Study: Sony battery recall can cost IT shops time

Sony Corp.'s global recall of 9.6 million laptop batteries is expected to cost the manufacturer more than US$400 million. But what about the amount it costs an IT shop in terms of the time, labor and headaches involved in finding the affected batteries, ordering new ones and replacing them?

Jack Gold, an industry analyst, said last week that a typical business with 5,000 affected laptops could expect to incur an unreimbursed cost of $625,000 for such things as lost productivity, shipping and the labor of in-house technicians and end users. That expense would be incurred even though Sony is replacing the batteries for free, he said.

For the estimated 3 million laptop batteries already returned by business users, the unreimbursed costs so far total $372 million, said Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass. The batteries were recalled because they are subject to short-circuiting, which can cause some computers to overheat or even burst into flames.

Finding and replacing an average laptop battery will cost $125, based on user and technician time lost, plus shipping costs, Gold said. He estimated the actual replacement and related tasks might take 15 minutes, and he pegged the per-hour cost a technician's salary and benefits at $80.

Tokyo-based Sony expects to spend $429 million on the recall of its lithium-ion batteries worldwide. That cost does not include the possibility of losses from lawsuits connected with the batteries, a Sony spokesman said.

In interviews, four IT managers last week said they have replaced Sony laptop batteries in their organizations through their laptop manufacturers, but none even ventured to guess what their own labor and lost productivity costs would be.