When Bob Dieter was CIO of Vineyard Bank, he carried out his CEO's vision to make communication among execs and board members seamless-the $1.9 billion-asset (in 2009) bank spent more than $1 million on Tandberg video conferencing equipment and infrastructure.
But after struggling for years, Vineyard succumbed to the weight of its bad commercial real estate loans and was shut down by the FDIC in July 2009. What remains of the bank is being auction off by an FDIC-hired auction house, with everything from check scanners to servers and wall art going to the highest bidder.
Dieter, who left the bank in 2006, was shocked to see both his ergonomic office chair and all the Tandberg equipment available for pennies on the dollar on the online auction site (http:worleyauctioneers.com) What was once a $60k Tandberg unit had a high bid of $115 when Dieter checked. "This is absolutely sickening, startling," Dieter says. "That's an absolutely phenomenal piece of technology."
Combing through the online pictures of auction inventory is compelling, kind of like the irresistibility of a car crash on the highway. The are racks of servers, patch panels, plasma TVs and copy machines. Also available are PCs and laptops with the hard drives removed, Billcon Currency counters, Epson validators and Panini scanners. Another auction even promised an entire suite of banker's bank-type software, with bids starting around $10k. Some things have an obvious market like office furniture and fine art. But, really, who's got their eye on those countless boxes of miscellaneous keyboards?
Dieter is now the head of the project management office for Eleven Wireless, a startup that installs technology in hotels. His current employer outfitted its new office with furniture sold at auction, and was able to get nice stuff at a great price, he says. But putting his bank CIO hat back on, Dieter says he's not sure whether he'd take the chance on buying used IT equipment for an operating bank. "If I buy some Cisco switches and routers am I able to go to Cisco and get maintenance coverage and firmware?" he asks. "To buy the technology you'd have to do some fair due diligence, but hey, you're only paying pennies on the dollar."
The other major impediment to banks putting still-relevant or gently used technology to use is the logistical nightmare imposed by the auction houses: you have to arrange to have the merchandise picked up on site the day the auction closes. That's a bummer; Vineyard had a beautiful Murano glass vase that'd look great on my desk.
Realistically, though more than 130 institutions went down in 2009, and there are fears of an equal or greater number this year, the online auctions may be little more than a curiosity of the lingering crisis. But still, you can't help but look.