When Brad O’Brien was 16, he spent much of his spare time in the computer laboratory at his intermediate school in Ashburton. Then he began helping his father out in the school holidays with business computers.
“My teacher put me on to a local computer company (Computing Solutions) where I began in sales and servicing,” he says. “I got close to a few clients, who asked why I didn’t go into business on my own, so I got a bit of financial backing and set up Bits NZ computing just before I turned 20.”
That was six years ago. As Bits's director, O'Brien has seen his computer services and repair company grow to include clients from Invercargill up to Wellington, with rapid uptake into the rural sector.
“Ultra-fast broadband has made quite a big difference,” O’Brien says. “Clients are changing to fibre because they’re now getting a decent connection to the net. Previously, they were having major issues with speed. We’re doing a lot of point to point wireless on dairy farms, along with support work. We have a remote support programme on our web site and we do on-site visits where necessary.”
He has about 25 dairy farmers customers, all keen to link their houses and dairy sheds over wireless connections.
“Our main thing is to make sure that their data is safe,” O’Brien says.
To that end, O'Brien encourages his customers to employ appropriate back-up measures.
“We trialled a couple of products, and eventually settled on Black Box Backup," he says. "I liked the way we could have total control over remote management. After testing it on our system, we offered a three-month trial to a couple of our clients. We’ve gone from two to three computers initially, to around 30 machines over the past six months.’
He says the Black Box advantage was all about management. “We have a management console on our machine, and we can allocate data, users and customer default times remotely.
“The other back-up products we trialled were primarily designed for home users but Black Box Backup has server back-up.”
Bits is a Combined Rural Trader business, so farmers can use a CRT card for discounts and rewards. It enables O’Brien to simply invoice CRT with client details on a monthly basis.
He says many farmers now have quite good knowledge about computers, which have be come critical to running a modern farm. “For now, it’s about pushing more wireless.”