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New releases of Confluence and Jira

by Christoph Schmaltz

Today, Atlassian released new versions for their flagship products Confluence and Jira. It is one of their biggest and probably most important updates so far. Headshift has been an Atlassian partner for the past six years. In that time I have seen the platforms develop and truly earn the title ‘best-in-class’ in their respective category. I am not going to re-hash the information that the folks at Atlassian have put together, but here is a great video about updates in Confluence:

However, I thought this release might be a good opportunity to talk about the bigger picture, which will hopefully help to understand where Atlassian is heading, what to expect from future Confluence and Jira releases and see how Confluence, especially, fits with organisations’ other technical platforms.

Atlassian started with Jira and Confluence. The idea was to provide product development teams with tools to write specification documents, track bugs and do overall project management. Over time the company developed or bought other products including Crucible, FishEye, Bamboo, Clover and recently Bitbucket. All of these are geared towards software development teams – which is not to say that they cannot be applied in other circumstances. For example, Headshift has used Confluence extensively to build social intranets, extranets, innovation platforms or social learning systems for its clients (please see these case studies).

With the release of Confluence 3.0 and a number of ‘cool’ social networking features I thought Atlassian would try to compete with other collaboration platforms (e.g. Jive, SharePoint, Thoughtfarmer and others). However, given the strong competition in the sector and the number of products in their portfolio that also required their attention, this may not have been seen as a viable strategy. Instead, Atlassian turned its focus on making each of its products best-in-class and integrating them tightly with each other. This is evident looking at the releases in the past. For example, Confluence has seen a lot of updates that involve improving the user interface, providing keyboard shortcuts for user interaction (the same that can be found in Jira), and generally speaking making it much easier to simply edit content. In the end, that is what Confluence is about – simple collaborative content publishing.

Looking at this latest release, you can see that strategy progressing. Imagine one of your colleagues is writing a test release document in Confluence and needs to create a task, bug or other item in Jira. Before that he would have had to go to Jira, create the item and link to it manually from Confluence. Now, he simply writes the document in Confluence and creates the Jira ticket from within Confluence. Very cool!

Other personal highlights of this release are:

  • HTML 5 support (think drag & drop capabilities for attachments)
  • Space directory (think simple categorisation of all your hundreds of Confluence spaces)
  • Nested groups in Confluence (think clients as a parent group and all connected projects as sub-groups for easy navigation)
  • Confluence and Jira directory integration (think improved productivity)

As I mentioned before, it is a big release and there is much, much more to explore. But the key question remains: how do tools like Confluence and Jira fit into the platform mix your company has already invested in? In most cases these platforms do not necessarily replace existing technologies, but extend them. Use them in scenarios that they have been developed for, in this case collaborative editing and issue tracking. For example, one particular scenario that we often see among clients is proposal writing. Using documents to collaborate on the content is a widespread but mediocre method for doing this, whereas using a wiki allows people to simultaneously work on the content and discuss it. By using a third-party plugin (e.g. Scroll Office) Confluence can even provide text export into pre-defined visual templates to comply with an organisation’s proposal guidelines. And if your IT department insists that the SharePoint 2010 wiki is up to par with Confluence, you may need to ask some questions. SharePoint is a good platform for certain scenarios, Confluence for others. They do not compete but extend each other providing the user with the right tools in the right context.

Let me know if you would like to see Confluence 3.5 or Jira 4.3 live, talk about the most applicable scenarios for the platforms or learn about ways of integrating them into your current technology mix.

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