Seven Things to Know About Confluence

Authored by University Information Systems Hot Team



Stony Brook University has a need for a new repository for their technical and business documentation. For approximately 15 years, the Division of Information Technology had used IBM's Lotus Notes. This was retired, and Microsoft's Sharepoint has been in limited use as a replacement. Google Docs has also proven to be an excellent space for document sharing and collaboration. Senior management has asked a small team to evaluate these and other document management systems and select one product that would suit the needs of University Information Systems (UIS) and its partners.

In February 2014, UIS evaluated Atlassian's cloud-based issue tracking and project management offering, Jira. This is an SaaS offering (software as a service) where an annual subscription is purchased for a select number of users. It started out as a small pilot project for approximately 20 directors, managers and programmers. Adoption was quick and continues to expand a year later.  We currently have over 60 technical and business users, tracking issues in over 50 unique projects across the University.

The problem definition from the original Jira Evaluation states:

"Need project management and document repository solution for DoIT Application Development. Need to consolidate various spreadsheets and Sharepoint solutions into one single repository for application development tracking, reporting, and planning."

Phase II of the Jira Evaluation included investigation of Atlassian’s cloud-based document repository add-on, Confluence.

What is it?

Confluence is an enterprise-grade wiki collaboration platform.  It provides a single place for registered users to store and manage important project and business documentation: technical and business specifications, procedures, diagrams, and other artifacts. 

How Does it Work?

Confluence provides the ability to:

  • Create spaces (individual wikis) and pages
  • Create user and group permissions at any level
  • Use page templates to standardize the layout
  • Attach files and links
  • Preview and convert documents
  • Share pages for discussion/collaboration
  • Create blogs
  • Follow pages using the Watch feature with email notification
  • Index and search on all content even attachments
  • Use personal avatars and notifications for social networking

Who's Using it?

Atlassian uses Confluence for their own software documentation, FAQs, and support. Other customers include large Universities and tech companies including SUNY’s Information Technology Exchange Center, SUNY Delhi, SUNY Geneseo, SUNYRA, Princeton, NYU, Penn State, Cornell University, Arizona State, Garmin, Skype, Facebook, and Linkedin.


Why is it Significant?

One of the benefits of SaaS applications is the ease of setup and implementation. Unlike local server-based installations, cloud-based applications are available on-demand and require no updates or backups and require no additional local manpower to support.

User management is relatively painless.  User invitations are sent via email and the Confluence administrator grants permissions, privileges, and security.

Once Confluence is added to our current Atlassian suite, we can realize the full integration of program source code (Bitbucket), issue tracking (Jira) and documentation (Confluence.). Jira issues can be tied to code branches with supporting documentation. This tight integration is among the best practices in the software industry.In addition, functional users can use bare-bones functionality to create sites and pages similar to other documentation repositories. Robust search capabilities should provide users with a reliable platform to publish and share important business and technical information.

Since Confluence is hosted in the cloud, implementation can be done with the click of a button. We would begin with a limited number of users and continue rollout  as user adoption catches on.

What are the Downsides?

Additional resources are required for this implementation:

• The cost of licenses. Initially there should be no more than 100 technical and business users.

• Requires thoughtful organization/setup and a dedicated administrator.

One primary concern is security and the cloud. We want to ensure that University content remains accessible only to registered users. Examples of other Universities over sharing content have been found by our Hot Team.  Review of security and content permissions will be evaluated and tested so content is not exposed to the world wide web.

Lastly, adoption. There is a risk that the technical and user community may not share the same enthusiasm for this platform as our early adopters and will continue to use existing platforms. This will require the same rollout and training as with Jira to make the product accessible, understandable and user-friendly.

Where is it Going?

Atlassian is an innovative, award-winning enterprise software company based in Australia. In 2012 Atlassian received a 100% Glass Door "Top CEO" Ranking. Since 2001 they have grown to a 750 person multinational company. A potential U.S. IPO is in the future.

In his article titled "Why Atlassian is to Software as Apple is to Design" Forbes contributor Mark Fidelman says there are only three enterprise-grade products that sell themselves - iPhone, iPad and Confluence. Atlassian prides themselves on employing a salesforce of 0.

Sarah Maddox, Technical Communicator and Atlassian employee, thought so much of Confluence that she wrote a book about it - "Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate."

Many attribute Atlassian’s success to the company’s culture:

• Transparent pricing model

• Tools that are easy to use

• Quick response to customer inquiries

• Useful content on the web for free

• Keep things simple

• Always be testing

• Quick and easy installation

What are the Implications for Higher Education?

In our conversation with Gartner Research, Confluence was recommended as one of the top wiki applications for a document repository. It is used widely by many large companies in both the private and public sector. 

Universities find the following appealing: collaboration platforms encourage the sharing of information and ideas inside and outside of the campus community and provide a place to store that knowledge base.

Cloud based applications provide low cost financial incentives:

• No investment upfront

• No maintenance of hardware