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When it comes to biotech, Amgen is no spring chicken. Internationally touted as the ‘largest independent biotech firm,’ Amgen was ranked first on the S&P 500 for being one of the most “future-oriented” companies by BusinessWeek. With revenue upwards of $15 Billion USD, we were quite pleased that they would take the time to talk with us about their extensive use of our bug tracking tool, JIRA.

A few days ago, I got the chance to speak with Mike Hu of Amgen who is based out of their headquarters in Southern California.

Amgen at a glance

  • Industry: Biomedical
  • Founded: 1980
  • Headquarters: Thousand Oaks, CA
  • Employees: 17K
  • Number of offices: Primary sites – CA, WA, RI, MA
  • Number of products: 10
  • Products used: JIRA

The Interview

Tell me a little about Amgen

Amgen is a leading human therapeutics company in the biotechnology industry. We want to help people with their health and try and make people’s lives better. Most of our products are geared toward cancer patients. Chemotherapy causes people’s systems to shut down, so our products help a person’s immune system rebound. My department, Information Systems (IS), supports the core business in researching, developing, marketing and delivering our drugs to patients.

Did you use an issue tracker prior to JIRA?

Yes – we’ve had several issue trackers. Bugzilla was a big one, and we did a large migration off of it. We also had IBM’s ClearCase.

How did JIRA make its way into Amgen?

JIRA was here before I worked at Amgen. We had a guy here who was active in the OpenSource community. He stumbled upon JIRA, brought it in as a suggestion and became the JIRA evangelist within our company. We were using ClearCase at the time and the evangelist was on a project for our Legal department and wanted to try JIRA for this project. The Legal department and others saw how successful JIRA was, decided ClearCase was too clunky, and some things were not standard; for instance, we could not get LDAP integration. ClearCase also cost us a lot of money, while JIRA is relatively cheap for enterprise standards. Next, when our satellite offices saw we were using JIRA at the headquarters, they decided to take their Bugzilla issues and migrate them into JIRA. We consolidated all issues into the Thousand Oaks IS headquarters’ JIRA instance, and it has been a success ever since.

How long have you been using JIRA at Amgen?

Two to two-and-a-half years ago we started using JIRA within my department. It has now proliferated to more of an enterprise solution where a large portion of project tracking and task management takes place.

Are you able to comment on your JIRA stats?

  • Edition: Enterprise (~30K users)
  • Version: 3.13 (plan to upgrade to 4.0 this year)
  • Projects: 250
  • Issues: Last I checked, around 80K

How is JIRA used at Amgen?

We originally started using JIRA as a system to track operations and contracts that go out for the Legal department. They make negotiations and lots of phone calls to work on the contracts. JIRA helps facilitate this and offers the metrics that report how well the contracts are being pushed through.

Now, we use it mainly as a way to keep track of enhancement requests. We also use it to keep track of certain projects and requirements tracking. We have a standard set of workflows and usually use the out of the box workflows for most of what we are doing. We have made very minor customizations. More recently, however, we have started using JIRA as more of a platform for independent systems where we’ve made a lot of customizations with help from CustomWare.

Product integrations?

We do use the SOAP APIs to integrate with other systems. We have a ‘home brew’ contract generation system which links to JIRA. We have done some plugin development on our own, but don’t have any major product integrations.

Let’s chat about the customizations you did with our partner, CustomWare?

We have two projects with them. The one we finished last year was a huge customization. Our team surveys patients’ reactions to certain drugs. When we come up with the studies, we need to make sure we have performed certain checks on the data collected. We used to keep track of this in Excel, but needed something better. Our team looked at the requirements and thought JIRA was a good fit. JIRA did, however, lack some functionality we were looking to fulfill. We had only two months of development time, and wanted to use JIRA as the base to build on. We turned to CustomWare because they are the best at what they do.

We dove right in. We changed JIRA quite significantly, and it works great. JIRA is so extendable. All the upgrades they developed were done as custom plugins. We have special features like the ability to copy; there is already a clone feature as a part of JIRA, but not a true copy feature. We wanted to clone and move issues, so CustomWare made this for us with ease. They also made other integrations to an external database as well as a versioning system within JIRA. Admins can take a version and lock it down so no one can come in and edit the issues (or edit checks as we call it within our system).

The requirements doc for this customization project was around 90 pages and it was a huge achievement for CustomWare, and for us.

How do you see your use of JIRA changing or developing over the next couple years?

JIRA is here to stay as far as issue tracking. Bar none, it is the best issue tracker out there. It is aimed at the software development space, but it can be leveraged in many business applications. Our big complaint is some business users don’t like some of the terms, but we can change those!

It used to be that people had two choices: they could do custom development or purchase COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) products. JIRA offers a happy medium in between; it is commercial, but if it does not meet 100% of your needs, you can customize it enough until you are happy. It makes it faster to get out the door and saves money and time. The speed to market is much faster and less man hours are wasted. I foresee JIRA making it’s way across lots of projects and spaces and possibly replace a lot of COTS products we have today.

What advice would you give another company considering JIRA?

It’s THE in-between solution for going full-out custom development and going COTS, and it’s relatively cheap. If anyone is looking for a simple solution, JIRA is the way to go. JIRA should be a solution to consider for anyone who wants to do custom development; it gives you a better starting point than starting from scratch.

Thanks Mike!

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