Laptops for kids

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Will OLPC deployment need call center support?

I think the challenge of rolling out one laptop per child will include at least four major areas of concern:
  1. The hardware, which OLPC will solve on the client-side.
  2. The software, which OLPC will also substantially solve on the client, although there is still much to do in terms of localized courseware.
  3. The supporting infrastructure and services. This include networks and maintenance.
  4. Teacher training and curriculum.
I am starting to think about what kinds of services will be needed to support a successful roll out. In developed countries, large-scale PC deployments are always accompanied with help desk support. The help desk is often a major part of the Total Cost of Ownership, At Intel, end-user support was about 55% of TCO in 1995, although they got that down to about 30% by 2003. I don't know how much f that was by telephone and network in 1995, but most of it was from two consolidated global call centers by 2003. Absorbing a million laptops into the education system of a developing country like the Philippines will be very stressful on the teachers who will be asked to provide classroom leadership. I think some high-quality in-service training for teachers will be needed, but I don't think that will be enough. There are so many things that can go wrong, and some desktop support can make a giant difference. Fortunately, the Philippines has a large and growing tech support industry, part of a broader call center (and non-voice customer care) segment of IT-Enabled Services. I hope the budget planning can set aside some money so that
  1. The local system administrators can keep the servers running and connected.
  2. The teachers can get unstuck in time for tomorrow's class
  3. Mystified students have somebody to turn to, since their teachers won't possibly be able to answer all their questions.
The load for 1. is the smallest, I hope their can be professional tech support for that. There is a much bigger load for 2., but maybe peer teachers and their trainors in the in-service programs can field frontline queries by e-mail, then escalate the ones they can't handle. The volume of student queries could be enormous, but so is the opportunity to intervene at a "teaching moment". Perhaps college IT students could be tapped to provide support here. Some of them will work for peanuts, especially if it is a way for them to get their own laptop eventually. I hope that the laptop comes with a VoIP application, then voice call support will be much easier.


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