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Every year, the PTC/User Conference improves for Arbortext users. This was the first year we had to turn presenters away. It was also the first year we didn't have to extend the submission deadline because there were so many great presentation submitted.

All Software is designed with particular usage in mind and, invariably, all software gets used in ways the original designers never expected. As a programmer who's written lots of scripts that "were never meant for production", I know first-hand how they always, always end up in production. At PTC/User, the PTC product managers attend each session. It gives them a good insight as well to hear what customers are really doing.

Formatter Shootout

The Shootout was fertile ground for PTC product manages to see how different customers have adopted the different technologies to what end results. It was, by far, my favorite session this year.

A panel presentation that originally had only three technology representatives: FOSI, XSL-FO, and APP (3B2), at the last minute Zarella Rendon joined the panel to represent Styler.

User sessions are great forums for learning new tricks and new possibilities. It's always interesting to see how another side approaches the same problem. This year 15% of Arbortext attendees were APP/3B2 users. We all learned about situations where we might benefit by adopting one another's technology.

As Arbortext customers, we're lucky: We have all FOUR technologies right at our fingertips. So many different ways to creatively design the solution to a problem.

Arbortext Ask the Experts and Arbortext Strategy

Every year, the Ask the Experts panel always has the most attendees. This year, the new Arbortext Strategy session rivaled attendance levels, and for good reason.

Although both sessions are hosted by the Arbortext Business Unit, the strategy session provides a lot of information for attendees about where the business is going, as well as what their plans are as a company and as a business unit. The business unit is a new concept for both PTC and for their customers this year, as well. This session really helps us all plan our futures together.

The new General Manager, Bill Berutti, did an excellent job laying out the strategy of the Arbortext Business Unit going forward. Arbortext is focused on helping customers get the right information out to the field. To date, this has been easier said than done. First, it's hard to be an expert at all things. Second, access to the right information -- finding the right page number when you need it -- is essential to happy customers and critical to success.

PTC has spent $300M on Arbortext since the acquisition in 2005. There are 170 people in Arbortext R&D and over 1000 support personnel. Greater than 1/2 of the employees in the Arbortext Business Unit are R&D. They are all people with very specialized domain skills.

PTC has been focused on, let's call it plastic surgery. Smoothing the wrinkles. Reshaping the products so they fit together better and require less work by their customers to implement, use, or otherwise interact with. Different products are no longer simply stitched together: they're blended. They resonate with each other rather than act as sources of discord or cause friction for customers.

The result, and the resulting strategy, is to provide what is truly an out-of-the-box full solution and not simply a set of tools. They are crossing the lines in the sand that traditional vendors have drawn. They're coming at this like well-trained, board certified surgeons rather than Dr Frankenstein.  They're blending the separate products into one smooth, integrated, single-vendor solution.


Caterpillar tractor from Alameda County Fair 2010

The other highlight of the strategy session was getting to hear from Caterpillar for the first time in a very long time. Caterpillar is on the bleeding edge of enterprise content strategy. They have a wide array of products and customers and an extremely complex product. They support a dealer network in, literally, every country in the world. Their products have a long lifecycle, often exceeding 50 years.

Dealers sell parts, perform service, and are the primary customer for Caterpillar's service manuals. Caterpillar cannot require anything of their dealers because each dealer is it's own business. (One dealer is older than Caterpillar!)

Caterpillar has:

  • 4M machines
  • Average product life-span: 19.8 years
  • No product is ever end of lifed, support is guaranteed always
  • 3M machines are out there in the wild
  • 270K Engineering Change Notices annually, affecting 1-100 part numbers
  • 30K illustrations
  • 53 languages
  • 230K unique customers
  • 20M hits on their service information website every day
  • 5000 published service information/content pieces

Some of their dealers do not have internet, so their solution must be complete, it must be robust, and it must support a disconnected service model. In addition, they've found that technician competency is down and they need their information to change with the times.
They want every customer to be able to:

  • Find the information
  • Understand it
  • Trust it

Caterpillar's technical information impacts every transaction at every dealer every day. They want their customer to have the right part, the right service, every time, any place.  Originally, they were a DIY project that has, over the years, become a spaghetti system. They're ready to change with the times and there are a lot more options today than there were 15 years ago. Today, they want a true solution. They want to get out of the IT business. They built it themselves when there was no other option. Today, they see a better way and they're ready to move forward with a true enterprise solution. It's simpler for everyone.  They see the new Arbortext Service Information System (SIS) as the key to making that move. They're looking at PTC as a partner, who will help them implement this truly integration solution. A partner that will deliver a strong strategic solution.  And this is how they're doing it.

SIS is the same strategic picture that Bill Berutti painted--come to life. It's also the end result of the same lessons-learned that everyone was talking about at CMS/DITA NA. More than ever before, content has enterprise-level impact. It's a strategic initiative that impacts the entire business. The companies that take the discussion out of the techpubs groups are the ones who will be successful in the long run. They'll be the ones beating their competitors to market and winning again and again once they're there. Their content will be consistent across all parts of the enterprise. Content already drives business and has the potential to make customers wildly successful (or not).

Where do you want to be?


For me, PTC/User is like Summer Camp. The same folks come frequently enough (every year or every other year) that you start to recognize them and look forward to finding what they've done personally and professionally in the last year. You grow your expertise through collaboration and personal relationships. You give back. This year was no exception. Despite the recession, Arbortext attendee numbers were up overall again.

Look at the pictures in our Flickr stream.

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