>The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative announced at the World Economic Forum in 2005 set out to put $100 laptops in the hands of 100s of millions of disadvantaged schoolchildren within 4 years and help eliminate world poverty in the process.
The Wall Street Journal (24-25 November 2007) reports that this ambitious non-profit program has hit some snags.
The problems faced by this benevolent program provides lessons in EA for practitioners into what can go wrong if User-centric EA principles are not followed:
- Functionality versus price–as the OLPC computer added functionality, the $100 laptop became $188 plus shipping and many potential buyers balked at the pricetag. On the other hand, countires like Libya complained about the inferior functionality and quality and said, “I don’t want my country to be a junkyard for these machines.” From a User-centric EA perspective, we need to understand the requirements of our users and understand the trade-offs between functionality and price. Then we need to make conscious decisions on whether we fulfill needs for greater functionality and quality or whether we seek to hold the line on price for our customers. These are important architectural decisions that will affect the organization’s ability to compete in the marketplace.
- Compete or partner–the OLPC machine went with open source software like Linux and AMD chips; these put the laptops head to head with companies like Microsoft and Intel, which come out fighting, with the gloves off. Intel is aggressively promoting its version of the laptop for developing nations called the Classmate for $230-$300, and Microsoft has announced $3 software packages that include Windows and a student version of Office. From a User-centric EA perspective, the decision of the organization whether to compete with the big players (like Microsoft and Intel) or partner is another major architectural decision. While we shouldn’t make decisions based on fear of what the competition will do, we do need to be cognizant that if we go head-to-head with “the big boys”, then they will respond, usually in a big way. Now OLPC is reportedly in discussions with Intel to design an Intel-based laptop.
- Training and support–In User-centric EA, do not underestimate the importance to the end-user of adequate training and support. The OLPC made the mistake of minimizing the importance of training and support and said that the “plan is for the machines to be simple enough that students can train themselves–and solve any glitches that arise.” Not very realistic given the state of technology today, and many countries quickly “questioned who would fix them if they break.”
By not following certain foundational EA principles, the OLPC program has floundered and “nearly three years later, only about 2000 students in pilot programs have received computers.”
This is a shame, since so much good from this initiative can still be done.