When his dairy farming parents linked a computer to a cowshed, a lifelong interest in computing began for Paul Batchelder, owner and managing director of Using Information Technology (UIT) of Whangarei.
“It fascinated me. That’s where my passion started, when I was growing up,” he says of his time at Arapohue in the rural Kaipara region of Northland.
His business, which acts as an IT department for schools and businesses, has been up and running for six years and is currently employing five people.
Prior to this, Batchelder spent five years working for an IBM contractor doing hardware servicing from Wellsford to Kaitaia.
“We are a contract IT department offering services from junior technicians to senior management. In other words if you run a business, chances are you cannot afford your own IT team, but you need people to clean the computers... right up to IT managers sitting with company management and saying what needs doing.”
Batchelder says he can offer businesses the equivalent services of a $250,000 IT department for a fraction of the cost. Services can be employed casually or on a service contract. One customer, for example, has a full-time technician with UIT acting as back-up.
Around two-thirds of the company’s work is with business clients, with the other third coming from the education sector; ranging from single users to a school with seven servers and 350 PCs. Customers include Kamo High School, Northaven Hospice, Calders Design and Print and Plus Charted Accountants.
“What makes us different is that we work for the customer, we’re not there to sell product. I work inside your business as if I work for you. Decisions are made on what’s in the best interest of your business. We don’t see ourselves as independent of your business if you contract us to work for you,” he says.
Another point of difference is supporting all platforms; whether it’s Linux, Apple or Windows. This includes integrating Windows and Apple networks. “In the past, networks would be so stringent and say you have to run Windows. I say, ‘Just tell us what you want to run and we will make it happen as and when you need it’,” he says.
UIT also offers support to local firms that have offices nationwide. This is done through partners who serve markets in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Taupo, Wellington and Christchurch, through its Compucon Group.
UIT’s brands are Ministry of Education-approved products such as Compucon. Snapper Networks provides networking, firewalls and ADSL equipment. Allied Telesyn network equipment comes from Connector Systems.
“We don’t sell you the most current technology out of Taiwan. We’re platform-consistent and we avoid the hype. It’s fit-for-purpose computers, not the latest and greatest. Businesses don’t want the latest toy, they want tools,” he says.
The main trend he is seeing now is customers wanting to extend the lifecycle of their equipment; such as running a server for an extra year, which in turn needs a more effective disaster recovery system. UIT is therefore busy helping with disaster recovery planning; using tapes, hard drives and internet-based backups for quick and effective recovery.
Finding staff in Whangarei is easy he says, and UIT has recently taken on a technician. The biggest challenge is getting customers to set realistic budgets for IT support. Batchelder says a customer’s budget should be divided into thirds between hardware costs, software costs and support and training. “Some people will spend nothing on training. They think you can buy a PC from Harvey Norman and it will all be wonderful.”
He says his trade is “fantastic because more than ever people need their computers running reliably”.
“Paying a little bit for maintenance helps avoid unwanted capital expenditure. We do jobs right or we don’t do it. If you come to me as a client and we can’t do what you need, we say we can’t do it. We take on work we know and we do it well,” he says.
As well as enjoying soccer, surfing, squash, tennis and travelling, Batchelder has just completed an upgrade of the company’s website, which he admits was awful before but is now generating leads. “I’m building newsfeeds into the website (www.uit.co.nz). It has a central news page that brings news from popular websites like The Register and the BBC. It’s quite cool,” he says.