Helping developers keep themselves on track is a key issue for any business, and developers actually know this better than anyone. The evidence for this can be seen in the track record of Australian developer support tools company, Atlassian. It has rapidly grown to a $100m company without a sales force.
Now moving in on Europe with a range of tools to that provide some of the essential underpinning to applications and service development, the company provides the communications and collaboration infrastructure that helps ensure development teams – increasingly separated by geography and time – work together effectively.
Indeed, with the Cloud growing in importance, teams of developers are increasingly separated by employment as well as different software vendors’ work together to create new services. Here, communication and collaboration has to be as clear and effective as possible if misunderstandings and delays are to be avoided in the development process.
NetSuite’s CEO, Zach Nelson, in a slightly different context, has famously referred to this problem as the `hairball’, the potential for communications and collaborations efforts to become so convoluted and inter-twined between teams and business partners that it becomes almost impossible to make sense of what is happening.
Atlassian’s VP of Product Marketing, Dan Freeman, found that analogy quite appropriate, particularly in terms of how the company sees its role in this process:
Atlassian’s approach to this has been to build two primary tools, both of which are aimed at providing asynchronous team collaboration. This, of course, is a natural problem for most Australian companies, where just about everywhere is at least two times zones away.
The tools are a project tracker called JIRA, and a Wiki-based collaboration platform called Confluence. The company has just extended the capabilities of the latter with the acquisition of HipChat for an undisclosed sum. This adds a real time Wiki capability so that users can, when required, to collaborate together regardless of time or place. Though aimed at real time collaboration it does provide full persistence of all relevant information, so that others can follow the communication path and catch up quickly.
As the project tracker, JIRA sits at the centre of a development team. Here, it provides a platform where all tasks, from initial requirements planning through to testing and bug tracking, can be logged and monitored. As it is asynchronous it provides the essential central repository on all development information, regardless of the geography, time zone or employment affiliation of development team members. The company claims it can be accessed directly from all the popular development environments and a wide variety of desktop clients, browser plugins, and mobile applications.
It also provides flexibility in the way it can be customised to fit project requirements, particularly in important areas such as workflow organisation. JIRA provides a default workflow and set of issue types, but this can be modified as required so that Issue Types, Fields and Workflow formats can be easily adapted to fit existing workflow models, and adapted on the fly should the need arise.
The Confluence collaboration environment has been described by the company as the equivalent of crowd-sourcing for the organisation by connecting development teams to work content and co-workers, all in one online place. This provides an environment where the right people can be put together with the appropriate tasks as soon as they are available, with the aim of achieving the best result in the shortest possible time.
One of its key roles will be as the place where requirements can be outlined, discussed and defined, using a threaded comment model. From those requirements specifications can be established and linked directly to actionable issues in JIRA without leaving the environment. Those issues can then be linked back to relevant Confluence pages with status reports and workflow summaries.
Though initially developed for on-premise development work, the Atlassian tools are now available as essentially SaaS tools on a subscription basis, starting at around $10/month. Here they are also finding a role in the development of Cloud -based applications and services.