End-to-end integration at heart of Computer Concepts

End-to-end integration at heart of Computer Concepts

Darryl Swann, owner and managing director of Computer Concepts, describes his business as a “very engineering-driven company”.

The Christchurch-based systems integrator also claims to do a lot of work “picking up the mess” of failed virtualisation projects, either done in-house or carried out by rival firms.

Swann created his business in 1990 after five years at NZ Post doing IT support work for mainly Unix-based systems.

Since then Computer Concepts has gone through several growth stages, treading water for a few years between growth spurts.

“In the downtime years, we would look for innovative things to give us an edge. You would get your infrastructure right for the next growth spurt,” Swann explains.

At present Computer Concepts employs 60 people, with offices in Auckland, Nelson and Timaru. Auckland and Christchurch are the main growth areas.

The private company specialises in network consultancy, project management and comprehensive support services. Technologies include Unix, Windows server and desktop, Citrix and Novell, with an emphasis on networking systems and connectivity.

Computer Concepts started off just doing consultancy services, but then decided to sell solutions. Margins gained from selling hardware then helped the business sell end-to-end solutions and take ownership of projects, says Swann

“My philosophy was always to try and own and be responsible for solutions and have no-one in-between. We wanted to look after the hardware, the operating system, the database, the networking and leave the applications for the business analysts. We pretty much do everything.”

Some 50 of the company’s 60 staff are engineers. The business operates on a “distorted business model”, rarely advertising but “sitting under the radar” and getting business through word-of-mouth.

Computer Concepts also gained work from purchasing Snap, the South Island’s largest ISP, a few years ago.

“An integral part of your computer system is telecommunications. In order to have control over your communications, you almost need to be a telco,” Swann explains.

“Snap gives us our telco services. We can provide end-to-end private networks up and down the country.”

Computer Concepts also operates three data centres and provides hosted services for customised applications.

The data centres also help with disaster recovery services, another popular service.

Urban fibre networks is another area, with the company involved in local fibre-laying projects.

More recently has come heavy involvement in SANs and virtualisation, even SAN virtualisation, with the company recently picking up such work from the Christchurch City Council.

“Our virtualisation skills are extremely good because we only employ the best. We look after our staff as much as possible. We probably pay more than most, which is why we have a low staff turnover,” Swann says.

“Every engineer has an active involvement in solutions before they go out the door. We spend a lot of time on the design to get it right. This is something a lot of other integrators don’t do. We have had to pick up a few messes where the design has not been right and we have had to come in and clean up the carnage.”

Swann won’t say where he has found such carnage, but admits it ranges from SMEs to well-known organisations.

Computer Concepts also claims skills in clustering, not just SANs, with skills in Microsoft, Novell and Citrix. It is an authorised repairer for HP and IBM and a Cisco premier partner.

Likening the business to an “IT supermarket”, Swann says the business also sells Sun hardware and has three engineers on call through its own 24/7 helpdesk.

“We are reasonably agnostic. We try and pick best-of-breed for each brand. We have dealt with most brands. To some customers we are consultants, to others we are staff augmentation. For other customers we are their full helpdesk and call centre.”

The company has a diverse range of customers from 10 to 1000 user sites or more, including 2000 user sites like councils and health boards, Swann says.

“One of the beauties with our organisation is we are very flexible. We adopt an attitude [its] where the customer wants to fit us into their IT infrastructure.”

Computer Concepts works closely with local software developers on hosting solutions, with improving bandwidth helping the company gain international contracts. One included a clustering project in Adelaide, which was performed remotely from Christchurch.

Many of its Auckland projects are designed and built in Christchurch.

The Christchurch economy is “quite buoyant” and 2007 was a stellar year, says Swann.

“Firms are spending money on their infrastructure again, looking at consolidation, virtualisation, etc. It comes down to simple things like power consumption, ease of administration. It has made the market a lot more buoyant.”

Swann expects this year to be even better than 2007, with the company looking to recruit five to 10 staff.

Unbundling of the local loop will mean more affordable broadband. Fibre projects in cities will create smarter solutions and disaster recovery has become affordable, says Swann.

“The wider economy is all positive. Part of our focus this year will be to organise better to cope with the growth.”

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