Former Xerox PARC Research Scientist Solves Bottleneck to Faster Software Delivery

Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop, speaks with GrowthCap about how their platform technology has enabled software development professionals to collaborate seamlessly and in real time for faster deployments.

RJ: Thanks for joining us Mik, we have heard great things about the technology you have built at Tasktop, perhaps we can kick off with your background.

Mik: For most of my career I’ve been looking at how we can scale software delivery. In start-ups and smaller companies, software development tends to work well. But as software teams get to over a 100 people things start getting very inefficient. And large companies now have thousands or tens of thousands of software developers. So this is a very big problem. This inability to effectively scale software delivery is something I explored while on the research staff at Xerox PARC. I then went on to specialize in this area in my PhD work. I was most interested in where the next improvement in software development was going to come from. I realized that the bottleneck was less with the programming languages, tools or infrastructure side of things that a lot of the industry is focused on and more on how we connect the business and management on the conversation about software delivery to customers and how we look at the lifecycle. I discovered that this was the biggest bottleneck while undertaking my university research with Gail Murphy nine years ago (my thesis supervisor and Tasktop Chief Scientist)

RJ: Can you tell us more about Tasktop and its products?

Mik: Over the last 10 years as agile development and DevOps have matured, the tool chain for software delivery in the enterprise has become completely best-of-breed and heterogeneous. It used to be that developers had one tool and you had visibility across your software portfolio, but now developers are adopting new tools at an accelerating pace. Meanwhile the testers have their own new tools, as do Bas (business analysts) and Ops. There are an ever-growing number of these best-of-breed tools, and each serves a key purpose for each stakeholder. What Tasktop does is connect those tools in real time so that the conversations, activity streams and reporting on things like defects or requirements or user stories are unified across the tool chain. We enable organizations to create an end-to-end connected software lifecycle. You can both ensure that people are communicating and you can bring your software releases from six months to two weeks or to two days without being buried in manual update processes and duplicate entries and all the problems that come from having disconnected tools. That’s what the Tasktop Sync tool does – it federates the entire software lifecycle across these tools. Tasktop Data gives you visibility so you know exactly how many defects you have across your application portfolio, enables you to know what your cycle time is, your lead time, and how long it takes to bring a feature to market.

RJ: Is this plug and play technology; how quickly can an enterprise be up to speed on Tasktop’s products?

Mik: Yes, Tasktop is entirely plug-and-play. We’ve taken a middleware and services problem and turned it into a plug-and-play infrastructure tool. The other way of doing this is that you build your own integrations where you connect your tools and use APIs – and that’s exactly what breaks down a fails at scale. We plug in these tools, individually configuring these flows, which in the end represent your business process and software delivery. Thanks to our integration factory, when there’s a new version, when a SaaS tool gets updated all of it just works. You’re insulated from changes to the tools, changes to projects; and you can deploy new tools, new kind of tools and always have an end-to-end connected lifecycle.

RJ: You have a good portion of the Fortune 100 using your products. Is it just a matter of time before others start adopting Tasktop or are there alternatives that some of these large enterprises are going with? Or are they simply deferring to a later time to adopt a Tasktop or Tasktop-like technology?

Mik: Companies have been growing their software capabilities an increasing pace and as the importance of those digital transformations occurs, the need to become a sophisticated software delivery organization becomes more apparent. As the pace increases these companies can’t ignore the integration problem because they can’t achieve their vision of agile software delivery without having all the different IT stakeholders and tools chains connected. So in terms of alternatives, the main thing that we see right now is companies building the integration layers themselves with middleware like an Enterprise Service Bus, like a TIBCO. They’ll try connecting databases of these tools together; they’ll write their own code to connect these tools together with their webhooks and REST APIs. All of that breaks down the scale because it’s the wrong technology, and as a result it becomes the most expensive part of your tool chain to maintain because these tools are changing all the time. And if you adopt SaaS tools, your integration will break without you realizing it until too late because those APIs are hosted. So the building it yourself approach is something many organizations have done which doesn’t scale.

You have no way to manage when you’ve connected 300 projects with slightly different layouts together and 10 different tools, one thing breaks and it’s completely unmanageable. We frequently see organizations miss a release because their integrations are down; they don’t know what defects they’re delivering or they can’t read their compliance report. So basically the alternative is getting increasingly expensive and creates a bottleneck to achieving an agile or DevOps transformation to a large organization. That’s really what’s been driving our business and our growth. It’s no longer about which agile tool to choose since these tools are becoming a commodity, but about connecting them, which is the biggest bottleneck for the CIO.

RJ: I can imagine you have some complex environments where your product is deployed.

Mik: Yes, the other interesting thing that we’ve done is we recognized that this problem has been solved entirely by services and that’s what didn’t scale and that’s what got these companies into trouble, and then to slip releases. So a lot of our focus has been on creating this integration factory, the end result is that there are no services required. While we provide training and deployment services for those who want them, large enterprise customers have the most customized systems you can imagine and they can deploy it themselves without services because we’ve turned this integration problem into a new kind of infrastructure that you can visually configure. Some of the largest banks in the world have deployed this without any services. We simply support their deployment through our support channels – we have a number of partners who offer services for customers who want help in best practice implementation. The most interesting part is that once it’s installed, it’s very easy to maintain. Our vision was to have infrastructure that’s very easy to maintain, configure and extend, so that’s a key value part of our product.

RJ: When large financial institutions or other large enterprise within a different vertical deploys your product across their systems, is it usually holistic or do they do it within specific project areas?

Mik: I’ll explain with an example. One of the biggest retailers in the US is one of our customers. Their central IT team bought Tasktop to get a handle on one line of business that was using a new tool for agile. When they were successful with it, they standardized on it across all of their lines of business as a way of connecting the different tools. Then they realized that some lines of business were already using Tasktop as well, to connect the agile tools they had chosen for themselves to the central IT tools. It can start either with central IT or with the lines of business, but what’s key is that at the end of the day the information is flowing across the tools, and that’s the unification that Tasktop provides.

RJ: Is this primarily a SaaS model and I presume you have long-standing clients?

Mik: Once we’re deployed, both the end users loves us and the IT team love us because they never have another failed tool deployment or a failed tool upgrade – we take care of that for them. Because our focus is on the Global 500 and we’re starting to work more with the Global 5000 as well, we’re deployed always on premise right now. On premise enables these companies to connect their existing tools to the SaaS tools that they’re using. We now support 40 different tools and 296 versions of those tools that we all test. In terms of our pricing model, we provide both subscription licenses and perpetual licenses. For example, in systems engineering and manufacturing, which is all turning to software, they have a preference for perpetual licenses and we provide that as well, so we provide both.

RJ: Mik, this has been a very informative conversation. Thank you again for taking the time.


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