dancollins.pngThe Powerhouse Museum, based in Sydney, Australia – also known as the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The Powerhouse presents exhibitions and programs based on science and design, the ideas and technologies that have changed the world, and the stories of the people who inspire and create them. We spoke with Dan Collins, Powerhouse’s IT Manager, about his experience with Atlassian tools, Confluence and Jira.

Powerhouse at-a-glance:

  • Headquartered: Sydney, Australia
  • Founded: 1879
  • Collection: 389,444 objects
  • Employees: 450 staff and volunteers, all of whom are Confluence and
    Jira users

The Interview

How long have you been using Confluence?

We started using Atlassian products in early 2008. Before that we’d been using Drupal for content management.

Why change over from Drupal?

Time. Drupal did some of it, but we saw that we needed to get developers in to modify it. We looked at the range of plugins and the vibrant Atlassian community and we thought we could get a lot done in a small amount of time by paying a small amount of money. That Atlassian stuff is quite good value. It all started by looking at Jira as a service desk replacement tool.

Jira solved a lot of problems we were having. That’s how we learned about Confluence. We came to realize that Confluence was easier to use for document management, and could solve a lot of content management issues.

What are some of the ways Confluence is being used?

Initially we were using Confluence within the IT department to manage documentation. Before long, Confluence resolved a whole lot of problems across the museum and is used in quite a few areas, but three in particular are:

  1. It has taken over as our intranet. Different departments can contribute information easily. It’s removed the bottleneck at web services. Now all the staff can be involved in content creation. (See the Powerhouse blog on implementing an intranetusing Confluence)
  2. Each of our 20 departments has its own space. We use that as our blog to talk internally about what we’re working on. We also have a private space for each team to discuss matters which are departmental.
  3. Exhibition projects. Each new exhibition gets a dedicated space in Confluence where team members contribute to the space when building the project. From Marketing to Workshop to Curators; it is used by all to build the content up for the exhibition.

You’re also using Jira. How is that used?

In IT we had a service desk tool that was rather inflexible. To make any customizations it was very expensive requiring external consultants to modify the system. It just wasn’t scalable and we needed something we could quickly build out.

Subsequently, we’ve applied Jira to many different parts of operations. Wherever forms needed to be filed in we can build a Jira project to replace slow paper based processes.

One key feature in Jira is the ability for people to use email to respond to issues rather than having to go into the system. That won a lot of people over. They didn’t have to learn yet another tool.

As a result, it’s become pretty popular and we now have 20 departments using it. It is used by staff to log issues across all aspects of Museum operations – from cleaning requests, security incidents, to exhibition proposals and risk management.

The biggest win has been using Jira in the project managment of exhibitions. We were using MS Project, but were having a hard time involving all staff in the process. While MS Project is still used, we now import project information into Jira and distribute it to staff, many of which are working on multiple exhibitions. It’s all tracked on the Jira Dashboard, and it saves project managers time because they aren’t having to continually chase up task progress.

When it is agreed that an exhibition will go forward, we create a new Jira project for it. We also create a Confluence space for the content creation. The systems are integrated so Jira issues plug in to Confluence.

Are you using any other Atlassian products?

We also use Crowd for single sign-on (SSO) between the two systems.

You had been using Drupal, and I read on your blog that you had also considered going with MediaWiki. Why did you decide to use Confluence instead?

I’m not sure if it is different now with MediaWiki, but having Confluence user authentication linked into our existing directory structure makes the system much easier to maintain and support. If we were going to use to across the organisation, we needed the same groups and permissions in place to make staff comfortable, and to minimise the support required to keep it humming.

Also, given we don’t have a large support team, we were more comfortable knowing we had quick access to support. In the early stages I used the live support to quickly clear up some initial questions….and subsequently found the other support offerings to be very good. I liked using Jira for Atlassian product support which also gave me ideas for using it in different ways at the Museum.

And lastly, we realised that some great plugins existed which saved us lots of time, and provided us plenty of options to use Confluence in ways beyond the standard wiki features.

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