Category Archives: Technologies

Alfresco Continues to Enhance Its Content Management Offering, Enabling More Integration Touchpoints

Alfresco provides open source enterprise content management serving a variety of use cases. I covered them earlier in the year (see: Alfresco Brings its Open Source Document Management to the Cloud). Recently I spoke with Jeff Potts, their Chief Community Officer, to get an update and to go into their integration strategy in more depth.

Jeff Potts, Chief Community Officer, Alfresco

As Chief Community Officer, Jeff leads the Alfresco community. This includes partners, employees, developers, customers, and anyone else with an interest in Alfresco.  Indeed this is a large order, with over 200K downloads, and growing, of their content management server software to date – so that’s a large community.

Jeff focuses on the health of the community and makes sure it has the right tools, tutorials, forums, blog aggregation, wikis, and whatever else is useful to support collaboration and continue its growth. He also conducts outreach to other relevant communities to expand its awareness and participation.

The Alfresco open source offering is built on a repository for files of all types: documents, audio, video, images, and other types. Expanded access is made possible through its API using CMIS, an industry standard that is also used by other tools such as SharePoint and Documentum. CMIS uses “Web services and Web 2.0 interfaces to enable information sharing across content management repositories from different vendors.”

There are several applications that Alfresco has added on top of their repository. Share is a main one and it allows for users to share documents, calendars, links to support collaboration. In addition to collaboration and content management, use cases for Alfresco include records management and digital asset management.

Alfresco provides an on-premise Enterprise version of their software that is offered with support subscriptions. There is also a free community version available through the LGPLv3 open source license.  This year they have added a multi-tenant SaaS offering. This relieves clients of any hosting responsibilities so they can focus on organizing and using their content, not supporting the backend. Both the on-premise and SaaS version (cloud) have the same software and user interface.

With the cloud version, users can share content within the same domain since it is a multi-tenant offering. The cloud version also has a few less features at the moment, as basic document management is the primary use case. So the calendar, blogs, and wikis are not enabled at the moment. There are plans to make them also available in the cloud version in the future.

Next we discussed the Alfresco’s integration strategy.

Alfresco’s goal is to make Alfresco as open and available as possible. They want any interested developer to be able to work in the tools they are comfortable with to connect to the repository and create integrations. To enable this availability they have built APIs for both the on-premise and cloud versions.  While CMIS covers such functions as create, read, update, delete, Alfresco wanted a richer experience, so they added additional features to the API specific to Alfresco such as rating and comments.

AppFusions has worked with Alfresco to create integrations with Atlassian’s JIRA issues tracking tool and Confluence wiki. Both integrations are plugin and play, and provide seamless integration with Alfresco document management capabilities.

  • Alfresco in JIRA

    The JIRA integration allows Alfresco documents to be accessed, previewed, linked, edited, and downloaded – all from inside JIRA. Here’s a video.

  • The Confluence integration allows users to embed and access Alfresco file lists. Users can also preview, embed, print, download Alfresco files from Confluence.
    Alfresco in Confluence, v3.0 – List Macro

    Finally, when you edit an Alfresco document in Confluence, you are able to edit it in your favorite local Office application (MS Office, Apache Open Office, NeoOffice), and when done – the file is auto-magically saved back to Alfresco. Here’s a video.

AppFusions also has a Alfresco to Crowd authenticator, allowing for SSO (single sign-on) and user management of Atlassian and Alfresco via Crowd.

Collectively, these integrations really bring powerful platforms and brands, together. Best of worlds!

Alfresco has also recently released support for iOS and Andriod to enable developers to build mobile app integrations.  They are also expanding CMIS client-side libraries to better work with what Alfresco offers.

Alfresco has its third annual user conference, DevCon, coming up in November. This year the European version will be in Berlin, November 6 and 7. The US version will be in San Jose November 14-15.

The conferences will include technical workshops by Alfresco engineers and partners, case examples by users, and keynotes by the Alfresco leadership team. Both conferences will be preceded by a day of workshops for those new to Alfresco so they can more thoroughly engage with the event.

Jeff sees the use of the cloud continuing to expand and I would certainly agree. Alfresco will continue to offer more capabilities through the cloud. As CMIS becomes more widely used, they will make more CMIS-related tools available.

Alfresco is certainly moving in the right direction, hitting three of the main themes in the application marketplace with its expanding capabilities in social, mobile, and the cloud.

 

iRise Provides Functional Application Simulations to Accelerate Software Development

Visualizations through iRise give users the ability to create visual, interactive prototypes of new software projects that look and act just like the real thing, before a single line of code is written. This can be a major help in application development. I have written a bit about iRise before (see AppFusions’ Integrations of iRise® Visualization with Atlassian JIRA, Confluence).

Recently, I spoke with Pete Indelicato, Senior Product Manager at iRise, to get a broader overview of their capabilities and an update on their latest moves. Pete primary responsibility is understanding customer needs and defining solutions to meet those needs.  He then works closely with the iRise team of engineers to build out the solutions, as well as marketing for sales enablement.

Pete Indelicato, Sr. Product Manager at iRise

Most recently, Pete has been focused on “platform capabilities” based on APIs that let partners and customers leverage and extend the iRise platform.  He also manages the relationships with their integration partners, like AppFusions.

These extensions, like the Jira and Confluence integrations, allow the iRise platform to better fit into customers’ various processes and ecosystems, and the APIs lets other organizations contribute to and customize the capabilities of the iRise platform. iRise is in the middle of creating a new set of APIs focused on events and analytics.

I asked Pete for a brief overview of their Enterprise offering and how iRise helps their customers.  He began by saying that while communication is key to successful software development, many teams still rely on static documents, pictures and low fidelity click-through prototypes to communicate requirements, interaction design, and more.

For today’s rich, interactive software, these types of communication tools are not enough. The iRise platform allows teams to define and develop software collaboratively while focusing on a high-fidelity iRise simulation as the key communication asset.

These simulations can be constructed in a few minutes by non-technical business analysts or user experience professionals, without writing a single line of code.  You simply have to drag and drop application components to build a simulation. Then you add functionality by drawing lines indicating the course of user interactivity and data flow. In the screenshot, you can see a sample iRise studio screen on a tablet and a smart.

The simulations can then be used to communicate with business and technical stakeholders to make sure the organization is building the right thing.  Then, using other platform capabilities (such as RM integrations and code generation), the latter stages of the software definition and development can benefit from the ultra-realistic iRise simulation.

Pete went over several use cases. First, requirements solicitation can be made more effective. It can be difficult to engage business people who provide requirements when you are limited to offering them a text summary of the design with some static screen shots or a low-fi prototype. With iRise, the designer can show their team how the application looks and, more importantly, works to gather much more effective feedback and reduce the number of iterations and rework.

This same principle operates for interaction designs. Interaction designers can experiment with multiple approaches to solving the same problem while gathering useful feedback from potential users without having to build the software.

Then downstream, communication between designers and implementors is facilitated through the use of simulations of the design that look and act like the designer’s vision. Meanwhile, many related tasks such as documentation and training development, and even selling, can get a critical jump start while the application is still being built based on the iRise simulations.

Pete said that the iRise simulations are the most realistic simulations you can create without writing code and that is one of the reasons they call them “simulations”, not “prototypes”. They not only look accurate (visual fidelity), but act accurate: the user interactions and the data/logic in the simulation are also high-fidelity.  This latter capability is particularly important for efficient software development.

In most cases, the simulations that their customers create are indistinguishable from the production product, developed through code, that comes out months later.

When you think about the level of engagement, quality of communication, and all the parallel activities that iRise simulations bring to the table, the advantage integrations and extensions into a variety of ecosystems becomes clear.

I next asked Pete about their application integration strategies.

He said that very few software engineering / development organizations have identical ecosystems (tools, processes, habits, etc.).  iRise could spend many many thousands of dollars trying to make a complex “one size fits all” product, but instead they are choosing to open their product to integration.  This strategy not only facilitates more efficient internal development of their iRise Connect products, but it allows customers like AT&T and partners like AppFusions to build additional extensions and integrations that help iRise fit in other ecosystems.

iRise Catalog in Confluence. Select Simulation to embed and collaborate around.

The simulations are built on web technologies (HTML, CSS3, etc.). That makes them easily embeddable into other web-based platforms like Confluence and JIRA.  Putting iRise simulations in context of the collaborative environments and other development assets (e.g. story cards) makes that blend of information an ultra-effective communication asset.  Then, when team members not familiar with iRise simulations start to see them embedded in streams and story cards, they will start asking “Where can I get one of those?!”

Pete offered specific use cases for the Confluence and JIRA integrations that AppFusions created. Developers often use the Confluence wiki to create requirements documents. You can embed iRise simulations right in the Confluence-based requirements documents (videolisting). For the JIRA integration,  the issue tracking tool, is often used for more granular requirements or specific issues. (video | listing.)

OCT 8 – 10, 2012 in Las Vegas, NV

Again, iRise simulations can make the communication and handling of these development related issues much more efficient and effective.

Visualize 2012 is this year’s version of iRise’s annual conference where they gather practitioners, customers, and thought leaders for three days of workshops, presentations and socializing.  The 2012 session will occur in Las Vegas, October 8-10.  Speakers include Graeme Hackland, the Lotus F1 Team’s IT/IS Director responsible for all the Team’s Information Systems and many members of the iRise team, including CEO, Emmet Keeffe. They will also be doing workshops on their iConnect capability covering all the ways to use their APIs.

Live preview of linked iRise Simulation in JIRA.

Pete said they are very excited about the potential of their APIs because every day, it seems, someone has a new, inventive idea about a new integration, report, extension, etc.  Of course, they build the APIs with specific use cases in mind, but without fail someone outside of iRise thinks of a way of using iRise APIs in ways they never thought of.  He added that it is a good day every time that happens!

Pete is thankful that innovative companies like AppFusions and SquareOne Solutions are willing to spend some time exploring the possibilities with them. As iRise moves forward it is continuing to expand the number and type of API calls to support further integrations. They are also making significant infrastructure changes to support their more rapid product development.

The riddle is solved! Plugins 3 Framework for Atlassian On-Premise AND OnDemand

Just received a googlegroup mail that is too good to not share, from Don Brown, Atlassian’s engineer extraordinaire, and in his current incarnation, Atlassian’s “remote app”, eh hem, PLUGINS 3 Framework Design Architect!

He and his team (including Bob, Sam, Yon) finally solved the riddle – the riddle of:

providing a single application development AND deployment framework for both on-premise and OnDemand instantiations of Atlassian’s platforms (i.e., Confluence, JIRA, etc.).

It was a riddle that rattled long and hard in recent months, and really since the release of Atlassian OnDemand (and months before … over a year ago!).

The answer: Introducing Atlassian Plugins 3 Framework!

While I could summarize, sometimes emails are left best in the perfect state that they came in as.

This is one of them.

—-Original Message—–

From: atlassian-remoteapps-dev@googlegroups.com [mailto:atlassian-remoteapps-dev@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Don Brown
Sent: Monday, August 20, 2012 3:21 PM
To: atlassian-remoteapps-dev@googlegroups.com; atlassian-remoteapps-interest@googlegroups.com
Subject: Remote Apps is now Plugins 3

Over the next few months, the Remote Apps project will be transforming into Plugins 3, which is intended to be a complete replacement for Plugins 2.  The scope of Plugins 3 has expanded past just remotely hosted applications, and now brings its permissions and (now optional) sandboxing capabilities to in-process plugins as well.  We expect to deliver the first developer preview of this technology at AtlasCamp 2012 in September [1].

The backstory here is after our Summit 2012 presentation, we’ve been having a bunch of internal discussions as well as discussions with partners and existing plugin vendors about the capabilities and future of Remote Apps, and two limitations quickly stood out:

  1. Remote Apps isn’t on-premise friendly
  2. The sandboxing was too restrictive for many (most?) existing plugins

The first limitation was really the showstopper – if we encourage plugin vendors to write Remote Apps that can only work for OnDemand, 85% of our current customer base, the on-premise installations, won’t benefit, and worse, it could mean fewer and fewer plugins as developers won’t want to maintain two code bases.  The technical problem with Remote Apps and on-premise is that, since all the code is running on a remote server, it requires the on-premise Atlassian product to be addressable from that remote server, which almost always means the on-premise instance must be open to the Internet.  The only ways to get around this – some sort of reverse HTTP firewall-poking agent or locally installed Remote Apps – are not where we want to go.

Hardest riddle a cat ever had – Rubix!

The second problem of sandboxing is because Remote Apps was an all-or-nothing proposition.  Your app had to exist fully in the UI sandboxes we had in place (IFrames or strict HTML sanitization).  What we wanted instead was to expand the permission system to include permissions that would allow any plugin, in-process or remote, to be written, and therefore, ensure 100% of existing version 2 plugins could migrate.

The solution we decided upon is Plugins 3.  With Plugins 3, you can write a single binary (jar file) and deploy that plugin locally (in-process as you do now) or remotely in a standalone container running on a platform like Heroku.  Within the plugin descriptor itself, there will be information on where the plugin is hosted remotely if that installation method is chosen.  Therefore, the developer experience is like this:

  1. Write a version 3 plugin
  2. Deploy to Heroku (or where ever) to support OnDemand instances using the provided standalone container
  3. Register in the Marketplace as supporting remote and local installations

When an OnDemand administrator clicks ‘Install’, they will have the plugin installed as a remote descriptor pointing at your remotely hosted instance.  When an on-premise administrator clicks ‘Install’, the plugin jar will download and run in-process like before.  In both cases, the same plugin jar that was registered in the Marketplace is used.

Foundational to Plugins 3 is the concept of permissions, where a plugin is required to declare what APIs, code execution privileges, or sandbox breaking capabilities it needs. In addition to the existing Remote Apps permissions, Plugins 3 includes additional ones like ‘execute_java’, ‘use_private_apis’, and ‘generate_any_html’. This provides Atlassian the ability to define which permissions are available to side-loaded plugins in OnDemand, which need curation in the Marketplace, and which are only available for on-premise installations.

In all cases, the OnDemand or on-premise administrator will have to view and explicitly approve the permissions before the installation can take place.  This also means Plugins 3 will be able to support every current version 2 plugin with the quick migration step of adding permission declarations to the plugin descriptor.

However, if the migrated plugin is to be able to be executed by the container, significant effort, if not a complete rewrite, will likely be necessary.

In a nutshell, here is what has changed:

  • New permissions element in plugin-info in atlassian-plugin.xml
  • New plugin module descriptors for each Remote App extension point
  • Ability to use atlassian-plugin.xml instead of a Remote App descriptor, though the Remote App descriptor format is still supported
  • New container for running a version 3 Plugin outside the product
  • “Kits” that allow you to write your plugin in any JVM language you like.  Java, JavaScript, CoffeeScript supported out of the box.
  • Set of services that are implemented in container and local versions

In the next few days, we will be merging this work, currently in the ‘p3’ branch, into master.  I will also soon be publishing a Plugins 3 Tech Spec with a lot more detail than I’ve given here.  I’m excited about this new direction as it will bring the benefits of Remote Apps to all plugins for both OnDemand and on-premise.  Our goals are to make plugins secure, easy to write, and OnDemand-friendly, and the future looks bright.

Comments and feedback welcome!

Don

[1] http://www.atlassian.com/company/about/events/atlascamp/2012

===

Congrats Don and team.. let’s bring it on! 

Thank you for your persistence to the problem — AppFusions can’t wait to get our integrations and applications into the plugin 3 framework — one by one, and more into OnDemand.

The journey continues, for the long haul!

See you at AtlasCamp!

<eom>

Post by Ellen Feaheny, CEO of AppFusions.

Contegix Provides Total Cloud Care with Direct Managed Hosting

Contegix provides a variety of cloud hosting options through an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering coupled with managed services. These include:

I recently spoke with Matthew Porter, their CEO. He said that, simply put, they lift the burden of technology off their customers so their customers can focus on what they do well and do what makes them unique.

Matthew Porter, CEO, Contegix

As we talked, I learned that one of the things that makes Contegix unique is the culture of customer service they have developed throughout the company. As Matthew rightly tells his employees, this is so critical because

…they are taking care of the livelihoods of their customers. They are trusted with managing the essential data that makes their customers succeed, so they need to treat both their customers’ data and concerns with the utmost respect.

Their premium offering is direct managed hosting. With this service, Contegix takes care of everything for you. Customers receive the highest level of compliance, security and completely dedicated hardware.

From set-up and installation to management and monitoring, they can remain focused on their business while Contegix handles 100% of their technology. Their engineers install and manage a customer’s complete hosting and application infrastructure and are available to assist on a 24/7 basis. In addition, by monitoring usage patterns and benchmarking performance, Contegix can identify and fix problems before they impact a customer’s services.

Contegix data centers are powered by premium hardware, personalized for each customer that they manage. The data centers feature full redundancy for all critical systems; from servers and switches to SANs.  Replacement equipment is available, immediately, at all times

They host and manage multiple types of applications, including Atlassian, Zimbra, Subversion and many others. They also support home-grown apps, including complex multi-tiered applications. There are also many options for self-management where Contegix provides the infrastructure for those firms that want to do things themselves.

“Our Go Beyond”

I asked Matthew about what is special about Contegix. Without hesitation, he quickly replied with “Our Go Beyond” philosophy. In short, they compete on quality of service. They recruit employees and train them with this in mind.

The need to support customers and the importance of Contegix service to their customers’ success is a central theme of employee orientation. It means going beyond getting good customer satisfaction metrics to handling each situation with the utmost care and concern. It means acknowledging not just the technical aspects of a customer question, but the emotional component as well.

Empathy is a key trait and central part of the Contegix culture.

Contegix works with AppFusions to provide customization services for their customers’ apps, such as Atlassian JIRA, Confluence, Crowd, or the rest of their development applications where custom application development, extensions, or connectors are required. This skill is not part of Contegix’s core service and they feel that AppFusions has the same customer empathy model so the two firms complement each other.

Importance of Data Security

Data security is always a central concern when operating in the cloud and Contegix takes a multi-level approach.

  • They have internal processes in place and make sure all employees are completely vetted with background checks.
  • They work with clients to educate them on security issues.

As Matthew said, you can have the greatest security system in the world in place, but if someone leaves the door open, leaks will occur. So they orient their clients to the risks and responsibilities on their end.

One reason that clients choose Contegix is because they can reduce costs. There has been much documentation about the lower operating costs in the cloud.

Lifting the Technology Burden

A second, and perhaps even more important reason, is that Contegix lifts the technology burden off of the customer so they can focus on what they do well, as I mentioned earlier.  Internal IT can then focus on supporting internal projects/products specific to their own business – not their underlying infrastructure required to support those internal projects.

I asked Matthew about the obstacles to “moving to the cloud” when there are so many obvious proven benefits. He said it is often organizationally political, as some people are set in their past, traditional ways and have a false sense of security by being able to touch the infrastructure. In addition, some IT departments are so overwhelmed with new responsibilities, like BYOD, that they do not have time to really investigate the options with the cloud.

In Sum

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the cloud that can get in the way unless you take the time to learn the reality.

I really like the Contegix approach. It is the right thing to do and also makes good business sense. In a new area where there is uncertainty and concerns, it is better to address those concerns directly and empathically, creating a sense of trust and comfort with customers.

To learn more about Contegix services or direct managed hosting for your applications (24×7 monitored, no headaches, technically skilled hosting), email us at info@appfusions.com. We can sort through the myriad of good options with you!

Interview by Bill Ives of the Merced Group, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

Jive’s Platform Enables Comprehensive Enterprise Integration

Creating the connected enterprise is the key to driving business value in today’s economy. When over 84% of the value in S&P 500 firms is derived from intangible assets, the content within employee’s minds, facilitating collaboration across the enterprise in the context of work brings more of those minds to focus on solving meaningful challenges.

It leverages the firm’s most expensive investment, its people, to build revenue. Application integration is a foundation for this collaboration and Jive has certainly recognized this need in their product strategy.

I recently spoke with Mark Weitzel, about their integration strategy. We began with an overview of the Jive social business platform.

Mark Weitzel, Jive’s Director of Platform and Ecosystem

It is built to enable several use cases. One is building internal social intranets, supporting collaboration across the enterprise to break down silos through such features as activity streams and social groups to achieve the value described above.

Another is enabling external support groups. In this case companies set up external customer communities to address questions from other customers. These efforts have shown to both build customer engagement and loyalty and reduce support costs.

Mark said that Jive recognized the need to have integration with a firm’s legacy systems, their custom systems, and their other third party systems to put their own capabilities where work gets done. I could not agree more.

Jive did their research and found that their customers spent 34% less time searching for information and experts, had 28% fewer support calls, a 33% increase in customer satisfaction, and a 34% increase in brand awareness after they implemented Jive.

This supports the value of the use cases described above and is consistent with research by McKinsey on the value of the connected enterprise (see The rise of the networked enterprise: Web 2.0 finds its payday (2010) and How social technologies are extending the organization (2011).

“What Matters” Streams

The key to getting this value was opening up their platform so collaboration could more easily occur across applications. To facilitate meaningful collaboration they provide such capabilities as an activity stream called “What Matters”.

What Matters Jive Screenshot

In this case Jive allowed employees to move away from the fire hose of content provided by many activity streams to focus the content through several means.

Jive’s What Matters stream intelligently provides only the relevant information to the user based on the information that is visible to them and the relationships they have in the system. For example, if you are a member of a group, then you will see all the activity for that group.

In addition, Jive’s activity stream delivers targeted information a user’s social “inbox”. The social inbox is managed by the user and they can choose what information is delivered there.

The user can set up custom activity streams that combine information that is relevant to their specific context. For example, to quickly and easily follow all the activity of a company’s executive staff, a user could simple setup a custom stream and select the relevant e-staff members. In addition, Jive created a recommendation engine that pushes content to you based on your behavior in the system.

Application Integration Strategy

Jive based its application integration strategy on OpenSocial.

They made a significant move to adopt this opne, community driven standard and Mark is now the President of the OpenSocial Foundation. OpenSocial defines a Web based component model for the delivery is cloud applications along with a set of social APIs that allow an application to be easily embedded into a platform and take advantage of its social elements, e.g. the connections between people and their activities.

It gives a clear programming model and an easy way to use APIs. This allows legacy applications to be integrated with today’s leading edge social collaboration platforms. You can give legacy systems a “social life”.  This allows the creation of connections where employees might not have previously used an application.

For example, AppFusions built a JIRA in Jive application that enables this integration on a seamless basis. (Here’s the video.) There are many situations where one employee might not have access to application where much needed content resides. For example, while the IT department might use JIRA for issue tracking, a sales person who does have JIRA might want access to the JIRA status on a customer issue. Now with the JIRA in Jive connector, they can bring JIRA into a Jive conversation and ask about how the issue is progressing.

Embedded Experiences

I asked Mark about their next steps in integration. He showed me an interesting demo where you can have embedded experience form multiple applications in an activity stream. He started a discussion in Jive. Then he referenced an INXPO Social TV event to in the content.

Next, he brought in additional content from Wikipedia, and CrunchBase. Activity around discussions naturally flow into the stream in Jive, and because of this other users were able to gain visibility into this exchange of information.

The technology that these interactions are built with is using OpenSocial’s embedded experiences. Jive calls our realization of that “!App Experiences”.

I asked Mark more about that. He told me Jive’s !App Experiences is an exciting way to embed applications directly into Jive content, e.g. a discussion. Because the application is embedded with the content, the application is available wherever the content is.

Mark then logged in as another person and could access all the content right within the activity stream without having to go to the other applications or have them installed. This provides for a very rich collaborative environment. It allows you to contribute to a conversation where you are working.

Jive’s activity stream (“What Matters”) intelligently determined that this person should see the content that Mark created. When they looked at that activity stream entry, the artifacts that the application embedded in content were clearly indicated as special links.

When the user clicked on an embedded !App Experience, the application opened and the user was able to have a rich interaction right from where they were in Jive (again, in this case, the activity stream).

And here the activity is fully expanded.

And here is the Goshido action opened.

Finally, you can also create action tasks for follow up to the original post in yet another tool, such as Goshido. Now multiple applications are linked around a work activity.Jive is the glue that brings all these application together.

It was very impressive and an excellent demonstration of how the connected enterprise should operate.

AppFusions is also working on !Apps Experience integrations with Atlassian Confluence, JIRA, GreenHopper, Fisheye, Crucible, Bamboo, and Stash (Enterprise Git). AppFusions will be showcasing these integrations at JiveWorld12, in October.

Early demos of these integrations can be scheduled now however, by contacting AppFusions at info@appfusions.com.

Interview by Bill Ives of the Merced Group, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

Atlassian Makes Significant Moves into the Enterprise Market

I have covered Atlassian several times on the AppGap blog (see for example – Atlassian Implementing OpenSocial within Enterprise Applications). Recently I spoke with Atlassian’s Matt Hodges, Confluence Product Marketing Manager, and Bill Arconati, Confluence Product Manager to catch up on their latest moves. We covered several topics, beginning with their increased support for large enterprises.

Matt said that with the release of JIRA 5.0 they have launched a multi-pronged effort to expand their support for the increasing number of enterprises that are adopting Altassian products on a larger scale.  First, there is now a dedicated 24/7 telephone support team to address enterprise issues.

Matt Hodges, Confluence Group Product Marketing Manager, Atlassian

This is a great move that I wish more software providers offered.  Also, included with your Enterprise Atlassian JIRA license, there is free administrator training that focuses on how to handle large instances. An Enterprise-customer-only online-support community is also now in place with quarterly input and support meetings. In addition, there are developers on the Atlassian product teams that focus only on ”Enterprise” issues. They are addressing issues like scalability (for both users and content), as well as performance.

While this increased enterprise effort started with JIRA, plans are in place to also address Enterprise-level issues with Confluence. One move to make Confluence more accessible for enterprise users was the rebuilding of the editor that was launched with Confluence 4.0, making it easier for the non-technical user. There continues to be focused ongoing improvements in this area. I can attest to this as I have been using Confluence a lot recently and I find it quite intuitive.

See screen and explanations below.

Bill pointed out that Confluence has always been aimed at the enterprise and the business user since it first started in 2004. That was one of its distinguishing features versus the open source wikis available at the time.

Bill Arconati, Confluence Group Product Manager, Atlassian

This focus has driven usage by an ever-increasing number of business users in large organizations. Logically, they have now added new layers of support and product development to accommodate them.

We next talked about adoption. Matt said that Atlassian focuses on tools for teams that build products. Its initial clients were in IT and product development groups.  But product development goes beyond IT to such areas as marketing and support, which of course subsequently expose Confluence to larger numbers of users.

Atlassian continues to add features to increase adoption by these newer audiences. The complete rebuilding of the editor is one example. Bill added that they have continued to make the design intuitive and also provide more on-boarding support. Among much others, Atlassian are working on a new solution for providing templates out-of-the-box, including business process ones to help new users see value faster.

I asked about Atlassian’s expanding customer base, as their list is quite impressive. They said from the beginning the business model has been bottoms-up adoption. They have made the product and the price points attractive to teams so that senior executive budget approvals are not required. Then the product spreads through the organizations as people find that it is easy to use and it helps them get their jobs done better.

Atlassian has focused on what their users tell them, rather than what analysts prescribe. This has been very successful. For example, when someone moves to a new role or a new job, they take Confluence with them.

I think this bottoms-up approach to sales is even more relevant today in the world of BYOD and self-provisioning, as users no longer rely completely on IT to furnish apps – users are taking matters into their own hands.

One important move for Atlassian in this direction was the release of their software as a service (SaaS) offering – an on-demand version of Confluence. Users can more easily self-provision and you can also start with a 30-day free trial of the on-demand version.

This combination of On-Demand and instant trials has significantly increased the number of trials to more than 50 a day and has lead to many new users. It has also increased the sales of the on-premise version, or still opt that direction.

We next covered their enterprise integration strategy. I think this is key since without integration across other apps that customers use daily, more silos are created and proper workflow does not occur. Matt said that they have built a platform in all their products that accepts add-on integrations and opening the door to third-party developers, like AppFusions among others, to build integrated  solutions.

The recent released of the Atlassian Marketplace at the end of May 2012 was a major move in this direction. Third-party developers can place their add-ons in the marketplace and Atlassian handles all the business issues, including payments. This is a win for all parties as customers only have to deal with one source at the procurement level: Atlassian vs. third-party developer “shops” spread across the globe. Some third-party developers report that their evaluations have more than tripled.

Bill pointed out that the integration requirements are not limited to legacy Enterprise apps. They are getting demand for integration add-ons for other cloud-based tools like Google Docs, Box and Dropbox, all of which are being met in the Marketplace.

He added that plug-ins go well-beyond simple connectivity integration issues, including also allowing for increased functionality. And these cloud-tools are not just used by consumers or SMBs these days. More and more large customers are starting to also adopt these tools, for both cost advantages and IT convenience.

I like the flexibility of their business model and the creation of the marketplace where everyone wins.

All of the moves to support the enterprise that we discussed make a lot of sense and I can see why sales have grown significantly. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

We closed with the idea of covering the release of Confluence 4.3 in early September that will have major new capabilities. You can try it now though; the early access release is available now.

==

Updated 8/17/2012: Just released Open Webinar on JIRA Enterprise offering (and mentions abt upcoming Confluence Enterprise). Another valuable presentation: JIRA State of the Union, Atlassian Summit 2012

Interview by Bill Ives of the Merced Group, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

UserVoice Enables Customer Engagement through Online Support and Feedback

UserVoice provides software to support help desks and engage customers in providing useful feedback. I recently spoke with CEO, Richard White, who said that their goal is to help Web-based companies better understand their online customers in the context of providing them with help.

They do not want to simply provide help desk support but also increase customer engagement. This is a wise move as it can only also increase customer loyalty and revenue.

Richard White, CEO, UserVoice

In the past few years there has been a significant increase in the number of companies that operate exclusively online. The relative low cost of doing virtual business is enabling smaller companies to get into the market.

The issues facing this new breed of companies are very different than traditional brick and mortar firms that set up a Web presence. UserVoice is designed to address the needs of this new breed of companies.

Richard made the very important point that companies that are exclusively online have few ways to interact directly with their customers except in help situations. Without a feedback system such as UserVoice, the only remaining form of feedback is revenue swings and companies need to stay ahead of this curve if the potential direction is downward.

These companies also face the need to support large numbers of customers with small staffs. UserVoice allows them to operate at scale with small support staffs. It offers two interrelated solutions: UserVoice Helpdesk™ and UserVoice Feedback™ .

UserVoice Helpdesk™ provides a simple, easy to use platform for customer support. Their target population for this offering is support teams ranging from 3 to 15 members so it is not overburdened with unnecessary features for this population. It is actually available for free for only one agent seat. Here is a sample support queue screen.

UserVoice Sample Support Queue Screen
UserVoice Sample Support Queue Screen

Some companies operate with one person or a rotating team of people and make full use of this free version. Others use the single seat to test it out before obtaining licenses for additional seats.

The HelpDesk is for support tickets to track customer requests. Instant Answers™ (see below) reduces the need to answer the same question over and over as it provides customers with relevant answers while they’re submitting a support request. Customers can give support staff kudos at any point in the support process which further encourages proactive customer service.

UserVoice Instant Answers
UserVoice Instant Answers

Here is a kudos screen.

UserVoice Leaderboard Screen
UserVoice Leaderboard Screen

UserVoice’s other offering, UserVoice Feedback™ makes it easy to collect feedback from customers — prioritized by votes — via a simple feedback forum. It is their more unique offering.

UserrVoice Partial Sample Voting Screen
UserVoice Partial Sample Voting Screen

Many large companies that already have entrenched and complex help desk systems still make use of UserVoice Feedback to collect customer input and increase engagement – both inside their organization’s firewall, as well as from external customers. Customers can easily submit and discuss ideas without having to sign up for a new account. Their voting system also prevents fraud and vocal minorities from distorting the true voice of the customer. Here is a partial sample voting screen.

Richard described how the Feedback management system interacts with other tools.  For example, AppFusions has built a connector with Atlassian JIRA, the widely adopted issue tracking tool (i.e., UserVoice to JIRA integration).

This allows companies to act on the feedback. Once the proper actions have occurred inside product management or engineering, then the results are passed back from JIRA to UserVoice Feedback to alert the customers of the result of their input. Here is an email notification of an update.

UserVoice Status Update
UserVoice Status Update

Richard said that this integration is key, as UserVoice does not want to be a point solution but part of an integrated customer response system. He mentioned that while most applications have APIs for connecting, it is not always easy. Having a ready-made integration tool through AppFusions makes this essential connection easy.

Putting customer input into JIRA also has the added benefit of letting engineers and product development people see what customers really want. Those responsible for product upgrades can see the actual numbers connected with requests to help guide their decisions.

Many studies have shown that customer involvement in product development increases the possibility of product success. This has also always been my personal experience too.

Understanding the voice of the customer has become an increased market need in the past few years. UserVoice addresses this need for online companies, providing a means for ongoing customer engagement at both the daily service level and for product improvement.

If you have additional questions on UserVoice or the JIRA integration, please do not hesitate to contact AppFusions at info@appfusions.com and we’ll help you – or get you going on a trial asap!

Interview by Bill Ives of the Merced Group, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

AppFusions’ Integrations of iRise® Visualization with Atlassian JIRA, Confluence

Recently AppFusions announced a partnership with iRise®, a provider of enterprise visualization solutions to allow for simulations of Atlassian JIRA and Confluence to speed enterprise software development.

I have been familiar with the power of software visualizations for some time and have interviewed a number of venders in this space. It can be a transformative break-through for both software development and the creation of related training.

iRise visualization gives users the ability to create visual prototypes of new software projects that look and act just like the real thing, before a single line of code is written. The technology lets stakeholders and target users “kick the tires” on new applications, including mobile apps, and give feedback while it’s still easy and less costly to make changes.

iRise Simulations for Confluence

With iRise for Confluence users can embed iRise visualizations directly within Confluence pages, enabling others to interact with and comment on live, working simulations without leaving the page.

Through live simulations, vague textual use case descriptions are strengthened and quickly understood, saving endless hours of design time and confusion between engineering and product teams.

Here Is a video on how it works.

iRise Simulations for JIRA

With iRise for Confluence, users can easily link to and preview working iRise visualizations from any JIRA issue. Associating JIRA tasks with iRise simulations naturally speeds development. There is no faster way to understand an “agile story” or use case than through a live simulation.

Here is a video on this integration.

The demands that stem from the exploding use of such mobile platforms such as the iPhone and the iPad in business—often referred to as “the consumerization of IT” have put many organizations under intense pressure to create business applications for stakeholders who expect to take their apps with them wherever they go, and who are quickly irritated by even small usability flaws.

iRise’s patented software visualization technology helps companies and government agencies meet these raised expectations of elegant design and ease of use. I think that this type or visualization or simulation is a capability that has come at the right time to help unlock what might have been a huge cost and time bottleneck for IT.

If you’d like to try iRise with Confluence or JIRA, please request an evaluation license from AppFusions.

Interview by Bill Ives of the Merced Group, and who also blogs at Portals and KM.

Where AppFusions Fits – Connecting the Enterprise

Before we describe the place of AppFusions in the new world of Enterprise 2.0, it is useful to go back to look at the Enterprise 1.0 world which is still current for many.

Enterprise 1.0 – “A Single System For All”

In the Enterprise 1.0 world, large ERP systems claiming to be  a “single system for all” integrated many (if not all) departments and functions across a company into a single computer system.  They attempted to serve all the different department needs, running the business, successfully in some places, and not so successfully in others. These systems bridged the needs of products, customers, employees, and suppliers. (Below image from this excellent slideshare by Samuel Driessen.)

Credits: Samuel Driessen

For many years, this cross-functional single-uber-system was thought to be the ultimate glue to solve all problems: the silver bullet solution to propel corporations fast forward in their business success.

However, despite best intentions, these lofty goals were hard ones to meet in a single system, given many mixed audiences and purposes between departments.

  • Cross-functionally, departments wanted to control (customize) their workflow.
  • While ERP systems were configurable out of the box – to a point – in most cases, they required costly customization SLAs to develop or configure the workflow exactly how a department wanted it.
  • Data integrations to other systems were extremely expensive ($50K – $200K+), given the reliance on niche technical knowledge in closed systems.
  • All integrations were like “black magic”, requiring ongoing support and vendor reliance without a natural support path.
  • Integrations where time-consuming and costs could be as much five times the software fees.
  • Over time, specialty purpose-driven or “rogue” systems crept into organizations (large or small), as department heads rebelled against the rigid IT uber-system, and shopped for their own systems to meet their department needs.

For the companies that succeeded in their ERP deployments, they paid dearly in implementation costs, yet also they got bigger and faster with these large system infrastructures. For a while, they enjoyed a competitive edge in their locked-down systems.

Credits: Bertrand Duperrin

In such organizations [2], the general top-down management attitude was:

  • this is how it will be,
  • we do not really want to hear your opinion, and,
  • no, you cannot change the process or system (without an enormous amount of additional churn, cost, pain – to which we have no more money to expend).

Employees were forced to adopt the new inflexible systems, a change that often felt like steps back even from their slower, yet functional desktop processes.

Compounded with normal human resistance to change, the new systems were not always warmly received. People had to conform to rigid systems, rather than having flexible systems built around how people worked best.

The enormous level of cross-functional process coordination upfront, as well as the long term support for these systems, was often more crippling than helping. The systems had the potential to control corporate data in a better/faster way than previous manual ways, but it held employees hostage in so many other ways, and caused new problems organizationally.

Politics and internal fights evolved to ever high levels as employees felt duped when the new systems didn’t really do everything that they thought it would, and no customizations were allowed. If a department absolutely required customizations, they’d have to take the heavy cost hit in their departmental budget (not ITs), let alone the time-hit to implement (e.g., another 6 months often, assuming it got done before some other organizational crisis hit).

Companies would endure the growth of excessive politics, mistrust, and infighting causing systematic morale issues and lower productivity. Employee dissatisfaction grew at a higher than normal rate, as well as distrust for management who forced the new monster system on them in the first place (even if it was justified at the time given where technology was at).

In short – it was a vicious and often ugly cycle, especially for large corporations enduring these growing pains.

Outside the Enterprise 1.0 World, the Beginnings of Enterprise 2.0 Technology Moved Forward

Meanwhile, the open source movement had gained “officialness” in 1998 thanks to Netscape (Mozilla), and during the 2000s, the open source trend and collaborative engineering mindset grew more popular with the growth of Linux, further proving the value of both iterative agile engineering, open APIs, rapid development methodologies, and at the communications level – transparent collaboration.

Concurrently, the Internet was taking off well beyond the Silicon Valley, thanks to Yahoo! (1995), Google (1998) going big/global (as well as Microsoft with Internet Explorer). For the Enterprise, early pioneers Jive Software, SocialText, and Atlassian Software were founded in 2001 and 2002, respectively – three corps that would become pioneers in the Enterprise collaboration tools space in the years to come.

Atlassian also would become a leader in many of the open source stirred trends, namely agile development, ALM, engineering tools, and issue tracking, while boldly treading on common industries lead by big heavyweights like IBM, HP, and Microsoft, among others.

Overall – the timing of these new Enterprise collaboration businesses couldn’t have been better, overlapping with early social sites like MySpace (2003), Delicious (2003), Facebook (2004), Digg (2005), Twitter (2006), FriendFeed (2007), and a strong new-way-to-business Millenials culture pushing into industry with all their might.

The collective force was a perfect storm, landing down on a smug and controlling decades old proprietary industry and decades old command-and-control management styles.

By late 2009, open collaboration and social networking was no longer an idle idea.

It was a fast moving trend and way of the future, that had proven the beginnings of enormous business value for getting things done faster in the Enterprise. Concrete data began to emerge on the quantified value of these new approaches (see The Business Value of Application Connectors).

However, to be successful in the new world, people-centered Enterprise 2.0 apps need to connect with the old world transactional-centered Enterprise 1.0 systems. They needed to connect to each other to avoid establishing even more silos within organizations.

While AppFusions does not really believe in the legacy gigantic one-size-fits-all system ideal, at the same time we know that in most cases, these systems are largely not going away.

The new social systems of engagement still need to connect to the old world transaction systems to get work done.

AppFusions Bridges the Gap with Enterprise 2.0 Content Management Integration Connectors

We believe that business information and process management should be handled by a collection of systems that make up a whole. To make this happen, connectivity is the key driver. It is the glue that makes real work happen. It brings the benefits of social systems to work processes.

Modular system architectures in the Enterprise – from the same vendor or many vendors – provide greater flexibility, while also allowing organizations to pick and choose the best-of-breed systems for their purposes.

There are reasons for purpose-built systems, and a collection of many we feel is stronger than a single rigid system, especially if you can connect the strengths (data and workflows) of the different systems with common use case connectors vs. getting on an endless customization path.

Our integration connectors (current and future) bring together workflows, data files, and information between Enterprise systems for your collective purpose-built Enterprise 2.0 corporate solution of many systems. They allow companies to quickly and cost-effectuvely create the needed connectivity without going through the old-world pain of massive, costly, and time consuming integration efforts.

These connectors provide the means to close the gap between old and new, enabling the promise and opportunity within the capabilities of the new people-centered, social systems.

This blog will become the vehicle to tell this story and provide use cases demonstrating the essential nature of connectors.

Post by Ellen Feaheny, CEO of AppFusions