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Emergent Collaboration Vendor Review: Atlassian's Confluence


Posted by on January 27, 2012

Every Friday, 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 and would like to participate, please contact me (my email address is in the sidebar as is my 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 each vendors. If you have ideas or recommendations for other items to be covered in these reviews, 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 will mainly 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 are free but some 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 kit).  Confluence is very versatile can literally work with anything and any application.

Support

Atlassian began 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, the price is equivalent to 50% of the first year price.

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 releases a new major release every 3-4 months (for on-premise).  Small feature upgrades occur weekly for on-demand users but major upgrades are 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 aspect of the company 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.   Further, 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 ecosystem that extends beyond the base product and allows companies like Gliffy to build their businesses based on the Atlassian platform.  Currently, 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 quickly comment on posts or “like” content.  User interface updates and a refresh of the look and feel of the product will also take place within next six months.  Another big focus will be on onboarding and helping new customers and clients get started with things such as creating templates.  Atlassian has a very strong expert ecosystem with over 400 system integrators globally.  Partnerships will also going to be something which Atlassian will expand upon in 2012 by expanding and strengthening that ecosystem to help them sell Confluence.

As far as the industry goes Atlassian is seeing a greater and greater fragmentation of markets where there can be many healthy vendors.  Their belief 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 it possible 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 Atlassian 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 significant modifications.  Out-of-the-box customers can change the look and feel, and customize 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 take five minutes.

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 companies of all sizes.

Capabilities

Partner and employee

My take

I met the Atlassian team at their offices in San Francisco (I was ashamedly 20 minutes late!) and immediately I could tell that there was something interesting happening at this company.  Prior to the meeting, I wasn’t up -to-date with Atlassian and what they have been working on (it’s 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, Atlassian 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 can be customized and manipulated 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 will look like but it sounds like there may be some elements of gamification involved, with a strong emphasis on discoverability (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 will also be added.

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.

A key thing 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 ecosystem is something that I think Atlassian can execute 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

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  • http://www.appfusions.com Ellen Feaheny

    Nice one Jacob!

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com jacobmorgan

      Thanks Ellen!

  • Steve

    My experience with Confluence has been mixed. It provides a great front end experience but hosting and maintaining it is burdensome. There are several flaws with the confluence model around stability reliability and interoperability. Here are some things I have encountered thus far:

    1. If you ever try to host Atlassian Confluence and Atlassian Jira on the same Instance you are guaranteed to break both: https://confluence.atlassian.com/display/CONF43/Installing+Confluence+and+JIRA+Together

    2. Confluence is particularly sensitive to it’s URL configuration. They do not support operating behind a proxy nor would it seem that they support using Confluence in conjunction with Network Address Translation.

    I have only been hosting confluence for about 2 weeks now but my experience has been largely negative due to the fact that I have had open support issues since virtually the first day which are still unresolved.

    Feature wise it is a great product, but it is poorly made and prone to breakage.