Manufacturing

PTC Forays Into Publishing

30 Nov, 2005 By: Cadalyst Staff

Acquisition of Arbortext extends offerings to current and potential customers


The concept of data reuse has been a big issue in the CAD world for some time now. It's also been big in the world of technical publishing and other forms of written documentation for several years, where content-management systems let users gain control over creating and distributing information. An oversimplified way to explain the concept is this: A good content-management system provides the ability to author a body of text once, then repurpose it for specific tasks and audiences.

In July, PTC took a huge leap into the world of content management and technical publishing when it acquired Arbortext, a major player in the enterprise publishing software business, for $190 million in cash. Arbortext software has been used to automate the assembly (authoring) and publishing (output) of a broad spectrum of documents: product information, marketing documents, service instructions, maintenance procedures, legal information, software documentation and on and on.

The main attraction of Arbortext software has been its ability to efficiently and cost-effectively publish original content to multiple audiences in multiple languages in multiple output formats (hard copy and electronic). This content reuse cuts overall production time and cost while ensuring higher quality. The process is not as simple as I've described it, but it's not overly complicated either, once the systems are in place.

PTC and Arbortext?

When I learned that PTC had acquired Arbortext, I stopped and wondered, "Why?" About 30 seconds later, I realized that the prospect of data reuse - both text and graphics - had huge potential, and PTC was setting itself up to exploit it. One of the strongest arguments for the acquisition is the fact that the Arbortext products are complementary to PTC's, and there is no overlap, so Arbortext software can be used immediately in conjunction with PTC's PDS (product development system), especially Windchill.

I spoke with executives from both companies about PTC's acquisition of Arbortext and what the future might hold.

Tom Shoemaker, PTC's director of Windchill product marketing, says the intent of the acquisition is two-fold. First, it allows PTC to offer a broader product mix for its current customers, especially those involved in discrete manufacturing. Second, it will let PTC sell into new vertical markets that it previously could not, such as government, financial services and pharmaceuticals. Publishing internal and external documents will be accomplished by pairing Arbortext products with Windchill and eventually Pro/ENGINEER.

Shoemaker said PTC considers Arbortext as "Pro/ENGINEER for documents." Pro/ENGINEER imparts structure and intelligence in to a mechanical design geometry and graphics so the data can be reused, and Arbortext software does basically the same thing -- only with text. Arbortext separates structure and formatting from content, and in essence makes documents modular. Also, Arbortext documents are relatively neutral (XML format) and exist in a database, so this frees users from being tied to proprietary formatting issues.

Arbortext has a front-end tool for authoring content and adding structure and a back-end tool for extracting and publishing that content, but lacks a true content-management system in the middle. Arbortext primarily relies on EMC's Documentum as the content-management system. With this acquisition, Windchill will occupy that middle slot. Arbortext will contribute text content and Pro/ENGINEER will contribute graphic content to various internal and external documents. Windchill will manage the XML text documents and their component hierarchy. Shoemaker said that PTC's primary goal right now is to ensure the solid integration of Arbortext products and Windchill.

Looking Ahead

What this all means is you'll be able to manage your documents in Windchill and extract exactly what you need to publish it in different ways. When you tie PTC's product development system with Pro/ENGINEER, you'll be able to publish documents that are relevant to a specific product, and only that product -- in essence, "publish to order."

According to PG Bartlett, PTC vice president product marketing for Arbortext solutions, expect to see all this come together and become available in the second quarter of 2006.

The acquisition fits well with PTC's plans to more actively pursue new small- and medium-sized business customers. A solid case can be made for using publishing and content management in companies of all sizes, not just huge enterprises.

I'll watch with interest to see where PTC takes enterprise publishing and content management and what doors might open to new vertical markets. This acquisition puts PTC in a unique position, pointing it toward untapped frontier that makes sense for existing and new customers.


About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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Lynn Allen

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