Magazine Article | May 21, 2012

Quick-Fix Call Leads To Tech Overhaul

By Pedro Pereira, Business Solutions magazine

A solutions provider wins a 450-laptop deployment for a new customer after responding to an urgent need.

There was no hesitation by Arlington Computer Products (ACP) when the solutions provider received an urgent call from Cass School District 63 to fix its wireless network that very day. The network was down, teachers were getting irritated, and the IT manager asked if ACP could come out and fix it, recalls Tom Turkot, ACP’s director of client solutions.

“We said yes, and sent a senior network engineer that we reassigned from another customer engagement,” Turkot says. “We got them up and running by the end of the day.” In so doing, ACP won a new customer that in the months to come would undergo a major technology overhaul, culminating in a replacement of 450 teacher and student laptops. The district’s IT manager had been referred to ACP by another nearby school district.

The school district includes a junior high school and a K-5 school serving 850 students. When the IT manager called ACP, Cass had just embarked on a project to improve the technology in both buildings, including replacing three-year-old Dell Inspirons on a lease about to expire. A technology committee composed of parents, teachers, and administrators was looking into upgrading various areas of technology, including wireless, storage area network (SAN), and network servers.

For ACP, the timing could not have been better. “I joined the committee for four months, and I educated the parents by trying to understand what technology they had at home,” Turkot says. “I asked them about Internet access and whether they used computers at home. I told them what ACP did and about my own experience. We actually became a partner to the school district.”

Price And Reputation Help Land Laptop Sale The laptop deployment was the last phase of the district’s technology overhaul. It followed ACP’s installation of a new wireless network with Motorola access points and Juniper switches, an upgrade of the Hewlett-Packard SAN and network servers, and an installation of new security cameras.

For the laptop refresh, ACP gave the district a choice of brands. A small group of teachers was selected to evaluate the machines and decide which they preferred. The Lenovo laptops won for two reasons: price and brand reputation, says Turkot. Because it was a competitive situation, Lenovo worked with ACP to make the pricing more attractive. “With Lenovo’s support, I knew we could then price the deal very aggressively and still know that we would make a profit,” Turkot says.

ACP deployed 77 15-inch ThinkPad Edge notebooks with 2.66 GHz processors, 4 GB of RAM, and 320 GB hard drives for teachers; and 450 X120e laptops with 1.5 GHz processors and 320 GB hard drives for students. The total for laptops came to about $175,000.

The teachers’ machines were loaded with commonly used applications and the Blackboard education platform, used in schools across the country. Security policies were set and each machine’s data was mapped to individual teachers. ACP sold the district Symantec Deployment Server Software so it could automate the loading process from a central location, saving time and money.

Path To New Opportunities
From start to finish, the technology overhaul took five months. The district is happy with the results, not only from a savings standpoint but also because of the benefits to the students and teachers. The district calculates it received a 22% return on investment as a result of the improved overall network efficiency, the automated laptop image loading, and ACP’s competitive pricing.

Students no longer have to move around school buildings for wireless access because every classroom now has access points. “The real benefit is the ability of the students to stay in their classrooms and take tests via the wireless network. The students are now taking all standardized tests wirelessly throughout the schools,” Turkot says. “It is clearly an improvement in logistics and saves the teachers time.”

For ACP, what started as a simple troubleshooting call has turned into a long-term customer relationship. Even though the district’s new infrastructure should cover its needs for the next three to five years, Turkot says, there will be opportunities for refreshes in the future. Perhaps more significantly, the experience already has led to new business. “Cass 63 has been a reference for ACP with several other districts facing similar issues. Their reference has been key in landing several new opportunities,” Turkot says.