You remember early March. Tom Hanks. The NBA shutting down the season. Toilet paper. In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 upended every facet of society — including, critically, education.
At first, schools around the country were closing temporarily. Then, they were scrambling to teach students remotely through the end of the year. Many schools were finding it difficult if not impossible to buy computers and iPads for students because of a shortage in the supply chain.
Meanwhile, like so many other companies, we watched our industry screech to a halt. For the last 15-years, we’d rented out thousands of computers and iPads for live events and conferences. But as we looked at the challenges schools were facing, we knew with our inventory and experience, we were uniquely positioned to serve this market and help schools.
Evolving to Meet the Need
We’re a team that has always thrived when we’re helping solve problems. So we got to work.
First, we expanded our warehouse operations into our office space to allow for social distancing and other safety precautions. Our operations team reorganized to focus on laptops, iPads, and other e-learning technology. We expanded on what we already knew about imaging laptops, and also learned how to enroll thousands of iPads at a time onto schools’ MDM (Mobile Device Management) systems.
Our phones started ringing off the hook. Not only from K-12 schools, but also from universities, government agencies, and private companies needing to rent or buy work-from-home equipment that was sold out everywhere else. With unprecedented demand and manufacturing shortages making it impossible to buy new equipment, our job became finding everything available in the refurbished markets to meet our customer’s needs.
Importantly, we guaranteed on-time delivery at a time when major manufacturers and retailers pushed back delivery dates until the fall, or even 2021. In the world of live events, there is no room for error. We built our business on fast, guaranteed delivery using our own automated tracking systems, a fleet of our own trucks, and a network of logistics and delivery partners, including a longstanding relationship with FedEx and UPS.
Believe us, when our team is up against a tricky delivery, they become problem solving wizards. Power outages, weather delays, remote areas without addresses — you name it, for almost two decades, we’ve figured it out.
Computers for Chicago’s Children
One of our earliest clients was Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest school district, which was right in our own backyard. In mid-April, we began the process of providing thousands of refurbished laptops and iPads to meet the needs of 25 charter schools spread across the South and West sides. Each charter school works off its own unique IT infrastructure, separate from the district’s, making the customization process challenging and complex.
Our challenge was that the schools had already started remote learning. It was critical to get the devices prepped and delivered within two weeks.
We coordinated with each charter school and determined their unique imaging and security needs. From there, we conducted quality assurance testing on all the devices, repaired any issues, and customized them to meet each school’s requirements. Within two weeks we hand delivered the equipment and all the schools had the essential devices ready for students to tune into class. Of the devices delivered, we experienced a .003% malfunction rate and, though minimal, we take every malfunction seriously and provided next-day replacements.
We’re so proud of being able to get thousands of devices prepared and delivered so quickly in our own community. This work also served as a launching pad to the many other school districts we’ve worked with since, from California to Pennsylvania, Texas to Michigan. We even delivered via barge to Nome, Alaska.
In the case of Riverside, California, we delivered laptops just in the nick of time to allow students who didn’t have access to devices to take their online AP tests.
“Our school districts had been working tirelessly to order technology and meet our students’ needs, but the entire nation was on backorder for equipment due to COVID-19,” said Catalina Cifuentes, Executive Director of the Riverside County Office of Education. “Meeting Tomorrow came to our rescue and within days we had devices with full Wi-Fi access delivered to our doorsteps. A few hundred students who will be the first in their family to attend college successfully completed their virtual AP test thanks to Meeting Tomorrow.”
Today, more than 16,000 students across the country have one of our devices in their hands, using it to learn during an incredibly difficult time. We didn’t expect to use our skills and experience in this way, but we are glad we could pivot and use the talent and resourcefulness of our team to accomplish the tasks at hand.
Unfortunately, schools are still facing huge challenges in finding enough devices. The United States continues to face a massive shortage of new laptops, leaving millions of students without a device to access their education. This shortage will only exacerbate the well-documented digital divide.
We have continued to find new sources of used Chromebooks so when customers call us, we have sufficient inventory in-stock, QA tested, and ready to go for their students.
We’re in awe of the millions of dedicated educators who have adapted to teach children remotely this year. And while there’s no telling what COVID-19 has in store for the future, we’re grateful to serve this critical market as long as it’s needed.