IT asset disposition (ITAD) in South Africa has undergone a remarkable transformation since the early 2000s.

By Wale Arewa, CEO of Xperien

Back then, ITAD was a relatively unknown concept, with the market primarily dominated by used computer dealers offering asset recovery services.

However, with the advent of the Internet and the increasing proliferation of proprietary and personal information online, concerns about data misuse became a pressing issue. This led to the emergence of data protection laws in 2013, marking the inception of the ITAD industry in the country.

Despite these threats, many companies in South Africa continue to operate as if they are stuck in the low data-risk environment of the early 2000s. This approach, particularly in data destruction, is shortsighted and comes with significant, often hard-to-quantify risks.

Recent research indicates that the average cost of a data breach for South African organisations reached nearly R50-million in 2023, according to IBM Security’s annual Cost of a Data Breach Report. This figure represents an 8% increase over the last three years and a substantial 73% increase since South Africa was first included in the report eight years ago.

In my early years of engaging with corporate clients in South Africa, I encountered a prevailing mindset that prioritised cost savings over rigorous risk assessment. This perspective, geared towards impressing superiors with budget adherence, often overlooked the inherent dangers in inadequate data destruction.

The question arises: can any cost savings truly justify the risk of losing a hard drive potentially containing millions of records?

ESG principles and data governance

Fortunately, the ascent of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles has brought about a positive shift in South Africa’s approach to ITAD.

Executives are now more directly involved in decisions regarding the disposal of end-of-life computer equipment, thanks to a heightened awareness of the risks and potential reputational damage associated with data breaches.

This change signifies a crucial step towards responsible data governance.

Looking ahead: The role of AI in ITAD

As we gaze into the future of ITAD in South Africa, the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the industry becomes a compelling topic. AI presents both challenges and opportunities, ushering in a new era for ITAD practices. The constant amidst these changes is the unwavering need to protect data diligently.

The transformation of ITAD in South Africa reflects a journey from the obscure practices of the early 2000s to the current emphasis on safeguarding data in the digital age. The increasing risks associated with data breaches underscore the importance of evolving ITAD practices, moving beyond mere cost considerations.

The integration of ESG principles in decision-making processes is a positive step towards comprehensive data governance. As the ITAD industry navigates the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, the commitment to protecting data remains paramount in securing a digital future for South Africa.