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Interview with Pratima Arora, Head of Confluence at Atlassian

The guide to DevOps: “The value of Confluence is knowledge sharing”

Gabriela Motroc
DevOps
© Shutterstock / Mauricio Graiki

The Atlassian Summit is behind us but now’s the perfect time to roll out the interviews with Atlassian executives. We talked to Pratima Arora, Head of Confluence at Atlassian about Confluence, how it helps people communicate more openly, how to get started with it and what’s new.

JAXenter: Could you tell us more about your job? Also, why should developers add Confluence to their toolkit?

Pratima Arora: I joined Atlassian last year, and I am the Head of Confluence. I have spent over fifteen years doing project management across different companies. When I started using Confluence, it changed my world.

Previously, I’ve used all sorts of document and content management tools from Microsoft and Google. If there is one thing that Confluence does differently than these other tools, is it gives you a workspace for the team for their content. It is not an individual tool, unlike other tools like Google Docs where you have to start it and then share it out. If you work on a team and you need a shared piece to collaborate and build content, that is the reason to add it to your toolkit.

The reason that Confluence works better for teams is that it is open by default. What that means is that when you create a page, everyone in your team can automatically see it. You don’t have to explicitly share it. In the DevOps world, this integration by default is used by many people.

One thing that empowers companies when they use Confluence, is that in the old world information gets lost. I’ll give you an example: if I leave my company and I use e-mails or Word Docs, all of that information is now gone with me if I didn’t share it. Or, perhaps it is buried in five different folders and people have to go and dig it out. With Confluence, everything is accessible. It’s out there. There’s no danger when you leave your company.

I call [Confluence] the living sharing, growing mind of the organization. It is a growing organism.

JAXenter: What other features of Confluence make it better than popular alternatives such as Google Docs?

I call it the living sharing, growing mind of the organization. It is a growing organism.

Pratima Arora: Google Docs is great, by the way! We use Google Docs internally too, so nothing against Google Docs. But, when I look at Google Docs I see a few things. To me, it’s awesome for starting collaboration but it is really hard to disseminate information. If you look at SharePoint, it is awesome with dissemination, but not good with creation. With Confluence, we let you do both creation and dissemination with the same tool. So now you can create that content and disseminate it to your teams and that’s why it works.

There are a few key differences as to how Confluence does that better. Not only are we open by default as I previously mentioned, but we also have connections. In Google Docs, you can’t connect pages. They all go into a folder. With Confluence, you can link your pages together and see them all in one spot. It has spaces and it has pages. However, Google Docs just has pages and isolated folders.

Your team space and pages are all linked together with Confluence. Confluence’s history is wiki, so with that history in mind, that is the core power – all of that connected content and visibility. So, if you are working on something, someone else on your team can come to your page and see all of the stuff you’ve been working on. Suddenly, your content is connected. You click on links and go to other tools, and now you have so much going on.

We break information silos and then we help you create content with people.

JAXenter: What do you need to get started?

Pratima Arora: It’s actually very easy! A lot of DevOps and IT professionals already use Confluence. I did a survey of our customers and asked what kind of teams use Confluence – over 50% of our customers in IT use it. So, we already see a high percentage of adoption.

We have over 40,000 companies using Confluence, millions of users, and over 190 million pages. That’s double the size of the internet in 1997!

Let’s start with the basics. You have a navigation tool and the ability to create pages and pick a template. When you enter your space, you can see all of the pages that are connected. Not only are they linked on your space, they are also linked to Jira. If I have to create a page and make it a child, it is very simple.

You can also add images and tables out of the box. If teams want to comment and say, “Hey, great job!”, or like the page, or even want to watch a page, they can do so. When a teammate watches a page, any changes that are added, your team will get notified. This way, you can keep your team up to speed with what’s going on.

Teams can even set guidelines and goals, so you don’t have to reinvent them every time. You can also change page statuses, letting your team members know if a page is in progress. Another feature is the ability to @ mention people to notify them.

We are putting a lot of effort into performance and scale, we have a brand new editor, and we are also implementing a little more fun stuff on our dashboard. 

JAXenter: This sounds like it would be useful for technical documentation as well.

Pratima Arora: Yes! Product specs, technical specs, how-to’s, these are all use cases. In the case of DevOps, it is interesting because they do a lot of how-tos. If you ask me what the value is, it’s knowledge sharing. You have something in your head that you want to share; Confluence will help you share that knowledge.

JAXenter: How can Confluence impact team communication in the long run? 

Pratima Arora: I will give you an example of a few team members. As I was saying, the core value is knowledge sharing. There are two types of jobs that people do in our product. One is: people come in to work on a project. And the communication that Confluence helps them do is with @ mentions and commenting on phrases. You can also like something and add a reaction to it, we have emoji and other fun features. That really helps with being open when working and communicating.

The second one is reference documentation. This is when you say, I want to write something and have it be shared. That is more of an outward communication, so there are two types. One is more team-based communication and then the other is a one-to-one communication. We solve both of those use cases.

We have companies like Priceline, Bosch, and BMW using Confluence with over 50,000 users and has become a part of their intranet. Lots of teams are getting empowered by this and it becomes beautiful.

To answer your question, I think we help people communicate more openly. This is primarily because there is less friction compared to when every time you create something you have to share it out versus assuming that everything you create is shared with your team. We also provide fun stuff like reactions, likes, comments, and a popular feed so you can see what’s happening in your company. A lot of customers, when they reach this stage, they use Confluence across the whole company.

For every person you add to Confluence, it gets better because you suddenly have more knowledge, you have more content. The more you add to your brain, your brain expands!

SEE ALSO: Atlassian bets big on Ops with Jira Ops and OpsGenie acquisition

JAXenter: What’s next for Confluence?

Pratima Arora: We are changing the way that we edit with a new editor manager on its way. As you know, creating beautiful content is very important. Even if a smaller percentage of people create content than people who consume it, we want to make it very simple to create quick, beautiful content.  We want people to be proud of what they create. So, we invested and built a new editor from the ground up.

We are also scaling up. Performance in the enterprise sphere is very important. We are putting a lot of effort into performance and scale, we have a brand new editor, and we are also implementing a little more fun stuff on our dashboard. We want to make the feed more visual. The last upcoming feature is templates. We have seen a huge adoption of templates. Our customers often ask us how to make templates; they want their team members to use them. It’s becoming easier to just create a template and share it. Slack integration is also coming to Confluence and we’ve redone our mobile experience.

JAXenter: What workplace trends will we see later this year and next year?

Remote work is going to be the future of how teams come together. 

Pratima Arora: My biggest workplace trend didn’t come overnight. In this fast-paced world, I was reading a book and it said that when electricity first came out, it took fifty years to reach the masses. But the internet took only twenty years. The cloud took ten. Cell phones took around five years to reach the mass population. Just look at how the time has shrunk.

We are stretched thin and we have to adapt to new changes quickly. The pace of learning is increasing, we have to learn more things than we ever had to because things are changing faster. If there is a trend around the pace of change, our work has become so much hard learning. If you look at the tools that are closed, or their information gets lost in silos, it becomes hard for them to survive in this new world.

So, when I think about workplace trends, I think about how you can make employees and teams do their best work by making information readily accessible and break those walls. We need to make information flatter and let everybody work together to come up with the best outcomes. Work is becoming more about learning, which is fascinating.

Mobile has also become so big in the past ten years. That adds to the real-time layer of work. Everybody gets pinged, incidents get pinged, if something goes wrong you get pinged. People don’t wait, we just ping people. We are always in real-time and our work is always with us. Mobile was one of the mediums that helped us get there. Millennials are also very interesting to me because they work very differently than other generations.

Another trend is remote work. You can’t hire all of your teams in one location. With technology becoming better and diversity becoming more important, people are getting the freedom to be able to work from anywhere. Remote work is going to be the future of how teams come together.

Thank you!

asap

Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.