Chris Devine is in the business of diffusing ticking time bombs. IT time bombs, that is.

Devine, an IT technician with London, Ont.-based Nerds On Site, is one of 30 techs in the Toronto area that services several companies’ IT needs as they arise. For the most part, he says, when the Nerds

ride to the rescue in their red Volkswagen Beetles, customers haven’t a clue just how poor a state their IT infrastructure is in.

Like many small to mid-sized companies, their customers “”had a guy who’d come in and charge them by the hour to fix things as they broke. But there was no long-term plan or strategy in place, and it finally gets to a point where it’s just not working,”” he says.

Take Outdoor Outfits in downtown Toronto. The 60-year-old uniform outerwear manufacturer’s plight is similar to other mid-sized businesses. For months, they dealt with one trusted source to set up their network infrastructure and to service it as glitches arose. That in itself proved to be problematic, says Franklin Switzer, one of Outdoor Outfits’ co-founders. “”We have 10 desktops on a peer-to-peer network,”” he explains. “”If we had a problem, we’d call in our IT guy to correct the situation, but what we didn’t realize was that the entire infrastructure we were running on was not up to snuff.””

Outdoor Outfits was running a Windows NT 4.0 server — now defunct — and three different operating systems. The company’s internal wiring was “”a mess,”” says Devine, and the company’s infrastructure was “”badly flawed.””

“”We’re just starting off now putting in a new server for these folks,”” Devine explains. “”We’ve done desktop support for the last three months, then we made a proposal to them as to what we recommended would be required to get things done.”” Devine and a couple of his colleagues will be working on weekends to establish Outdoor Outfits’ new server and infrastructure, as it’s the only available time to do so without worrying about users on the network.

Switzer was referred to Nerds On Site by his company’s ISP. “”What I like (about Nerds On Site) is I don’t speak to a head office somewhere else. I don’t know who the owner is and frankly I don’t care yet,”” he says. “”I call Chris (Devine) up and I speak to him and him alone … the reaction time of him coming down here when we call is far superior to previous people we’ve used. They’re efficient, cost-effective, and they don’t work by the hour, they work by the job.””

It’s the one-to-one methodology that seems to be winning over clients of Nerds On Site. Devine says each individual tech is responsible for forging the customer-client relationship and maintaining it. Call it a human CRM program.

Nerds On Site was founded in 1995 by David Redekop and John Harbarenko. The two former employees of a large electronics retailer honed the idea of establishing a mobile IT team to service SOHOs, SMEs and corporate clients after dealing with the frustrations of their previous employer’s clientele. “”We found people wanted us to come to their homes to service their needs and of course we couldn’t do that,”” Redekop says. “”After starting the company, we found we had more customers than we could take care of.””

The company now boasts more than 70 independent IT contractors who help service more than 5,000 clients across the country. Nerds On Site offers everything from network security and virus protection, to complete IT department outsourcing. “”We consider ourselves a start-up, every single day,”” Redekop says. “”In the industry, 95 per cent of IT service is independent and small business.””

— with files from Jennifer O’Brien

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