Since founding the company in 1986, Malaysian-born managing director Alan Chew has set up additional branches, built staff numbers from four to 23 and has more business than he can handle.
Relatively early forays into virtualisation and VoIP are examples of Chew’s desire to be at the forefront of technology adoption.
“Virtualisation and VoIP are the two hot tickets. I want to take the lead rather than be a follower,” he says. “I put resources into those areas knowing they would become a winner. I started looking at VoIP four to five years ago before people recognised where it would go.”
Chew has also made use of external research into potential strategic partnerships, predicting further consolidation in the channel. “Firms of my size need to be talking to other firms of similar size and I’m investigating that at the moment as part of my management strategy.”
Chew describes his business as a mini version of larger integrators Gen-i or Axon. “We have a very high level of skills for the size of our company and we employ some very high level engineers.”
Building up the locally-focused firm is no small achievement given Chew has no formal IT training. Trained in management and accounting, he grew his skills after buying a home PC while working as a chartered accountant. “I loved it so much I was staying up late to play with it and I wanted to enjoy using it during the day too.”
In 1986 he started the company as part of Houston Computers Group based in Singapore, Los Angeles and Frankfurt. He began by importing computers from Singapore, however, that soon became unprofitable.
“Every time something went wrong with the computers I had to ship them back to Singapore. It was sustainable for a period of time but it got too costly.”
After three years Chew kept the Houston brand by forming Houston Technology Group (HTG), staffed by himself and four graduates. System building became his focus and soon there were 10 staff.
The medical industry was an early avenue of success for Chew and remains a core part of the company’s business. “I started Houston Medical in the 1990s, a software company that sold into medical practices. I sold that but retained an interest in that industry.”
Chew also previously had a partnership with Auckland-based medical software provider Medtech, supplying infrastructure to support Medtech’s software.
“In terms of a single industry, that’s still one of my more lucrative ends of the market,” he says.
However, district councils, dairy companies and professional services firms such as accountants are also among the client base.
Other than VoIP and virtualisation, the primary focuses for HTG today are infrastructure design, implementation and support. It also contracts other IT firms to form a nationwide network of service agents.
The company has clients from Stewart Island up to the Far North, but 80 to 90 percent of business is done in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.
HTG’s target market is medium-sized firms with networks serving about 10 to 150 users.
“We’re most successful when the client comes to us for their entire IT support,” Chew says. “That gives us the chief technology officer role and I focus on people who could benefit from us in that role.”
Chew says his company has the longest history of any IT firm in the region, allowing him to be selective about the work he takes on. “Being here for 21 years means I’m able to pick my clientele a bit.
“I learned very early on to focus on business outcomes and what the client wants. The client doesn’t want to buy a computer, they want to buy profits and productivity gains. I understood that very early in the piece.”
The local labour shortage has forced Chew to recruit engineers from overseas, resulting in a multicultural office. The majority are from Britain, with others from India and South Africa.
HTG formed a Tauranga branch three years ago, moving it to Rotorua just before Christmas. Chew now has plans to expand in Rotorua but the Waikato business is more than enough to keep him busy for now.
“We’ve been putting one engineer a month on for the last three to four months and it’s growing like mad.”