Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Company Move - Side Track 2

It had been a tradition at our old company over the years to have a "yard sale" to get rid of old equipment. The usual suspects in the sale were computer systems that were 3-7 years out of date, lab equipment, some older network gear and the like. Occasionally office chairs and other furniture were included. Mostly it was junk, but there have been some gems including a very nice HP oscilloscope complete with all probes and the manual which I bought then donated to a local high school.

Of course we are now part of bigger company with headquarters in the South. The company is ISO 9000 certified and has a process for everything. Everything it seems, except documenting and publishing processes so that those of us not based at HQ can figure out how to get things done. And even when you can get documentation on a process, it always assumes knowledge you probably do not possess if you need to read the document.

Of course you know, if you have been reading here for a while, that we are going to be moving to a small and less expensive location. Some day soon if we are not careful.

We used the upcoming move as an excuse to clean shop here. In a couple empty areas of our building we collected over three dozen 20" monitors (because we have all those new LCD monitors I mentioned in a previous entry), five dozen Pentium III 500-850MHz systems, a few early Pentium IV systems, four Sun servers, a dozen giant, rack mount Compaq multi-processor (PII or PIII) servers, a few dubious laptops, and a variety of printers, routers, and other stuff that could only charitably called "junk."

Nothing terribly exciting, really. I have better junk, or enough junk, at home already, depending on with whom you speak.

My boss ended up in charge of this sale, mostly because nobody else would take the job. He spent some weeks trying to get somebody in HQ to okay the sale. Finally, with the cooperation of other local managers, he set the date for the sale for a Friday in late April. The Thursday before the sale an email went to everybody at our location that the sale would be at 3pm the following day.

The next morning, in response to the many inquires, an email finally arrived. It was from the company controller. Nothing can be sold without the express permission of the office of the controller. Before the sale could commence, the controller needed have a complete list of all items in the sale.

An email went out to everybody located out here saying, "Yard Sale Postponed."

Being very organized, my boss already had such a list, complete with asset tag and serial number, for the items our department contributed. Other departments here did not have anything resembling a list. Still, we had segregated the stuff by department, so if we had to sell theirs at another time, so be it.

The controller, when asked about pricing of the items for sale said he did not care about that, but that any money from the sale had to be sent to HQ to be accounted for. (Thus ended or usual plan which has traditionally been "Fund a lunch time BBQ out back with the proceeds.") He said that facilities would set the prices.

Facilities, of course, had no interest in pricing anything and left that to us. Facilities did say, however, that we would need to collect sales tax.

My boss asked the controller about sales tax. The controller was not interested in sales tax, but directed him to some other accounting group.

My boss sent an email to this other accounting group asking about sales tax and if we could just charge round numbers ($5, $10, and $20) and then take the tax out later rather than having to make complicated change for each transaction.

The OAG (other accounting group) came back and said that charging round numbers sounded like a fine idea and certainly we could take the tax out after the fact. And, by the way, if we chose to sell anything for under its current market value, the purchasing employee's W2 at the end of the year would have to be adjusted to indicate the financial benefit from such a transaction.

Market value? I guess this keeps companies from selling business jets, homes, and cars to their senior execs for cheap, but what is the market value of a 4 year old Pentium III 700MHz with an 18GB SCSI hard drive and no operating system? (All of the Windows operating systems were licensed under our MSDN agreement, so we had to erase them before we parted with the machines.) It has zero value to the company, we have depreciated it as a capital expense over the last few years. And how attractive does a $20 PIII system look if it might mean that it changes your W2 at the end of the year?

And while we were pondering this gem, an email came in from OAG2 (or is that OOAG?) who had been directed by the controller to account for all of the items on our list in the list of assets they have for our location. OAG2 sent us a spreadsheet with all of the purchase orders for the last six years listed and asked us to please indicate which item from our inventory matched up to which purchase order.

Our local accounting group never bothered to associate an asset tag or serial number when putting together this spreadsheet. But then, all of the local accounting people handed over their data to HQ as they got laid off at the end of March, so we cannot blame them. The list of purchase orders only showed vague items, like "computer systems" or, sometimes, just the vendor in the description field. There was no possible way that these two lists could be reconciled.

So my boss was just about ready to call the whole thing off and call up the computer recycler we had lined up to take away the remains and have him come over and cart off the whole lot. But even that needed to be approved.

I suggested shipping everything to HQ, since we cannot part with the stuff without approval, but he thought I was making a joke.

Silence followed. Not a word more came from HQ. This is not an unusual situation. HQ is frequently unaware of our existence.

Then, a few weeks later, an email showed up from the controller. The sale was approved. My boss just had to hand over any cash to our local HR representative.

Sale on!

In the end, very little of the stuff was sold. The dubious laptops were purchased for the boy scouts. A monitor or two was picked up. There was no mention of market value or W2s. No inventory reconciliation was demanded.

I think somebody did threaten to ship everything to HQ.

A week later the computer recycler came by and carted away all of our left over junk. And one of our coffee makers! Damn them!

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