Kiwi data, hardware repairers in demand overseas

New Zealand's data recovery expertise is attracting interest overseas, where specialist skills are in demand even in IT-intensive nations like the US.

New Zealand's data recovery expertise is attracting interest overseas, where specialist skills are in demand even in IT-intensive nations like the US.

Auckland’s Computer Forensics says it is getting work in Southeast Asia and with the United Nations. And a former senior analyst for the company, Malcolm Jamieson, is now matching his expertise against specialists in the US and Europe through overseas contracts. He hopes to take up a position within the next year with third-ranking US data-recovery company DTI Data.

Data recovery is a secretive business, with competitive companies disinclined to share knowledge, Jamieson says. He is attempting to “break through the iron curtain” by sharing information with specialists in other countries. He plans to travel to London in September and has also established contacts in the Netherlands and South Africa.

Jamieson was working as a painter and decorator when he found himself making increasing use of computers and developing a growing interest in them – though his hobby involvement with them goes back to the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64 and pre-Mac Apples, he says. He established a reputation among other tradespeople and friends as someone who knew his computers. “People would keep ringing me up and saying ‘my computer’s busted’, and I had a high success rate at fixing them.” Eventually he attended polytechnic courses in computing, stopped the painting and went to work fulltime for Computer Forensics, where he rose to the position of senior technician and data recovery specialist.

He left in April and started his own company, Backtrack, in Masterton. “I happened to find a useful premises there, with a bank vault,” he says. This could be used for storing confidential data.

Jamieson has what might, without disparagement, be called a number 8 wire attitude to repair. He believes it is easier and more economical to fix the specific faults in a motherboard or reinstall the heads in a mistracking disk drive, rather than replace the whole thing, as Americans and most New Zealanders would do, he says. His different outlook gives him skills to exchange in the US.

He works on fixed-rate contracts, reasoning that he’s obtained his knowledge once and should only amortise that cost once. “If experience with previous jobs means I can say immediately ‘that’s where the fault is’, why should I charge again for building that knowledge?”

Not only differences in attitude vis-à-vis the US, but differences in electricity supply are significant, he says. A fault which would visibly “blow up” a chip under 240 volts in New Zealand would be less noticeable under 110 volts in the US, but having seen a few blow up he says he would recognise the signs of such a fault before many US experts would.

DTI has already paid once for him to fly to its Florida headquarters, and he reckons it has a job for him. The only reason he didn’t take it up after the first visit, he says, is that family circumstances led to a long process in obtaining a visa to enter an increasingly security-aware US.

Computer Forensics managing director Brian Eardley-Wilmot likewise finds expertise patchy around the world. “I suspect it’s just not an area people in Singapore are interested in,” he says, "so the Malaysians send their failed hardware to us.”

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