by Dale – BitFIXit volunteer technician
As someone who joined BitFIXit in February 2016 on a voluntary basis, I enjoy working with computer repairs and refurbishments, having accumulated approximately two years of previous IT experience in computer repairs, optimisations and refurbishments with Really Green IT, a former social enterprise that was based in Hillsborough Barracks as part of The Sheffield College. During my short time so far with BitFIXit, I feel that the voluntary group has a lot of potential in terms of expansion, growth and the ability to genuinely benefit communities in Sheffield and the wider area and so, I have a number of ideas and suggestions that can help enable BitFIXit to develop and evolve into the future.
Employment & Voluntary Opportunities
At present, BitFIXit is a relatively small group of volunteers and IT professionals who offer professional services at Abbeyfield Park House as a community clinic every Saturday afternoon, with Friday sessions at Union Street in the City Centre, and the IT professionals also offering services to customers, businesses and other organisations during the rest of the week.
The use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, along with poster advertising in libraries, community halls and other places, and networking events to promote BitFIXit can be leveraged to encourage individuals and IT professionals to join the group and enable them to help us make a genuine difference to communities all over Sheffield and the wider region. Other social media platforms could be used for that purpose as well.
Opening up employment and voluntary opportunities for people with physical, learning, mental, cognitive and/or other forms of disability would be compatible with BitFIXit’s ethos of openness and inclusivity, as this provides them with an avenue to gain valuable work experience, especially in the current economic and jobs climate with a high degree of difficulty for people with disabilities to secure and retain jobs.
Expansion & Growth
A larger group of volunteers and professional technicians gives BitFIXit scope to expand its operations and secure sustainable growth in Sheffield and the wider region. This in turn enables the group to better serve communities across Sheffield and neighbouring towns and cities. There are three possible approaches to expansion and growth that I have identified so far;
Expansion of community clinics to other areas in Sheffield
This approach aims to expand BitFIXit’s services to support more people in Sheffield by providing computer repair sessions at community centres in other areas of the city. This involves identifying community centres located in various other districts in Sheffield and either contacting them by phone or email, or visiting the community centres in order to speak to people running the centres, to see if they will allow BitFIXit to set up community clinic sessions there. New community clinics can then be held on other days of the week, with the possibility of having a community clinic open each day, with the exception of Sunday.
This approach has a strong emphasis on helping people in other deprived communities in Sheffield and thus, together with the pay-as-you-can nature of community clinics, has the benefit of covering greater numbers of people for whom the use of professional services provided by other computer repair businesses and organisations are outside of their scope.
It also has a high degree of compatibility with BitFIXit’s values and objectives; expansion of community clinics to other parts of Sheffield covers the four values of digital literacy (keeping people connected online), consumption or sustainability (extending the working lifespan of computer through repairs to reduce overall consumption), affordability (providing services to people of all levels of income) and empowerment (enabling people to perform basic maintenance tasks themselves in order to fix some of their problems), as well as at least the social and economic objectives.
One main downside of this approach, however, is that it would offer limited scope in providing sustainable paid jobs for technicians and apprentices; this would necessitate requiring professional technicians currently with BitFIXit to take on increased workloads in order to sustain new community clinics in Sheffield, as well as the existing community clinic in Abbeyfield Park, or encouraging other technicians in Sheffield to dedicate their time in providing BitFIXit’s professional services for individual customers as well as small and medium businesses, and other third-sector organisations.
Establishment of a computer repairs shop
This approach aims to provide professional services for customers by opening a fixed shop in Sheffield, that is dedicated to providing computer repair services to customers who can afford them. To implement this approach, the first thing to do would be to find a suitable vacant shop, ideally in high-traffic locations with low rent and other bills. Then, people involved with BitFIXit would need to plan the appearance and layout of the shop, have trained builders prepare the new shop in line with the planned appearance and layout, and then arrange the tools and equipment necessary for day-to-day activities to be carried out at the new shop. The shop would be open five or six days per week from 9am in the morning until 5-5:30pm in the evening, and may also stock refurbished computers and essential IT equipment and accessories such as packs of blank optical discs, USB drives, printers and ink cartridges, keyboards and mice.
This approach focuses on the professional side of BitFIXit’s services by providing a fixed avenue for local people who are able to afford the costs of having their computers fixed, and who can bring their computers into the shop instead of having a technician come to them to fix the computers. The main advantage of this approach is that the surpluses accrued from computer repairs and sales can be invested into supporting the existing community clinic sessions, with the possibility of opening up new community clinics in the near future. Unlike the existing community clinic in Abbeyfield Park House, which currently opens only every Saturday afternoon, being a shop that can open five or six days a week enables it to benefit from greater customer patronage; by virtue of reaching out to more individual customers (one of BitFIXit’s target markets as stated in its business plan), the shop can provide a greater source of revenue, which in turn provides greater scope for which BitFIXit can achieve its stated objectives.
One major caveat with establishing a computer repairs shop in Sheffield is the potentially high initial costs of setting up the shop, as well as ongoing costs of running the shop, such as rent, taxes, utility rates and the cost of replacing equipment used in day-to-day operations. Consideration will need to be taken with regards to the pricing structure for computer repairs and sales of computers, IT equipment and accessories, in order to ensure continual stock rotation and turnover while also continuing to accrue surpluses for investing into BitFIXit’s community clinics. Running the computer repair shop may also be incompatible with BitFIXit’s core values (digital literacy, sustainability, affordability and empowerment); for example, if keeping the shop running necessitates ordering in brand new accessories for computers and IT equipment from online retailers and wholesalers to sell onto customers, this would potentially run counter to the group’s values on sustainability, as it can lead to an increase in consumption of these items and subsequently the amount of items and equipment that are discarded in favour of newer ones.
Establishment of a hybrid outlet
This approach aims to combine the services of a community clinic with the professional services provided by a shop and the existing call out service. This would involve finding a suitable vacant shop to set up and run (as with the previous possible approach), but rather than using the outlet simply as a repair shop that can also sell items if necessary, it can also provide the services of the existing community clinic, along with the professional call out service (depending on the vacant outlet chosen). Like the previous approach, the outlet can be opened five or six days per week with opening times of 9am until 5-5:30pm. If a shop is not desirable to BitFIXit, the existing venue(s) for the community clinics could be used instead.
The main benefit of this approach is that it can potentially support all three of BitFIXit’s target markets stated in the business plan (enterprises and other third-sector organisations, individual customers and local communities); this is because the outlet can provide professional services through sales of second-hand and refurbished computers, accessories and IT equipment and call outs to individuals and organisations who can afford to pay for the professional services, while still offering the services of the community clinic to poor and disadvantaged people. It can also fit in with BitFIXit’s values and objectives more easily than with a dedicated repair shop; in particular, sales of second hand and refurbished items fit in with the sustainability value, as long as the group ensures that any sales of these items are based on what is best for customers, rather than what makes the group the most revenue/surplus.
This is a work in progress, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Please feel free to use it, modify, build upon and improve it! We welcome your constructive contributions!