Collaboration the key to innovation, Atlassian claims

“Bringing people together drives innovation,” says Mike Cannon-Brookes. And while you might expect the CEO of a collaboration software vendor to make such a claim, his company, Atlassian, has the customer roll-call to back it up.

Pixar, for example, which has revolutionised cinema with its digital animation techniques, uses Atlassian’s Confluence collaboration tool to develop its scripts. And Zynga, the company behind Facebook gaming sensation Farmville, uses the JIRA collaborative software development tool to manage its development projects, as do Facebook itself and Twitter.

When venture capital firm Accel Partners announced a $60 million investment in Sydney-headquartered Atlassian in July 2010, partner Rich Wong revealed that “the vast majority of our portfolio companies innovate using Atlassian products”.

Cannon-Brookes says that among Atlassian’s 20,000 customers is “almost every single one of the largest technology companies in the world. We have 180,000 users at Accenture; we have an 85,000 user install at IBM.” He argues that Atlassian’s tools unlock innovation by giving structure to the interactions within teams of people. JIRA, the collaborative software development product, extends the collaborative process beyond programmers to include business analysts and project managers. Cannon-Brookes says, “As software gets more complicated, different roles within the organisation get involved.”

The product, he says, is driving innovation in software development. Mobile telecommunications provider Vodafone, for example, uses an extension of JIRA named Greenhopper to allow distributed programming teams to use the Agile development methodology. Vodafone has developed story cards implanted with RFID tags, so that when a new card is added to a wall chart at the central office the Greenhopper system is automatically updated. And when a new card is written in Greenhopper, a printer underneath the wall chart produces a physical copy.

Cannon-Brookes says that adoption of the Agile methodology is also driving demand for Confluence, Atlassian’s text- focused collaboration tool for knowledge workers, as it has made the job of writing the technical documentation that accompanies software more complicated: “In traditional development, technical writers would start out with the project specifications and they would have plenty of time to write the documentation before the end of the project. But if you develop the software iteratively, technical writing has to be iterative as well.”

Atlassian is now using its investment from Accel Partners to expand globally, with a particular focus on Europe, and to acquire new functionality. In September 2010, for example, it acquired BitBucket, a service that allows developers to host their code as they work on it.

The $60 million will go some way in helping Atlassian to realise its rather ambitious goal. “We have a stated aim that every team building software around the world will use and benefit from one of our products every day and go home happier for it,” says Cannon-Brookes.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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