Catalyst IT wins South China Morning Post contract

Wellington open source software firm Catalyst IT has won a seven-figure contract to develop the news website and supporting systems for the South China Morning Post.

The English-language newspaper is based in Hong Kong and has more than 100,000 subscribers.

Catalyst director Mike O'Connor said South China Morning Post (SCMP) had invited it to bid for the tender to rebuild its news portal after discovering Catalyst had expertise in the open source content management system called Drupal. Catalyst also uses Drupal to support Fairfax's Stuff website, and the Otago Daily Times and Scoop websites.

The SCMP deal was worth "seven figures over a number of years", O'Connor said, and included management of its reader subscription service, site management and hosting services.

The 130-person firm would look to set up an office in Hong Kong in the next few years to support SCMP and other clients there, he said.

Catalyst co-director Don Christie said the company was also finding early success with its joint venture, Totara, which launched in April and distributes and supports learning management software for corporates based on the popular open source elearning software Moodle.

Totara – owned by Catalyst, Wellington firm Kineo Pacific (formerly the Flexible Learning Network), and British firm Kineo – customers have included Nike, British supermarket giant Tesco, BP and New Zealand's Inland Revenue Department and Social Development Ministry, which use the software to train staff.

Christie said Catalyst had spent about $3 million over two years helping to develop Totara and in setting up Wellington broadband monitoring start-up TrueNet, in which it holds a majority shareholding.

Catalyst's annual revenue was $12m-plus and that was growing by about 20 per cent year on year, Christie said.

Nine of its 130 staff were based in Sydney and six were in Britain.

The firm was excited about the potential of its Koha library management system – which had been picked up by libraries in New Zealand and overseas, and by government agencies including the State Services Commission and Treasury.

It would focus on increasing export revenue – currently about 15 per cent of total revenue – over the next few years.

Catalyst had been instrumental in setting up NZRise – a lobby group for the local IT industry – and had been vocal in discussions about copyright, patent and procurement issues, Christie said. "We have a strong belief that New Zealand companies like us deserve better and deserve better recognition."

Open source software – software that makes its code freely available – was now widely used by consumers and businesses but in many cases that use was unconscious rather than a deliberate decision to support open source.

"We'd prefer people to be a bit more conscious about it."