Don't underestimate the quiet determination of Atlassian. The Nasdaq-listed, Australian-headquartered, enterprise collaboration tools vendor isn't easy to categorize, with 14 different products in its portfolio. Its soft-spoken, laid-back Aussie leadership has prospered from defying convention in its product-led approach to grassroots market adoption, which makes conventional analysis redundant. But there's no doubting its ambition.
Just listen to the calm assurance of CEO Scott Farquhar when asked about newcomer Slack's rapid growth as a messaging platform among the software developer teams that are Atlassian's natural constituency:
The way we think about that market is that chat is one leg of the stool. There are multiple products that need to be used in order for collaboration to work. We've never seen chat as the be-all and end-all, it's one of a suite of products.
Slack have done a great job but they don't have the integration of all the products that we do. We're building up these integrations — there's a lot of stuff that we do to make teamwork more effective. It's subtle, but the way we look at teamwork is different from the way most competitors think about it.
Atlassian's "bottoms-up" approach to adoption means that it's seen many competitors come and go over the years, Farquhar explains.
We've always had to coexist with all of our competitors. Whether it's Socialtext from years past, or Jive, or Bugzilla, we've had to coexist with plenty of applications. When you bring bottoms up, your team brings one thing at a time, so we've, over time, expanded out from that one beachhead and replaced these applications. The nature of that is, if you want to say, well we have to own everything before you can get started, we would never have built the business.
New for Europe and enterprise
Atlassian is in Barcelona this week for the first EMEA edition of its annual Summit. Right from the start, Atlassian has had a strong European presence — four of its first five customers came from Europe and the region accounts for nearly 40% of revenues. Thanks to a new partnership with AWS for cloud infrastructure, Atlassian will now serve its cloud customers in Europe from a data center in Ireland, the company announced yesterday. In tests, that will reduce latency by as much as 300%, Farquhar told attendees.
Other announcements and product introductions this week mostly cater to Atlassian's growing market share at larger enterprises. The high-availability Data Center edition for customers that want to host their own clustered instances of Atlassian products now extends to the five most popular products. Alongside issue tracking system Jira, shared documentation platform Confluence and code manager Bitbucket, Data Center is now available for communication tool HipChat and identity manager Crowd.
Strengthening support for enterprise DevOps, BitBucket is adding new compliance features such as committer verification and audit logging of code changes, while the Bamboo continuous integration platform adds the ability to configure build plans as code.
The vendor also announced it has started introducing a new simplified user experience, rolling out initially to its cloud-hosted products. That in turn reflects a new approach to product updates, with the introduction of new features prioritized differently across the vendor's three deployment options — cloud, server and data center — according to the separate needs of each customer base.
Answering questions from media, company executives expanded on other areas where product development is responding to the demands of larger enterprises. Portfolio for Jira is one example, says Bryan Rollins, Head of Server Business at Atlassian:
As we've grown larger and extended our footprint inside of enterprises, Atlassian tools have visibility at the executive layer. As a result, [customers] would like to see visibility across everything going on, but at a higher level than just seeing an individual team, so putting in a business unit level.
It's because our existing customer base is scaling our tools farther and farther every day — Portfolio fits that perfectly.
Atlassian's determination to act as the linchpin of collaboration is evident in Home, a product currently in pre-release that aims to give the user a view of all activity across the Atlassian product family, and ultimately elsewhere. Farquhar explains the concept is to use the Atlassian product family as a stepping stone towards bringing together all kinds of activity, from email and notifications to to-do lists and content stores:
The idea for us is to bring a lot of that together in Home. Many other companies can't do this because they have one product. We can build a home for all the products we have today, which many of our customers have deployed across the enterprise, and it will make a big difference for all those customers.
Long term, we want to see how well that's received in our customers and then can we start bringing third party combinations into that home as well.
Trello as 'gateway drug'
As with any enterprise software vendor, artificial intelligence is also on the roadmap, but Atlassian is taking a pragmatic approach. Currently it is focusing on building up data and working out what it can do with it, says Farquhar:
The thing to look at is, who's going to have the most data to feed these algorithms and to feed the data scientists. The more customers you have, the more usage you have in your product, that's going to be the critical choke point in making your product smarter.
The company that has more data, that can make their products smarter and then that feedback loop on themselves, they're the ones hitting the mark. So we spend a lot of time at Atlassian making sure that we have and track all the data from our customers to roll through those AI algorithms.
The recent acquisition of Trello, which became part of Atlassian in January this year, will significantly expand that data footprint, bringing a user base of 22 million. Originally created for software developers but designed to be useful to anyone wanting to quickly organize any ad hoc project, "Trello is the gateway drug to Atlassian," says Farquhar.
Atlassian is the dark horse in the contest to lead the enterprise collaboration market, so I'm spending three days at its EMEA conference to get a better handle on its race form and strategy. I'll be posting further analysis over the next few days with comment and case studies from users as well as additional interviews with executives.
The company does have a unique take on collaboration and what fascinates me is the close identification of its customer base with the agile and devops movement, which is doing so much to advance the state of the art in enterprise collaboration. That gives special relevance to Atlassian's perspective.