In 1993, the World Wide Web was two years old; Jim Bolger was Prime Minister and Whitney Houston was topping the charts. But in a lounge in Canterbury a company that would eventually have 50 employees and hundreds of clients, including some of the country’s top law firms, was formed.
CommArc (then Communication Architects) was founded by Phil Johnson in his mother’s lounge after coming back from travelling the world.
“When I came back to New Zealand I formed CommArc as a company that stood between the people selling the technology and the people that were trying to use it.”
The company had three employees and relied on word of mouth.
“We didn’t advertise, we didn’t approach anyone – it was 100 percent referral. There was no sales team so everyone came to us on referral, and a lot of them still do” Johnson said.
Johnson left school at 15 and joined the Air Force where he trained as an avionics engineer.
“As a kid, I used to fix radios and stereos for people and used to electrocute myself on a regular basis playing around with stuff so I knew I had a bent for it.”
CommArc now helps customers navigate their way through technology by being a full-service IT provider with around the clock support only a click or phone call away.
“If you put a computer outside of our firewalls it could be hacked in under fifteen minutes” he said.
The company’s achievements are varied, from building the entire platform for the Census, to creating the systems that drive some of the country’s largest ski fields. At one stage, before Fonterra, 80 per cent of all dairy companies in New Zealand were CommArc clients.
A main challenge for tech companies is having to constantly be changing to stay competitive and on top.
“What’s been really exciting for me is being able to be bold enough to reposition CommArc for what’s coming. In an industry that changes at a phenomenal pace, to be in the right position to be bold enough to predict for us and our customers what’s coming – we’ve always had that modernist approach to business.” Phil said.
Johnson sees the coming information revolution as being the biggest change over the next 25 years. “We’re heading into a time where information absolutely drives everything we do. How we get it, how we input it, how we process it is commodity, but it’s what we do with the information we get and how we use it to drive our businesses that will make the difference.”
CommArc hosted its 25 years’ celebration at the brand new Tūranga, Christchurch central library. The mix of information and technology in the new facility was a perfect reflection of the ethos with which Johnson has created, maintained and grown his business. The night on October 17 also saw a prize giving for an art competition the company held, which Johnson thought was a good fit for CommArc.
“Art is creative and what we do is creative,” he said.