Catalyst notes shift in open source attitude

BIG PRESENCE: Catalyst IT directors Mike O’Connor, left, and Jason Ryan.
BIG PRESENCE: Catalyst IT directors Mike O’Connor, left, and Jason Ryan.

Wellington company Catalyst IT has been a pioneer in open source content management since the firm was founded in 1997.

It employs 120 people in Wellington and another 30 in Christchurch, Australia and Britain producing websites made with open source code that can handle sensitive information and large volumes of users.

Catalyst makes and runs the website that holds New Zealand's electoral roll, library information, online learning and several other government sites. It was behind the original news website and recently launched a redeveloped site for Hong Kong's daily English language newspaper South China Morning Post.

"The project was a complex one and, like the other large media sites we've done, there were both technical and business process challenges," director Mike O'Connor said.

"Working across three time zones, here in New Zealand, Hong Kong and from our UK Office was part of the challenge, but we were able to use the time differences to our advantage, providing more comprehensive coverage for the client."

The Hong Kong newspaper, which has 1.3 million page views and about 500,000 people visiting the website each week, approached Catalyst originally as one of four companies it had selected worldwide to invite to tender.

South China Morning Post deputy digital director Ben Abbotts said the site Catalyst made was world class.

"Already, in the first few weeks, the site is significantly outperforming its predecessor; traffic has doubled overnight - we have single articles with more than 100 comments and 450-plus shares."

Next month, Catalyst launches its biggest project yet: a website in the Middle East that will have two million users.

"Building something that will serve that many users, with the potential that two million users could hit the same button in a 24-hour period, is quite intense," O'Connor said.

When Catalyst started out in the late 1990s the market was challenging, according to O'Connor.

"There were some great technologies around but a hell of a lot of suspicion. When [open source] was very new, people saw it as being insecure and unsupported . . . It took many years before we started to see a shift."

Two years ago the company started Catalyst Open Source Academy, training up about 25 students between the ages of 14 and 18 each January at its Willis St offices. O'Connor said they tried to make sure the sexes were balanced, because women in its employ working on open source only made up between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of staff at present.

The company had clients in India, Europe, "all over the globe really" and now the Middle East. North America was another area of focus.

"We think there are a lot of exciting opportunities here as the New Zealand Government is looking to consolidate, modernise and rationalise a lot of their IT operations and services to the public."