In September 2003, voters in the Spring Independent School District, 20 miles north of Houston, TX, approved propositions worth over $250 million for construction and improvements benefiting the area's more than 28,000 students. That included the purchase of instructional technology equipment and software for use district-wide, presenting a business opportunity -- and some major challenges -- to locally based CSS Presentation Systems.
As Mark Kalinsky, Texas president of CSS, explained, the bond included "laptop computers for all the teachers, a wireless environment, and an audiovisual system for each classroom in the district. That came out to 1,800 classrooms, which is a massive undertaking."
The process began six months before last year's summer break. "One of the requirements was that the projector manufacturer would have to sign a letter of delivery commitment that they could actually deliver 1,500 projectors of a specific model in a 5- or 6-week period. There were very few companies that could step up to that challenge.
"We spoke, as an integrator, with two or three companies that we felt would meet the product specifications and also the delivery requirements. Mitsubishi said, 'We've got 400 in inventory we can deliver tomorrow, and the balance we will deliver every two weeks to your schedule.' That was terrific, and a big factor in deciding upon Mitsubishi."
Mitsubishi's SVGA, 1,700-lumen, SL4U projector was extremely attractive, said Kalinsky, and in addition to offering an 3-year replacement warranty, Mitsubishi was prepared to go the extra mile with a 2-year lamp replacement certificate.
Mitsubishi was hands down the best choice, Kalinksy said, but first, CSS had to survive the bid process. It was an RFP and Mitsubishi wasn't named in the bid. CSS, one of the few companies with strong enough financials to post a bond for the $3 million-plus deal, faced some stiff competition, including a major manufacturer in the IT space. "Only six of the responding 20 companies submitted a proposal. We were not low bid, but our proposal was the most comprehensive, with the right service package attached to it. So they chose CCS and Mitsubishi as a partner."
Then, he said, "We had to pull off a couple of miracles. We had to do 1,500 classrooms with cable, sound, projector and mount, and we also had to hang the screen or move a screen. And we had to install everything in nine weeks, during the summer break.
"We knew we had to do between 35 and 40 rooms a day, every day of the week. But we had two months to prepare for it. I hired about 15 additional people for the summer, and we hired high school kids to prep cable."
With 35 to 40 percent of the work prepared in advance in the CSS warehouse, the company would transport a crew and enough materials for the day to a school. "Some of these schools are quite old, so there were lots of challenges. But we got it to the point where we could do a room in about an hour. We did that for nine weeks, with only the 4th of July off. I've never seen men work so hard."
With three schools scheduled for major renovations in 2005, added Kalinsky, "Next year, we'll do the remaining 300 classrooms, which will bring it to a total of 1,800. Now, we have a service contract that requires a 4-hour response time. We've had about 90 calls since school started; many are user error, or there's a cable loose."