Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Ticino firm recovers valuable computer files

Ronald Willemse founder of Blacker and his colleague Oscar Macchi (picture: Blacker)

Anyone who has lost an important computer document may understand the larger-scale frustration of a company that loses valuable information.

The business of data recovery is a sensitive issue. No company likes to admit it loses valuable information but when it happens someone has to try to retrieve it – that’s the job of Switzerland’s Blacker.

Started in 1982 Blacker began as an IT import-export company, moving gradually towards the service side of the business. Now it’s Switzerland’s largest data retrieval group.

Founder Ronald Willemse told swissinfo how they made the change.

“About twelve years ago a customer said they had a hard drive that needed to be repaired and we should be careful not to erase the data,” explained Willemse. “As we did the repair we saw there was some data corruption and we needed to recover that – so that was the first data recovery we did.”

Around 90 per cent of Blacker’s business, which is based in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, is now concerned with data recovery. It works with major corporate and government clients but also has time to help private individuals who have lost valuable information.

Fishing for files

“Once we had a director of quite a big company who lost his notebook computer over the side of his boat on the lake,” said Willemse. “It was down there for four or five hours and when it was recovered rather than letting it dry out the director immediately turned it on and fused the machine – but we still managed to recover a hundred per cent of his data.”

The world of information technology has come on a great deal in the last twenty years, and one would have thought that less data would be lost as a result. But breakdowns and human error will always remain a factor in the business of recovering lost information.

“A lot of people know about back-ups but they are too lazy and they don’t do regular backups,” said Willemse. “And then you get the category of people where the back-up doesn’t work because it wasn’t checked.”

In most data recovery cases Blacker takes the defective parts from the clients and brings them to one of its specialist laboratories. These are clinically clean environments where not even a speck of dust is allowed to enter as this could hamper the very delicate and painstaking work of reconstructing the computers’ memory.

Ronald Willemse explained that it’s only in very exceptional cases that Blacker will go out to the clients themselves.

“Usually we go to the customer site only if the customer needs specific assistance or if it’s such a big job that it’s best for a first inspection to have an engineer at the site. Otherwise we tend to go for the solution that the customer sends the defective material to us and we decide which of our labs will handle it.”

Hush hush

The location of the data recovery labs is a closely guarded secret due to the highly sensitive nature of some of the information that Blacker has to deal with.

“Data recovery is obviously a very delicate matter as we are handling at times very sensitive data for customers,” added Willemse. “We have worked for the police and the military, for tax offices and for banks who in particular are very sophisticated regarding the secrecy of their information.”

So what is the best way to deal with your computer system when you realise something has been lost – what ever you do “don’t touch” advises Blacker’s Willemse.

“If you lose data the best thing to do is nothing and just send us the drive because if the data is really important all the manipulations done by people who believe they are competent can make further loss of data.”


The plague of computer viruses that arrive via email and then set out to wipe out a computer’s memory has made for more work for Blacker.

“There are cases where the virus is so heavy and so destructive that the people can’t remove it with the usual anti-virus tools on the market,” explained Willemse. “We then try everything necessary to access the data again, making a low level copy sector by sector onto the server in the lab.”

Research and development costs in the field of data recovery are high as companies have to meet the challenge of ever evolving technology and ever evolving ways of losing information.

As part of its effort to remain at the forefront of the data recovery scene Blacker will soon join forces with United States-based data recovery giant Ontrack International. Through this alliance it will benefit from the larger group’s research programmes while supplying a valuable link in the larger group’s European network.

by Tom O’Brien

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR