Exploring Atlassian's vision for enterprise collaboration

One of the very first vendors of social collaboration tools, Atlassian, has doubled down on its vision for delivering on team-based collaboration by offering multi-modal tools that help team connect with each other and their knowledge.

One of the first major breakthroughs in large-scale collaboration after document and content management was the enterprise wiki. One of the original pioneers in the space is Atlassian, and they remain a solid favorite in many collaboration environments today. In fact, the company's offerings still make my current list of the top 10 collaboration solutions available today.

However, Atlassian has not been content to sit on its laurels with its two flagship collaboration offerings, Confluence, which is perhaps the most successful business wiki of all time, and the more Slack-like Hipchat.

Lately, Atlassian has been pursuing a new trend in digital workplace that could ultimately position it well the as company fully decides to up the ante when it comes to enabling the new digital workplace. Specifically, this is the addition of a marketplace that allows app integrations to work directly in the context of teamwork, right in the user experience of Atlassian's collaboration services.

Recently, to get a sense of how they think about digital teamwork today, I was able to sit down with the CEO of Atlassian, Jay Simons, and some of his key team members to talk about their vision for the future of collaboration.

Atlassian's Extensible Model for Social Collaboration and Workplace

A conversation on collaboration with Atlassian CEO Jay Simons

Dion: Tell me a little about where you are with collaboration today and what Atlassian's vision current is.

Jay: We're focused broadly on teams. We see that the top requirement of teams is effectively working together. We look at teams of all kinds: People working on a marketing launch, a development team, a business team, etc.

We see three fundamental needs in digital collaboration:

  1. A place to create and share structured work and activity, dependencies, all the things that go into the start and endpoint of something.
  2. The ability to create and share content (text, long form content, documents, spreadsheets, presentation, work products, and code if you're a developer).
  3. Better, more streamlined communication.

Although Hipchat and Slack have pioneered real-time collaboration, Hipchat pioneered video, audio, and short messages, while Confluence is really designed for long form content.

Dion: What do you think has been poorly appreciated by the market about Atlassian's collaboration offerings in the past?

Jay: The thing often misunderstood around Atlassian, is that team-based collaboration was in our DNA from the very beginning. Look at earliest version of JIRA, to create and manage issues, every issue was an object that we built a collaboration wrapper around, You can "@ mention" team members them to bring them into an object, publish updates into an activity feed, enable smart notifications, passively monitor status as object changed or progressed through a workflow. Collaboration was baked in at the core.

As a result, our collaboration model is no different than a web page, team channel, or service request. What made Atlassian so successful was versatility of our team-based collaboration. It can be attached to just about any object, such as a new employee for example. As a result, our products all get pulled into different kinds of use cases because we can wrap collaboration around the very nature of their business.

Dion: What do you think the strengths of your collaboration model are?

The challenge of collaboration is that it meaningful and meaningless at the same time. Atlassian's core strength: A matter of fact approach to collaboration. The notion of peer-to-peer connection around projects, tasks, objects, and communications

In addition, we now have the Atlassian Marketplace, built every product to be extensible by customers and independent 3rd party developers. You could, for example, on top of JIRA or Confluence, extend product in a way the developer didn't anticipate. We make it possible to write an add-on in Confluence, to run a SQL script and then put data into a chart, then share it.

This capability is now used by marketing teams to create dashboards, to integrate new data, display it on a page, then could have a team discussion around that chart and data. You never have to take the discussion out of the context of the data you're seeing. You can have that collaborative discussion with the team, directly on the page. it's recorded, archived, visible, and shared

Then if a new employee joins, then can see the whole history of the discussion. Three and a half years ago, our ecosystem was so large, individual developers were building integrations for our products, we decided to make it easier to for customers to find the add-ons they wanted and buy them from the developers, so we launched an app store.

Now developers can just worry about functionality and features, and we provide them with paid app distribution to our full customer base.

Dion: Tell me more about the Atlassian Marketplace. That sounds like an interesting differentiator that we don't see with too many other collaboration tools other than Slack.

Jay: The Marketplace has been hugely successful for us. I would have to say Atlassian's App store is one of the biggest B2B app marketplaces in the industry . Because we have extensibility for so long. So far we've had $150M in sales in the marketplace.

Developers are adding all kinds of novel features that are useful to our customers. One feature that isn't in Jira, is time tracking, so there's an add-on for this, a great example of a large surface area feature that we wouldn't necessarily want in our core product, but that people can now easily add if they want.

We're really focused on providing platform extensions and a really wide blank canvas. Like the financial quarterly close process, a lot of companies use Jira for, which was formerly an Excel driven process (deadline, owner, status column). We have recommendation tools, we might recommend what page you might want to see. The surface area is very large for developers as we have over 50,000 customers. We started with technical teams, and best adopters, and have so much complexity as a group of people

Atlassian: Focusing on core collaboration plus extensibility

So in the end, Atlassian remains a workhorse product that shines with the company's extensive experience in both social collaboration and lightweight messaging. With few frills and a design style that IT audiences tend to love, the company's strategic move into app extensibility ensures -- a key approach that will help organizations realize the emerging new multilayered collaboration model -- that their products gets richer as their whole ecosystem grows. The more that developers add apps, the more value that customers can access, and everyone benefits.

The smart move in my book was enabling commerce right in the Marketplace, giving developers a ready audience and business model combined. While Atlassian's fast growth days may be behind it, the modern digital engine of growth -- a platform and ecosystem of 3rd party partners using their own investments to enrich the company's products continuously -- is likely to help the company sustainably grow and thrive for the foreseeable future.

Additional Reading

Exploring Microsoft's vision for enterprise collaboration

Exploring IBM's vision for enterprise collaboration

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