Conversation with the CEO of the company providing Chromebooks to Cobb schools

Forklift unloading pallets of Chromebooks for Cobb schoolsChromebook delivery to Cobb County schools (photo courtesy of Stratix)

The COVID-19 pandemic brought on a lot of changes in the way we interact, do business and in particular how we educate our children.

The Cobb County School District has been conducting classes online-only since the beginning of the school year.

One of the challenges faced in virtual learning is to make sure that all students have access to the tools and technology they need to fully participate in their classes.

School districts need to ensure there isn’t an increase in the “digital divide”: the disadvantage for students whose families lack the means to have devices for online learning in their homes.

The Courier had a phone conversation with Louis Alterman,the CEO of Stratix, a company under contract to provide preconfigured Chromebooks to the Cobb County School District.

On Thursday, August 27, Stratix delivered the first 750 of a 2,600-device order of devices.

“We want all students to have the tools and resources they need to achieve their goals and be successful. With Cobb students returning to school virtually this fall, we had an immediate need to get additional devices to the schools,“ said Felicia Wagner, executive director for the Cobb Schools Foundation. “We felt Stratix was the right fit. They were local to us, had access to the volume of devices we needed and went to great lengths to get us the devices while working within our budget.

Conversation with Louis Alterman

Asked to tell a little about his company, Alterman said, “We are the largest pure play enterprise mobility specialist in North America.”

“We’re based right here in Atlanta in the Peachtree corners area,” he said. “And Stratix has actually been around for almost 40 years, and so we have decades of experience.”

“We serve the world’s largest, and really most iconic, brands: the major airlines, retailers, and others that we’re all familiar with.”

“And we manage all their mobility needs, whether it’s a an iPad or other tablet, whether it’s a cell phone, whether it’s a barcode scanner,” he said. “… things that their customers see inside of retail stores or on airplanes.”

“And then things that are happening behind the scenes, whether it’s on the tarmac, or in a distribution center, or in the back of a retail store. We we provide all that equipment and keep it up and running 24/7.”

How Stratix got into educational technology

The Courier asked Alterman how Stratix began working with school systems.

“The company just got into the education field this year,” he said. “I come from a background where I spent a lot of my personal volunteer efforts around education … And Stratix has been focused more on large enterprises.”

“But this year,” he said, “we saw a great need in our society for our expertise, and saw how we could help with some of the problems that were showing up in education.”

“Most school systems are really not prepared or equipped to deal with all the complexities of online learning,” Alterman said. “It’s not as simple as just getting a device in the hands of a student.”

“First, there’s a bunch of technology decisions to be made around what type of device to provide, and what software to load, etc. But then there are very practical considerations,” he said.

“You’ve got hundreds, or thousands, or in the case of Cobb County more like 100,000 students, who are all expected to be online simultaneously,” he said. “And undoubtedly, at any given point in time, there are going to be issues that are affecting those students, whether it’s an app won’t load, a password needs to be reset, it’s not holding a charge, ‘I lost my charger’, the screen’s cracked, you name it.”

“Schools are really good at running an IT environment inside their schools. They don’t have the experience that we have in running a distributed IT environment across an entire city with devices that are out and about and sort of facing the hazards of being out in the real world,” Alterman said.

“And so when something breaks with one student or 10 students or 100 students at one time, schools can quickly be overrun by the complexity of solving students problems in real time,” he said. “And what Stratix does is run a 24/7 mobile operations center where we can answer the phone in usually under 10 seconds, and then we’ll solve the problem and usually 90 to 95 percent of the time on the first call, where the student will be back up and running.”

He said that if a problem can’t be solved with one phone call, for example a hardware problem, Stratix provides a replacement quickly, and repairs the old one.

“That’s something that schools are really just not prepared to do at scale and in real time,” he said.

‘I’ve got three kids actually in the Cobb County School District,” Alterman said. “And I can tell you that if if my kids were not up and running because of a technology issue and falling behind their classmates, that will be a real problem that our household.”

“And so schools need to deal with it quickly and swiftly to be able to solve problems so that students don’t fall behind,” he said.

Alterman said that with the Stratix-configured Chromebooks in the field, the school system can concentrate on the CTLS Learn system for online learning, and let Stratix take care of the mobile device issues.