This page is not an official letter from OLPC - rather, it is a letter from me (Mel Chua), an independent volunteer, written with the help of other OLPC volunteers who have been working almost full-time in our off hours for the last 2 months to help get this straightened out. It's what we would like to say and share with all the frustrated donors out there (and in fact, some of us volunteers are also G1G1 donors who haven't gotten their laptops yet).
|NOTE: The contents of this page are not set in stone, and are subject to change!
This page is a draft in active flux ...
The short version
1. We messed up. The current distribution debacle is our fault, and we take full responsibility for it.
2. We took far too long to tell you this.
3. There is no one person in any organization who is able to directly fix things right at this moment and make your individual XO arrive at your door right this moment. This is a bug, and we're fixing it, but it will take initiative, collaboration, and time.
4. This is what we hope is the beginning of fixing #2; We are working on changing #3 and giving people the power to fix things, even though the results may not be immediately apparent.
5. If you still want an XO, we'll get an XO to you. It might take us a while, but you will not be forgotten.
6. We're very, very sorry about this. You've all been wonderfully patient and understanding, and we appreciate it tremendously. We're trying to fix things so that this won't happen again.
The long version
We messed up
First, let's stop the finger-pointing and buck-passing.
There are many partners involved in our supply chain model. All of them want us to succeed. All them are working with us with a pretty open and healthy relationship. The real problem is not any individual partner, but the entire big picture planning and process, which we (OLPC), didn't do. We asked our partners to stretch their systems and processes to somehow work cross-companies to put together a order entry, phone support, shipping and delivery system for 100k laptops in about 3 weeks (maybe less) with no budget. We asked for the impossible - so it shouldn't be a surprise that we ran into problems.
Even though the situation is ultimately our fault and our responsibility, that doesn't mean we have the ability to directly fix things right at this moment. It's like changing the path of a ball you've thrown in mid-flight; we set a plan in action, that plan didn't turn out the way we expected, and now we have to work with what we can.
Getting your laptop to you
From an immediately practical "what can OLPC staff do to push my individual XO closer to arriving at my door" standpoint, the answer is, unfortunately, "nothing." OLPC has essentially no control or say over anything that's going on with shipping; that's part of the ball we threw. In a nutshell, once laptops roll off the conveyor belt in Taiwan, Brightstar and Patriot take them up; between then and when they arrive at your door, OLPC really can't do anything. We're just as frustrated about it as you are (compounded by thousands of people we want to help yelling at us to fix something our hands are tied on).
There is no "supervisor you can talk to" (we don't really have supervisors). There is no "person who can get something done about this." There is no escalation path for the many deliveries that didn't go as planned. We are making one. We are building this infrastructure and identifying the people who can get things done. We are rebuilding our distribution system right now, with a lot of help. Until the new system works, we're all stuck with the current one - and trust me, we don't want to be there any more than you do.
The current delivery system
Here's the current system: How laptop delivery works. There's also a section on How laptop delivery breaks, kept updated to the best of our abilities.
When you call "Donor Services" or email support at laptopgiving (also donor services) to find your tracking number or why your order hasn't arrived or why they can't ship to your address or anything else, you're talking to Patriot. We simply can't move any of those queries faster down the resolution pipe right now. We really wish we could. OLPC staff back in the office are talking with Patriot right now (Friday, Jan. 25 evening) to resolve the situation, and have been for the last several days straight, but it takes time to deal with thorny issues of this magnitude.
I want to make it very clear that this isn't Brightstar's fault. They're good people and they're trying hard (and they're human, too). Brightstar came in at the last minute to help with distribution both on the G1G1 donor side (you) and the "we're sending the other laptop to a kid in the developing world" side and a last-minute dump of tens of thousands of individual US addresses plus directives to ship tens of thousands more to the developing world, all during the holiday season rush, is... challenging, to make a huge understatement.
Addresses get mis-entered in the order logs, packages get lost, and so on... this happens in any large-scale distribution effort, but especially so in a massive-quantity, last-minute, global one. Yes, OLPC can influence Brightstar's actions, and Patriot's. Yes, it's happening now - it's just not immediately apparent, because changes to a system this large don't happen overnight. OLPC people have been flying back and forth between Boston and Chicago every week to work with the Brightstar folks. A lot of things are happening behind the scenes, round-the-clock, to change the situation so that we will have the power to help you and resolve your lack of laptop directly.
The "behind the scenes" part is not optimal. We're trying to find ways to make the fixing-it process more transparent - getting and publishing reports directly from the OLPC people working personally with Brightstar, mostly. Things are almost entirely opaque right now, even to most of the volunteer support team. (You're not missing that much, though. Status updates right now would probably be incredibly boring, unless you're the type of person who enjoys detailed reports on database errors.) There are time tradeoffs between communicating boring status messages that don't actually affect laptop delivery status and actually working to affect said laptops' delivery statuses. That having been said, the volunteer support team is trying to get as much information as we can so we can let you all know what's going on.
The "Give One" side of things
Some people have said that if they haven't gotten their G1G1 XO, how can they be sure that the kids in the developing world are getting theirs? Actually, it's because kids in the developing world are getting theirs that a lot of G1G1 users are being frustrated with late, hard-to-track XOs.
Here are some pictures from Ulaanbataar, Mongolia, the first "Give One" deployment site, where, thanks to your direct generosity, 1000 children received their laptops and have started to learn with them and transform their village in the process. Please take a moment to look at that before reading on.
Brightstar (upon request) optimized our supply chain strategy to be good at delivering large numbers of laptops to small numbers of places in the developing world. The tradeoff is that the same supply chain kind of stinks at delivering small numbers of laptops to large numbers of places in the developed world.
The logic was that getting 10,000 machines out to schoolkids in a province in rural Mongolia is higher on the priority list than shipping 10,000 machines individually to people across the US who (for the most part) already have access to some form of computers and schooling. Those kids are the ones we exist for. They're our real bottom line. ('we're an education project, not a laptop project" - and we're definitely not a laptop company.) Sometimes it's easy to forget this.
Not everyone might agree, and it's definitely frustrating and - in my personal opinion - unfair to G1G1 donors whose expectations aren't being met right now - but part of participating in a bleeding-edge, revolutionize-the-world, nobody's-done-this-before project is taking the risk that things will break, not work, be confusing, get lost, and otherwise make you want to pull your hair out at times. Early adopters in any project or technology have to put up with some of the hard knocks of being guinea pigs; this is even more true in an experimental effort like OLPC. (Seeing kids in Mexico film the birth of their calf or kids in India stop skipping classes after their laptops arrive kind of makes up for it, though.)
What you can do
In the meantime, what we can do is help folks get emulators up and running so they can play with software while they're waiting for their laptops (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Emulation), get them connected with others in their area (http://lists.laptop.org/listinfo/grassroots) who might have XOs they can play with - almost anything other than getting laptops to your doorsteps faster and with less pain, which is something we simply can't do right now.
If you're looking for a way to play and contribute in the meantime, please check out the wiki or come chat with me (mchua) and the other volunteers on #olpc-help in irc.freenode.net - the easiest way to do this is to click on this link: http://olpc.osuosl.org (give yourself a username, and then sign in, no account creation needed). Come in, ask questions, vent frustrations, get help and information... we're here to help, and we'll do everything in our power to help you get started with a good experience.
Hope this helps clear some things up a bit. I know nobody wants to hear this answer, but it's the state of things right now, to the best of my knowledge. Let me know if anything's unclear (or otherwise still frustrating but something we can fix), and feel free to correct me on any point, as I'm also one of those fallible human-being units that gets shipped to this planet every so often.
Thanks for listening,
-Mel Chua and other members of the support-gang volunteer crew