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Reflecting on the nexus of Cisco’s product takeback and reuse program a year and a half after we relaunched it, Cisco VP of Global Distribution Sales Andrew Sage explains, “We wanted to make it as easy for our customers and partners to [send back old equipment] as it is to take recycling to the end of the driveway.” By streamlining and simplifying the customer experience, Cisco has made important progress toward that goal. Let’s take a look at how we got there.

A key element of our circular economy strategy is to increase product returns at end-of-use, as part of Cisco’s commitment to 100 percent product return upon request, at no cost to our customers. In December 2019 we created a cross-functional team who kicked off a 90-day sprint to rebrand the existing takeback program, simplify the returns process, increase use of our Send IT Back app, and raise awareness among our customers and partners.

And then came COVID-19.

Our employees and customers alike left office and campus environments and worked remotely, which complicated our efforts to execute equipment returns. While we considered postponing the program relaunch, the team pressed forward because customers and partners still had a need for a simplified means to return end-of-use equipment. On April 20, 2020, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Cisco relaunched the Product Takeback and Reuse program.

After one year, we’ve significantly increased the volume of program-related returns, despite the impact of COVID-19.

As we approached Earth Day 2021, I sat down with Chad Bockert, vice president of marketing, and Erin Biggerstaff, program manager from WWT, one of Cisco’s largest channel partners.  In addition, Andrew Sage, Cisco’s vice president of global distribution sales and Rich Bulger, Cisco director of reverse logistics, joined the discussion on how product takeback is working and how it enhances our partnership and helps us better meet customer needs.

Daren:  Andrew, as one of the program’s executive sponsors, you got things started regarding the relaunch of Takeback and Reuse.  Why did you feel it was important to rebrand and relaunch the program?

Andrew:  In order to accelerate our progress toward greater product return and reuse, we needed to make our returns process extremely simple for our customers and partners, as easy it is for consumers to take their recycling to the end of their driveway.  Making it easy was one of our most important goals, and I’m proud to say the team has done that with a returns process that is simple, secure and sustainable.

There are two tailwinds that are helping us.  The first is that many customers are looking to work with companies who share their sustainability agendas and goals, and can help them accomplish their desired outcomes, like Cisco.  The second is that we see an opportunity for our partners to differentiate themselves by building the Takeback and Reuse returns process into their value proposition and service offerings to customers.

Daren:  Thanks Andrew! Rich, tell us about how the program works, and how customers use the Send IT Back app [iOS, Android] to schedule returns.

Rich:  I like to compare the process to donating clothing.  When you donate clothing, you have an option to drop it off and drive away, or you can go through the process of documenting each item and getting a receipt with an itemized list.  Well, we all have connected mobile devices and use applications on a daily basis.  Using the Send IT Back app is like dropping off a donation and driving away, except there’s no requirement to leave the office.  Customers use a mobile device to photograph what’s being returned, capture the information we need to know, like the required packing and shipping materials, and submit the request.  We arrange for the timely pickup and transportation of the equipment at no cost to the customer and leverage our world class supply chain to maximize reuse and minimize the impact to the environment.

Daren: Andrew, tell us a little bit about Cisco’s relationship with WWT, and what it means to have them as a partner.

Andrew:  WWT is one of our longest standing, largest and most successful relationships. It spans twenty-five years, and we have a multi-billion dollar per year partnership.  WWT takes the products and services that Cisco offers and completes the solution beautifully for our customers, in a number of innovative ways.  We’ve often recognized WWT for their role as an innovator, and they have received a number of Cisco partner awards.

Daren: With WWT, not only do we get to work with a great company, but we also get to work with great people like Erin.  Tell us about some of the challenges you normally face in returning end-of-use equipment and what led you to begin working with Cisco to address those issues.

Erin: First, I’d like to thank everyone for the kind words.  The partnership that we share with Cisco is valuable beyond measure and the new and innovative ways that we continue to approach and grow business with them is absolutely amazing.

I was introduced to the program via a collaboration session with Darrel Stickler [Global Environmental Sustainability Lead – Cisco Corporate Affairs], who walked me through the Send IT Back app. During the meeting, we downloaded the app to my mobile phone.  Within a few weeks we put together the first order with a substantial amount of material to be returned to Cisco.  All I had to do was take a few quick photos, type a few lines of information, and hit “Send.” Within less than one hour, a transportation carrier emailed me about scheduling time to pick up the equipment.  From that point on, I was sold.

At WWT, space is in high demand and we constantly utilize every inch of capacity.  So, when I allocate space for customer returns, I’m always asked when the equipment will be shipped.  In the past, I couldn’t give a date sooner than a few weeks out.  Now, with the Send IT Back app, I can confidently tell the warehouse team it will ship in less than two business days, and many times in less than one.  At first the team was shocked that it could happen so quickly, and often joked with me that, if it didn’t ship when I said it would they would come find me and make me ship it myself.  The fact that I’ve never had to haul away fifty plus pallets on my own is greatly appreciated!

WWT performs reverse logistics and disposal services for several customers.  As they deinstall equipment at sites, we collect that equipment and store it at our locations until they decide the items have definitely reached end-of-use. Once they notify us of that decision, we remove the items from inventory, disposition the items, and provide the customer with a certificate.  Before we began using Cisco’s Takeback and Reuse program, there was a lengthy series of steps required and the process was not seamless.  Now, by using the app, we can quickly schedule this order for return, even large quantities. I remember one case where we returned 88 pallets of equipment weighing more than 50 tons in a single order.

Using the Send IT Back app, within 24 hours our customer had two trucks arrive on site to remove all 88 pallets.  I didn’t have to work with a third party to schedule the pickup and create a list for the certificate of disposal, I just accessed all of the relevant information from the app. And the best part is that all of that material wasn’t scrapped.  Cisco determined how best to repurpose and reintroduce that equipment into the supply chain to mitigate material shortages and avoid unnecessary waste.  And it’s satisfying to know this also makes it possible to provide equipment to organizations that want Cisco solutions but don’t have the budget for brand new products.

Daren: Chad and Erin, what are the business benefits of the program?

Chad:  This program is amazing. Not only does it provide an efficient and structured process for how we manage excess materials that are not needed for our work, but it provides the opportunity to avoid future manufacturing of these materials by returning them to the manufacturing and assembly process. The best form of recycling is re-use.

I hope we can find other areas of our business to incorporate this program into and further minimize waste. We are also excited that we are contributing to Cisco’s sustainability efforts and hope we can be an example for other members of the Cisco ecosystem to collectively find ways to positively impact the environment.

Erin:  WWT thrives off innovation.  We’re always looking to expand services to our customers and be the best partner and supplier that we can be in any and every sense.  When we work with Cisco, we can offer customers such a sound, solid, reliable process like the Send IT Back app.  It simplifies the complex world of reverse logistics and allows us to offer the return of end-of-use products as a service.  We’re able to provide this as an option to customers, taking the task off their plate while enabling them to contribute to a very green initiative.

Daren:  Rich, what’s next for the program?

Rich:  We’re innovating across the entire Takeback and Reuse program.  We’ve expanded the Send IT Back app across both iOS and Android devices.  Today, the Send IT Back app is only available in the U.S. and The Netherlands.  Next, we’re going to evolve our returns portal to allow customers to easily create an itemized list, similar to the detailed clothing donation receipt process which will help with returning products in other countries.  We’re also working on the user experience, so that the look and feel is not dramatically different for separate components of the program. We anticipate having that available by mid-to-late July of this year.

Daren:  Andrew, what would you say to those who don’t yet know about, or haven’t used the program?

Andrew:  Let’s start with our customers.  I have a number of friends in the CIO community, and in many of their data centers, they have a boneyard of equipment not being used or no longer being used.  They commonly ask “how do I get rid of that unused equipment, because it keeps piling up.”  To those customers, I’d like to say that the Cisco Takeback and Reuse program presents a simple, secure and sustainable solution for addressing the challenge presented by those boneyards. One of the important differentiators for Cisco and our partners, is that we clear returned equipment to a NIST standard, to help prevent data from being compromised.

Similarly for our partners, led by innovators like WWT and others, this is a process we can build into our businesses together.  Our partners ultimately face the customers, provide proposals and quotations, and manage the overall life cycle of Cisco solutions.  Therefore, the Takeback and Reuse program should be part of the equation.  Many customers require sustainable disposition as part of the procurement process, and our partners can be proactive and make Takeback and Reuse part of their value proposition.  Not only does it simplify life for the customer but also, it connects to their sustainability goals and therefore becomes a huge benefit in terms of differentiation.  And, as Erin so effectively described, there are inherent operational benefits to partners, who won’t have to worry about returns piling up and taking up valuable warehouse space.

My simple hope is that through the efforts of great partners like WWT, and building increased awareness, we can greatly increase the volume of products being returned and overall interest in the program.  I want to see a significant acceleration in the impacts we’ve talked about today because it will provide benefits to our customers, our partners and the environment.

Hear more from Andrew Sage in his Earth Day blog post on the Circular Economy, or find out more about Cisco’s Takeback and Reuse program, Circular Economy program, and Cisco Refresh.