“We pick up quite a bit of work from boats. They have sophisticated computers, servers and email. We also hook up to the fishing boats. They are all computerised and their biggest problem is rust. The computers are always corroded. The summer boat trade is quiet but consistent,” Mackenzie says.
Leisure and lifestyle has a major impact on business with working from home popular in the Far North. It’s something Mackenzie does himself.
Northland Computer Solutions was formed 14 years ago by Mackenzie and his now semi-retired father Trevor. It claims to be the oldest computer company in Whangarei, as the others have changed their names and a takeover meant Computerland became Gen-i.
Mackenzie describes his business as boutique, saying it has been a Compaq/HP agent for years, carrying out warranty work and dealing with small businesses of 10 to 50 PCs. He employs four technicians.
Brands include HP, custom-made computers like JDI, Trend Micro anti-virus; with Flexirent deals popular as company tax and GST rebates make them cheaper for businesses than paying cash.
3Com and its range of modems are becoming popular, along with other producers who focus on the home and small business market.
Wireless networking is also taking off, Mackenzie says, with his company installing a few sites, particularly around hotels and holiday parks.
Slingshot is also testing Wimax in the region, which will cover up to 50km point-to-point, and will include rural areas.
“The big problem for Whangarei is the rural areas are stuck using satellite systems. They are expensive and not efficient to send and receive. Then you have weather problems like rain fade with Sky decoders,” he says.
Northland Computer Solutions used to cover Wellsford North, but Wellsford now has its own IT professionals; though the company still does work on contract there and it occasionally sends technicians north to Kaitaia.
Mackenzie confirms a switch into the home market, along with small business, saying corporate business is suffering as the big firms have “gone nationwide” and streamlined their contracts.
However, he does a lot of managed service contracts for an Auckland company.
As of now, Northland Computer Solutions is pushing Microsoft Server Small Business with HP and Microsoft.
“They have some very nice bundled packages for firms with five-plus computers. They allow the benefits of working from home, which suits the Whangarei mentality. We try and specialise in that so more bosses can work from home – that’s what I like to do – and Small Business Server gives us a good platform to achieve that.
Indeed, remote home support is a focus for Northland Computer Solutions.
“We can interact with the customer on the end of the phone. We can launch our desktop support system by clicking on a button. You go to our website, pick a technician and it’s done,” he says.
“We have been doing this for years. It has got better as the internet has got faster and is a real tool now. It was difficult to get it going from the end-user and we had to visit them, but they can do it for themselves now.”
Mackenzie says he has had the same staff for years (now seven, including five full-timers) due to a “good and flexible work environment”. But influxes of newly-qualified IT graduates create too much competition and this inhibits growth.
“There’s a lot of training facilities up here and when technicians come out with qualifications, they try and find work. There’s not many firms with over two IT staff, so these graduates band together and work for themselves. We have an increasing number of IT firms listing but they tend to be one or two-man bands. It’s disheartening as we are spreading the load over vast amounts of small individuals. It inhibits the bigger firms like us and Gen-i from employing more staff. It’s a vicious circle. There will never be a lack of technicians in Whangarei looking for work. I get approached numerous times with CVs from people and calls from recruitment agencies,” he says.
Nonetheless, Mackenzie reports a good year, but a quiet September due to rising interest rates hitting business and consumer confidence.
Looking towards Christmas, Mackenzie says everyone wants large LCD TVs, noting a special deal he has with Hyundai for those who subscribe to his company newsletter.
“People have talked about media centre PCs for a while. Integrating PCs to home entertainment will become more and more popular,” he says.
And then there will always be summer and the boats.
“I try and spend as little time at work as possible in the summer. I have a campervan and spend as many weekends as we can, going away,” Mackenzie adds.