It is official—spring has sprung. The rain over the past week has done its job. The grass is green, and the buds on magnolia trees have bloomed. Students and faculty can be seen on the quad with their computer in hand, looking for the best spot to work and still see the image on the screen.
It is during this time of year that the Information Services (IS) department typically starts to shift its focus to closing out the current year and prepping for a wide array of summer projects – and this summer is no exception.
This summer’s projects include virtualizing and updating aspects of the phone system; working with a variety of vendors during the US renovation to relocate or install equipment; and, of course, launching the fifth cycle of our device programs for students and employees.
In a typical year, thinking through the logistics of these projects and the long list of items to check is what would typically be occupying my mind. Of course, this is no typical year.
Instead, over the past week, my thoughts have been consumed with a 220,000-ton container ship and the Suez Canal. Never would I have guessed that a vessel carrying goods from all over the world would give me pause, but there she was– the Ever Given, and her over 20,000 containers–occupying a large portion of my mind.
I started thinking about the containers on-board. What is in them? Where are they going? Do any of them contain materials that may slow down manufacturing in the technology sector? What about all the other ships that are stuck waiting? Do their containers have something that would delay our device refresh schedule? The list of questions went on and on.
It may come as no surprise why this ship has caught my attention. Call it leftover procurement wariness from the fall, when the unforeseen–and entirely outside of our control—impacts of COVID-19 wreaked havoc on supply chains. Effecting nearly every industry, shortages had us scrambling. Schools and businesses worldwide vied for various limited inventory, from webcams to cleaning supplies.
As we begin to see light at the end of the COVID tunnel, we also see a supply chain that has likely been forever changed. Changes to how we live, work, and learn that may have seemed transient at the time—an increase in a mobile workforce, virtual learning, and video communication tools—are genies out of a bottle, likely here to stay. What might have been construed as a mere inconvenience before– a backorder or delay in a product—can now profoundly impact the procurement and distribution of devices worldwide.
Which brings me back to the Ever Given and the ships that were delayed because of it.
Truth be told, while this specific event might not directly impact us, it is a symbol of the many and compounding elements that have made this year’s planning of our summer and its projects atypical.
As we have moved through selecting and launching our 2021-2022 tablet program, concerns about the sheer quantity of orders and caveats regarding limited availability have become an asterisk in all communications.
Vendors have had difficulties procuring demo units for customers—including CA. Those that have offered them have done so only for a short window of time–a few days for IS and a few key stakeholders to demo the unit before requiring its return to meet high customer demand. Sadly, this has made it challenging to involve our broader community in the decision-making process as we have in past years.
Once a device is chosen and preliminary tasks completed, the devices will be ordered. Normally when IS takes a sigh of relief and enjoys the calm before the storm–when tablet collections begin and all the new machines arrive. Not this year.
Until the devices arrive, we will be rooting for companies like Intel and other manufacturers who make various device components. We will cross our fingers in hopes that supply chains will meet mounting demands. And, of course, we will cheer at the news that the Ever Given has finally made its way out of the Suez Canal.
In the meantime, be on the lookout for communications regarding repair schedules for our existing devices, collection dates, and distribution of the new machines.
And rest assured, vagaries of the market and supply chain aside, I am confident that CA will start the 2021-2022 school year with a machine that fits our needs.