AST’s exit leaves users lacking support

AST Research, once one of the top 10 PC manufacturers worldwide, has continued its fall from grace by removing all support for New Zealand users of its products and won't be selling AST machines in New Zealand, says former New Zealand managing director Peter Uffindell. Uffindell now runs Cormorant Distributors and until recently had been distributing AST products in New Zealand. Now, he says, there's nothing to distribute.

AST Research, once one of the top 10 PC manufacturers worldwide, has continued its fall from grace by removing all support for New Zealand users of its products and won’t be selling AST machines in New Zealand, says former New Zealand managing director Peter Uffindell.

Uffindell now runs Cormorant Distributors and until recently had been distributing AST products in New Zealand. Now, he says, there’s nothing to distribute.

“The AST product manager left the other day and he’s our last contact. I guess all of the AST people have disappeared.”

Owners of AST machines are caught in the middle as parts and service are all but unavailable to them in New Zealand.

NCR is an AST service agent but an NCR staff member claims they are unable to provide support as Samsung cannot or will not provide spare parts for AST machines.

Computerworld has received a copy of an internal NCR memo that outlines staff frustrations at the situation.

“Now the excitement has died down after receiving four parts from Samsung we should reflect on the fact that we’re still awaiting two orders in Wellington and two in Auckland, both outstanding. We sent off two new requests yesterday. I have two new queries today.”

The source, who did not wish to be named, says NCR is advising business travellers with AST machines to source spare parts “at the next country”.

NCR’s managing director, Tony Bradley, was unavailable for comment.

AST was purchased by Samsung in March 1997 after several attempts to become a player in the Australia and New Zealand markets. After re-launching operations in October 1996, AST withdrew in February 1997, preferring to use Cormorant Distributors as the local agent. The Australia-New Zealand managing director, David Henderson, left amid rumours of “prolonged turmoil” in March at about the same time that Samsung took over.

Although he’s had no formal notification of an end to the AST contract, Uffindell says he has had informal talks with various company members and has seen the writing on the wall.

“It’s a pretty despicable situation.”

Uffindell cites AST’s actions as the main reason he’s had to lay off four staff members. He points the finger at parent company Samsung. “I think they are caught up in South Korea’s problems.”

Samsung’s general manager for information technology, Stefan Wasinski, admits there have been delays in shipments of spare parts, but says that should be a temporary problem while Samsung switches its base of operations from Hong Kong to Korea. Samsung has ended AST Hong Kong’s role as regional headquarters with the loss of an undisclosed number of jobs.

“We’re implementing an ‘umbrella’ provider for service and support for AST products in Australia and New Zealand. That process will be finished at the end of February and we’ll be in a better position to service our existing customers.”

In the meantime Wasinski says New Zealand users should continue to access what service and support they can through existing channels. He also says no new AST machines will be sold in either Australia or New Zealand and there are no plans to bring Samsung devices into New Zealand in the foreseeable future.

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