As computers become more complex and peripherals such as networking devices, scanners, printers and external memory are added, there is a greater need for service to be offered onsite.
"Computers have certainly gone beyond the hobbyist stage they were in for the longest time in the '70s, '80s and early '90s," says Philip Aylesworth, a professor of computer studies at St. Clair College in Windsor. "That's when nerd was a bad word and that has certainly changed."
According to Statistics Canada, 66.8 per cent of the more than 11.5 million households in Canada in 2003 had at least one computer, up from 54.9 per cent in 2000.
"People, I suppose, just don't want to be bothered carrying all of their stuff in to somebody and have them say everything is fine and send them on their way," says Aylesworth.
|Peter Tiahur, Business Edge|
|Technician Adam Kubica of Nerds On Site, arriving at a Chatham client's office, says 20 per cent of his work with the company involves dealing with business computer troubles.|
Onsite computer technicians are now more readily available to go into homes and businesses to rectify computer issues including virus removal, network administration, hardware upgrades and other repairs needed to get everything working properly.
"Onsite services have been around forever," Aylesworth says. "I did it before I got into teaching. What's changed is someone was clever enough to franchise it and make it a little more visible, and give a central place you can call and always count on getting someone."
Nerds On Site began its service in 1996 in London. "People don't want to know how their computers work, they just want them to work. And we're here to help them with that," says Nerds On Site CEO Charles Regan, although in his case the title stands for capability expansion orchestrator.
Regan says Nerds On Site, which is still London-based, now has 325 nerds in Canada and more than 500 worldwide. There are 150 nerds in Ontario.
"We're also located in South Africa, Australia, Britain, United States and we just started a very small operation in Bolivia," Regan says.
Adam Kubica, a nerd in Chatham, says technicians such as himself work as contractors with Nerds On Site. "It's treated more as if it's your own business."
Clients are given a price range ahead of time based on the services required and the amount of time needed to complete the job, Kubica says. He adds that he likes to make sure a client is comfortable with the price before going out onsite.
"Personally, I do about 80 per cent residential and 20 per cent businesses. But there are some nerds that do strictly business," he says. "We offer everything that's computer related like training, fixes, virus removal and upgrades.
"For businesses, we offer them literally anything to do with technology from major networking and complete office reworks to full-blown maintenance programs," Regan says.
More recently, Nerds on Site has been joined in Canada by the Geek Squad, which was started in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area more than 10 years ago by Robert Stevens.
"About a year and a half ago, Stevens and Best Buy in the U.S. came to a partnership arrangement where the companies kind of came together," says Best Buy Canada's director of communications Lori Decou. "Since that time they have rolled Geek Squad out to every Best Buy store in the U.S."
Last October, the concept was implemented in the 30 Canadian Best Buy stores, Decou says. Agents are available for in-store service, as well as onsite service via their Geek Mobiles, which like the Nerds' vehicles are Volkswagen Beetles.
"It doesn't matter where you bought your computer. It doesn't matter what make it is. The Geek Squad will fix any computer any time," Decou says.
There are currently 40 mobile Geek Squad agents working out of Best Buy stores across Canada and Decou says that number will increase by 100 when stand-alone Geek Squad stores are added.
Rick Lund-Pedersen, owner of Around The Clock IT Solutions in Toronto, says, however, that while companies such as Nerds On Site and Geek Squad are clever with their play on words, they may be losing respect.
"They use self-deprecating humour to get their business," Lund-Pedersen says. "You show up in a Volkswagen plastered with the word nerd, you get out with a shirt on that says nerd. How much respect can you be getting? You're not letting people know you're serious."
Aylesworth says onsite computer service could become a growing industry with franchises such as Nerds On Site and Geek Squad now in the picture.
"We're growing at a healthy pace every year," Regan says. "We average 1,750 new client requests for service per month.”
He adds that his company has more than 35,000 clients.
"We get very positive feedback," Kubica says. "Every time we go onsite, the client gets an e-mail and can write anything they want. It's all posted in our database. I've been getting enthusiastic feedback from people that are very happy with the service."
Diane Devolder of Devolder Farms in Chatham-Kent says she works in a rural office and does not want to drag her computer gear into one of the surrounding towns when a repair is needed.
"I've used (Nerds On Site) for the past three or four years," Devolder says. "They come here and take care of the problem. They're courteous and happy and willing to help us work through something to fix it. I find them very accommodating."
Says Kubica: "The quality of service is better because we're dealing one-on-one with the client. A lot of times, they'll think of something they maybe wouldn't have thought of if they dropped it off. "As we're doing something, we're constantly talking to them and jogging their mind and they're learning things."
While the companies may be optimistic about future growth, Aylesworth believes that from an individual's perspective, it is not a career.
"I think these companies will be around long term, but as far as it being a career someone would want to go into, I think it might be a stepping-stone," he says. "If you went out of college and got a job with one of these services, you would probably make a lot of connections in business that may lead to a permanent job if a company ends up hiring someone."
Lund-Pedersen believes people have to make that choice based on their personality.
"It depends on whether you want to be a big fish in a little pond or little fish in a big pond. My technicians make very good money working with me."
Regan says Nerds On Site did not start "growing out" until 2001 and dozens of nerds have been with the company for more than three years.
"The only route to true career authorship in this day and age of resized, outsourced and re-engineered companies is to become an independent contractor," he says. "The world is our oyster and we haven't even begun.
"We have 50 to 60 years of growth sitting ready, waiting and willing."
(Dave Richie can be reached at email@example.com)