Acadia taps Dell for massive notebook refresh

After an extensive review process, Acadia University has selected Dell Canada to supply 4,500 Dell Latitude D600 notebook computers to students and faculty, fulfilling a contract

previously held by IBM.

The Wolfville Nova Scotia-based university provides every undergraduate student with a laptop for use during the academic year as part of its Acadia Advantage program.

IBM was the original vendor of leased computers to the school, and the contract was coming to an end when the university decided to go to an extensive request for proposal process last fall.

“”We knew technology pricing had been changing quite a bit in the last couple of years and that there were a number of players in the field that could probably help us,”” said Gary Draper, CFO with Acadia. “”Our first and foremost objective was to go to the street with a very clean level playing field and that we could truly hear from everybody.””

Draper said there was interest from certain groups at the school to look at vendors such as Apple to see if they might be able to provide what the school was looking for, but they also needed to know that the chosen vendor would be able to provide support.

Last fall Acadia held a series of technology days at the university in which vendors were invited to come to the campus to talk to students and faculty so they could understand what Acadia Advantage was and give users a chance to test the hardware.

Draper says that part of the review process added to the breadth and depth of the tender.

“”Integral to the Acadia Advantage program is the training of faculty. We recognized very early you couldn’t just hand the faculty the computers and say ‘Go to it.’ We recognized they had to have the training and development to know what to do with them and what was possible,”” said Draper.

The university has also developed the Acadia Institute of Teaching Technology (AITT). The group’s mandate is to train faculty and help them develop skills. AITT has been successful in the last couple years attracting external grant money which has helped with its operation.

When Acadia developed the tender process it was not only looking for a notebook supplier but a partner that could provide additional value to the program.

“”One of the questions we looked at with a tender of this size — because we knew it was one of the bigger contracts for notebooks in the country — (was) if we could leverage this in any way,”” Draper said. “”Is there anything about the Acadia Advantage brand or Acadia Univeristy that would help us bring something through the door besides notebook computers, and in particular support for AITT?””

Dell will be working with the university to provide a dedicated Web portal with 24-hour access to information and student bundle packages to encourage student use and development of their technology skills. Dell has also created an internship program and made a number of international placements and scholarships available to Acadia students.

The tender process began in October with nine vendors and the school arrived at a short list of five. Those vendors were invited to respond to the official RFP process. Four were eliminated quickly, in some cases based on the inability to roll out 4,500 machines at once. The final five were Dell, Toshiba, IBM, Apple and Hewlett-Packard.

With such a large contract on the table, Lawrence Pentland, Dell vice-president of Americas based in Toronto, went to Acadia during the proposal process.

“”I personally went down to call on them for that. I haven’t heard of a larger deployment of laptops at a higher education institution in Canada,”” he said.

Acadia also invited the vendors to partner with a local provider if possible.

“”Originally that was put in the tender so that if the company didn’t have a particular local presence we would have a close point of contact,”” said Draper.

In the end, Draper says cost was the main driver, however each vendor was evaluated based on support through the life cycle and ability for the support centre to work with the hardware.

He declined to say the price differential between Dell and the next runner up but did say the deal lowers Acadia’s total cost of ownership, in part because of the cost and the warranty provided.

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