OLPC Learning That Ideas Are Easy, Execution Is Hard
from the competition dept
Business Week has an in-depth write-up about the One Laptop Per Child project's first deployments in developing countries. The original plan called for building 150 million laptops by the end of 2008; it now looks like they'll be lucky to ship a million before the end of the year. It appears that a big part of the problem is that Nicholas Negroponte and his team underestimated the support requirements for the laptops. Getting laptops into the hands of poor children is good, but it's a lot better if the laptops come with training for teachers and support personnel on how to use them effectively. OLPC may have hoped to build a laptop that was so easy to use that little support was required, but the countries writing the checks don't appear to have bought the argument. Nigeria, for example, backed out of a previous commitment to buy a million laptops from OLPC, opting for Intel's Classmate PC instead. Intel's superior support was cited as the major reason for the decision.
This highlights what was so ridiculous about Negroponte's demand that other companies stop offering competing low-cost laptops. Negroponte deserves credit for pioneering the concept of producing cheap laptops for poor children, but coming up with the idea is, relatively speaking, the easy part. What's far more difficult is the execution. Technical wizardry is an important part of that, to be sure, but probably even more important are the logistical details: keeping the project on time and under budget and ensuring that the shipping project has adequate support. There are a million ways for things to go wrong, which is why it's a good to have a bunch of different organizations working on the problem in parallel. By his own admission, Negroponte is more a visionary than a strong manager, which is precisely why he should have welcomed the entry of a company with Intel's logistical prowess into the market. It may not be as personally satisfying for him to have a for-profit company finish the job he started, but if the goal is to help poor children, then he should be happy to see them being offered more options.