should not. You should be subscribing to this as a service like how you subscribe to electricity.”
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