Emergent Collaboration Vendor Review: Atlassian’s Confluence

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On Friday’s I’ll be reviewing a vendor in the emergent collaboration space and will provide an overview on that vendor which includes aspects from leadership and vision to technology and market focus. If you are vendor that would like to participate, please contact me (email is in the sidebar as is the twitter link). The goal of these posts is not to bash or praise vendors but to simply offer an objective view on what various vendors offer so that YOU can decide if they are a good fit for your business. Every post will cover the same elements for different vendors. If you have ideas or recommendations for other items to be covered in these posts then please let me know and I will consider them. Other collaboration vendor reviews can be found here.

This week I’m taking at look at Atlassian which has around 430 employees and is headquartered in Sydney, Australia and San Francisco, California. Atlassian offers confluence and JIRA as a part of their collaboration suite, this post is mainly going to focus on their Confluence product which is their main collaboration platform. I spoke with Matt Hodges the product marketing manager and Daniel Freeman the VP of product marketing and sales.

Integration capabilities

Confluence has over 400 add-ons, most of these are free but some of them are paid. Out of the box Confluence has connections for Sharepoint, Box, Salesforece, Google apps, LDAP, active director, and others. If you’re looking for an integration that doesn’t exist then you can build one through a very intuitive SDK (software developer it). Confluence is very versatile can literally work with anything and any application.

Support

Atlassian originally started as a support company 10 years ago so there is a strong corporate culture of great service. Standard support includes free email support and a free online community of users that help each other. When customers purchase Atlassian’s “download” software, the first 12 months of support is free. After the first 12 months support is 50% of the first year price.

For Atlassian’s OnDemand offering support is always free and includes upgrades (in the SaaS subscriptions). Atlassian does deliver phone support if that is the best method to solve a problem a customer is having. This request is initiated via email. Atlassian support centers are in multiple geographic locations including: Sydney, Malaysia (Asia), the west and east coast in the United States, Brazil, and Amsterdam. This means that customers can get support issues handled anytime. Support response time depends on the severity level which is rated on a scale of 1-4, based on this scale responses range between 1-24 hours. Free support is also offered for all product evaluators.

Maintenance and upgrades

Atlassian released a new major release every 3-4 months (for on-premise). Small feature upgrades happen weekly for on-demand users but major stuff is released around 1x month. All of this is included in support cost (all included for on-demand).

Atlassian also has a public instance of JIRA (their other product mainly used for project and management) where customers can suggest a feature request that is then voted on by the community. The popular ones get added first. At this point it’s safe to say that there is a 50/50 split for product ideas which come from customers and from the Atlassian roadmap. Another unique thing to highlight is that they have all feature requests and bugs publicly available for all to review at jira.atlassian.com; making them a very transparent company. It’s a good way for them to inspire trust among their customers and prospects. Not only that but all on-premise customers get full-source code access.

Pricing

For up to 2k users companies use the on-demand version of Confluence, anything over 2k users and the company must then switch to an on-premise or managed hosting solution (managed hosting is done via hosting partner and is not done with Atlassian, pricing for this is negotiated with the hosting partner). Their product pricing is quite simple to understand and a breakdown of it can be found directly on the Atlassian site.

Overall direction and strategic vision for the company and industry

Unlike most other vendors in the collaboration space Atlassian is a profitable company which just hit the 100 million dollar annual revenue milestone. In the future they are interested in positioning themselves as a platform vendor, in other-words they want to do for the collaboration industry what apple did for music. This means focusing on building out an entire eco-system that extends beyond the base product and allows companies like Gliffy to build their businesses based on the Atlassian platform. As of now Atlassian is not interested in becoming a platform like Sharepoint or Jive but instead interested in being used at the same time as those platforms and integrating with them. A key theme of development is going to be around mobile for 2012 as will a continued improvement in the editing experience of the product. Moving forward Atlassian is going to really focus around discovery and engagement of content and people. For example, being able to quick comment on something or “like” content. User interface updates and a refresh of the look and feel of the product are also going to be happening within next 6 months. Another big focus is going to be on onboarding and helping new customers and clients get started with things such as templates. Atlassian has a very strong expert eco-system with over 400 system integrators globally. They are looking to expand and strengthen that ecosystem to help them sell Confluence. Partnerships are also going to be something which Atlassian is going to expand upon in 2012.

As far as the industry goes Atlassian is seeing a greater and great fragmentation of markets where there can be many healthy vendors. Their believe is that there is room for several players as long as they can continue to make excellent products. Task collaboration appears to be a growing area where new vendors are being created and they are seeing some interesting things happening in this niche. When asked about the future of email I was told that they are not sure if email will ever be replaced but is possible is that in the future, rather then starting your day in email you can start it in something like Confluence and e-mail can just be a notification system like a pager.

I also asked their opinions on the ROI of collaboration to which their response was that it is nebulous, in fact Confluence doesn’t even have a strong focus on analytics for the product because customers are not really even asking for it. As far as Atlassian goes ROI doesn’t need to be a huge part of their message; instead they want to focus on customer success stories. The approach that a lot of vendors are taking is that they are trying to make users feel comfortable by copying the UI of popular social services such as Facebook but this is not the Aatlassian approach. The believe that the biggest challenge for vendors is going to be overcoming company culture in organizations and the ways that people do work inside of companies. Finally they believe that collaboration is definitely a growth area that is picking up.

Key differentiating factors (main competitors are free open source) nothing that directly competes.

  • Superior editor, rich free form content editor
  • Flexibility and extensibility in terms of plugin and add-on ecosystem
  • Flexibile API
  • Ease of use and simplicity

Customization

Confluence can pretty much do anything, on-premise customers get full source code access but Atlassian can’t support it if a customer makes big modifications. Out of the box customers can change the look and feel, custom authentication, and layout. Supported customization can also be done via the expert program.

Overall technology

Confluence is a server-side Java application that can be installed on Linux and Windows environments and runs on an application server with a relational database for storage of content. End-users do not require any client-side software – they can access Confluence via their web browser.

Time to go live

For on-premise the installer takes 2-3 minutes, on-demand deployments takes 5 mins.

Industry vertical focus

Any vertical that has a product or technical team within the organization. 50% of confluence customers use it alongside JIRA and the other 50% are business teams. Atlassian products can be used by any industry and any company at any size.

Capabilities

Partner and employee

My take

I met the Atlassian team at their offices in San Francisco (I was ashamedly 20 minutes late!) and right away I could tell that there was something interesting happening at this company. Prior to the meeting I haven’t been up to date with Atlassian and what they have been working on (hard to follow all the vendors) and I completely forgot how large the company is. In fact they are larger than Jive by probably a good 50+ employees. The team is extremely passionate about the product and the company which is something I always love to see.

The product itself is very easy to use and offers a vastly superior document editing experience compared to pretty much every other vendor on the market. You can tell that the Atlassian team has spent a lot of time making their editing experience really kick ass, and it shows. While many vendors tend to focus on offering a host of solutions Atlassian doesn’t take the same approach, it’s a not full scale platform with many of the bells and whistles that some other vendors might offer (such as rich profiles, video conferencing, and rich analytics), but it also doesn’t need to be. Atlassian is a great example of what happens when a company focuses on a core set of features and does them really really well. The core of Confluence feels (and is) very much a wiki and they stayed true to that and with the 400+ add-ons you can really make Confluence do anything you need it to do. A simple way to think about it is a bit like WordPress which at it’s core is a content management and blogging platform that can also be used to build entire websites on. Confluence is the same way, the core is a Wiki product which you can customize and manipulate to look and do pretty much anything (including using it to power your website).

It will also be very interesting to see what the content and people discover and engagement enhancements are going to look like but it sounds like there may be some elements of gamification involved with a strong emphasis on disoscoverability (finding new and relevant information and people to connect to and interact with). It sounds like some more common “social” features that we see on sites such as Facebook and Twitter are also going to be added.

Also keep in mind that Confluence isn’t meant to replace some of the other platforms out there (although it could) but it is instead meant to integrate with them. Their pricing model is simple and easy to understand and also quite affordable.

One of the key things to mention about the company is that they recently hit the 100 million dollar annual revenue milestone which for those of you playing at home should ring the little IPO bells. Yes, I believe we can expect to see Atlassian going public sometime in 2012 or early 2013 and keep in mind this company is profitable. Their approach to becoming more of a platform by building out an eco-system is something that I think Atlassian get executive on better then anyone else.

This is definitely going to be one of the vendors to keep an eye on in 2012 (and beyond). One of the things I find interesting about Atlassian is that they aren’t spending a ton of money on marketing (like several other vendors who are buying ads in every imaginable place) yet are doing a phenomenal job of generating revenue and growing their business (they recently had to move into a larger space to prepare for even more growth!).

I think any company looking to invest in collaboration solutions needs to take a good look at Confluence (and JIRA).

You can find out more about Confluence and JIRA by visiting Atlassian.com

Screenshots

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jacob Morgan
I'm a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and futurist who explores what the future of work is going to look like and how to create great experiences so that employees actually want to show up to work. I've written three best-selling books which are: The Employee Experience Advantage (2017), The Future of Work (2014), and The Collaborative Organization (2012).

2 COMMENTS

  1. Looks like more and more people are hating on how Atlassian stupidly removed the Wike Markup Editor. I like how one person put it,..it’s like RedHat explaing that from now on, you can only use the GUI interface since they’ve removed the command line because it’s too hard for people to use.

    You review seems to say nothing negative at all,…
    That’s not how I, nor a lot of other users feel about Atalssian’s stiff-necked approach to ignoring customers that want the Wiki Markup Editor back.

    Just take a look at all the negative feedback on their own web-site from customers that are frustrated.

  2. True, there are some die-hard long-time Atlassian customers who are still really angry about this. However, Atlassian has been very up-front about their decision being one that opens up their potential market far beyond the technical audience. Granted, this is where their business started and ideally you’d hope to see some loyalty to their early adopters, but it’s clear that this is a business decision. They will lose some customers as a result, but they will gain many more because the product is much more usable in non-tech environments.

    As for the accusation that they are being being stiff-necked, that isn’t altogether fair. They’ve been entirely open about the decision, allowed open public debate on their websites, and even built a new capability to give these folks way to edit the source under-the-hood. In Confluence 5 they opened up the new storage format for direct editing. It’s in XML and not wiki markup, but if you really want to edit pages without the rich-text editor, you now have a viable alternative. It even has a regex-based search and replace.

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