If countries couldn't achieve a 1 million minimum, Negroponte graciously requested they find other countries to partner with and call him back when they made the million unit minimum. Earlier this year, he even suggested that he had a 10 million laptop first year goal.
Then, in last week's OLPC Analyst meeting, he revealed that the order minimum has dropped to 250,000 and he needs only 3 million in OLPC XO sales commitments to get Quanta Computer to start Children's Machine XO production. Why such a sudden and drastic reversal in minimums and goals?
I think that the OLPC Leadership confused Presidents loving the populist idea of a laptop for every child with Ministers of Education or Technology investing
$150 $176 million dollars on untested hardware, laptops that don't even have an implementation plan.
No matter how much a President might agree with OLPC, that student's educational experience can benefit from the Children's Machine XO, the actual purchase decision, the check-writer, will be a Ministry or Department head. In many countries, these are very powerful people, some appointed but many career government employees not beholden to an administration's whims.
The Ministers are beholden to a procurement process that is relatively open and competitive. They must write and publicly publish a request for proposal (RFP), an RFP that is vetted through the Ministry's internal processes to make sure its comprehensive in scope and compatible in goals with the government's other actions. Once issued, the Ministry waits a minimum amount of time before judging each applicant wishing to sell goods or services to the government on a known and objective scale.
This is not a quick process, and with millions at stake, a very contentious process. No Ministry can privately sign up with a single vendor for $176 million in laptops without a loud, vocal, domestic outcry of favoritism.
As you can read in the OLPC Analyst meeting transcripts, this proposal process is happening now in several countries, and it would be interesting to see exactly what the RFP's will look like. Will countries request a computer type that only OLPC can fill? Or will they ask for services, like a defined maintenance plan or local computer assembly, that OLPC eschews?
And while One Laptop Per Child may dislike the process, and it wreck havoc with their original minimums, production targets, and maybe even their Utopian ideals, the proposal process is providing a needed reality check on the program. Each country's government and populace should analyze procurements, even $44 million for 250,000 laptops, to make sure limited public funds are being spent on the best solution, not just the best looking or best marketed one.