Author-it notches up 3,000 users, plans US expansion

Software enables efficient management and resuse of content

Paul Trotter started Author-it 11 years ago in the spare room of his house. Today, the content management software company has around 3,000 customers all over the world.

The Auckland office has 40 staff, of which 15 are developers. The company also opened an office in California in October last year and currently has four staff there. However, Trotter plans to grow the US office to 20 staff this year.

Trotter, who started his career straight after school doing engineering work for Telecom, got the idea for the content component management software in the mid-90s, when he was freelancing as a technical writer. He got frustrated with creating and re-creating documents, and with the complicated review and approval cycles, often of material that had already been approved, he says.

The software is a solution for creating, managing and publishing reusable content, he says. According to Trotter, the software helps reduce labour costs because the need to maintain multiple versions of the same content is eliminated. It also eliminates the need for reformatting, as the same content can be published to print and web.

In addition, the software keeps track of what content has been reviewed and approved, and also what content has been translated to other languages, which could help slash translation costs, particularly in Europe where translation of documents into many different languages is very common, he says.

Author-it stores all content in one place, making it easier and faster to search and find the authoritative version of a document, and keeping the content consistent, says Trotter. Access to the content can be restricted to certain individuals or groups.

Trotter started selling the software in 1997, and now the company exports to many countries, in particular to the US and Europe, with 55% of the revenue coming from the US. He says that doing “six-figure deals to Europe and the US over the phone” no longer surprises him. Some of the international clients are Walmart, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard and Philips.

The software is also taught at schools and universities around the world. Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) was the first university or tertiary educator in the world to teach the software, mainly because the semester starts in July in New Zealand and in September in the US, says Merilyn McAuslin, lecturer at MIT’s computing and information technology department.

MIT has been teaching Author-it since 2002. It is used in the practical component of a level 7 technical writing course within MIT’s Bachelor of Information Systems and in a Diploma in Information Design qualifications, says McAuslin.

“We needed an authoring tool and we looked at what was on the market at the time. We thought Author-it was the best for teaching the right way to prepare technical communications. Students need to understand styles and templates well — these are essential skills and Author-it uses these well,” she says.

The software also enables storing information in just one object, to eliminate redundancy — as the same objects can be output in many types, such as Word, PDL, XML and HTML, she says. This enables users to design for both paper and on-line documentation.

“All of the students who do our course get employed in the field — there are several reasons for this, but employers often ask for staff with a knowledge of Author-it as one of their skills,” she says.

McAuslin says Author-it’s obvious reflection of database concepts appealed to her — storing data in one place, sharing it and outputting it in more than one way.

When MIT started teaching it, the software was also cheaper than some US products, she says.

“Interestingly, at the time it was a new product, and some established people from within the documentation industry tried to persuade me to choose other products — many of these people have now changed from the products they tried to encourage me to use. Actually, looking back I had to defend the decision to go with this tool in 2002 — but I am glad I stuck with it,” says McAuslin.

The only hiccup at the moment is some problems implementing the latest version of the software in Microsoft Vista, she says.

It is currently running too slow in Vista, and McAuslin is sticking with the previous version for this year until this has been sorted out, she says.

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