Atlassian taps OpenAI to make its collaboration software smarter

Scott Farquhar, co-founder and co-CEO of the software company Atlassian, speaks during a jobs and skills summit at Parliament House on September 1, 2022 in Canberra, Australia. The Australian government is bringing together political, business, union and community group leaders at Parliament House to address issues facing the Australian economy and workforce as inflation and interest rates continue to rise.

Martin Ollman | Getty Images

Atlassian on Wednesday said it will draw on technology from startup OpenAI to add artificial intelligence features to a slew of the collaboration software company’s programs.

Several software companies have been mobilizing to capitalize on interest in a category called generative AI — where machines can react to human input with information informed by loads of previous data — ever since OpenAI’s ChatGPT bot went viral last year with its ability to give human-like responses to written commands.

OpenAI’s GPT-4 large language model, which been trained on extensive sources of text from the internet, will help Atlassian’s Jira Service Management process employees’ tech support inquiries in Slack. For example, an employee could type an inquiry about getting approval to view a file and the chatbot will make that possible, freeing up service agents for more challenging requests.

In Atlassian’s Confluence collaboration program, workers will be able to click on terms they don’t recognize in documents and find automatically generated explanations and links to relevant documents. They will also be able to type in questions and receive automated answers based on information stored in documents.

Atlassian has been building its own AI models for several years, but just started using OpenAI at the beginning of 2023. Together, these models create results that are unique to individual customers, with Atlassian’s trove of data.

“We have a graph of work basically,” Scott Farquhar, one of Atlassian’s two founders and CEOs, told CNBC in an interview earlier this week. “I reckon we have one of the best ones in the world out there. It spans people doing stuff from design to development to test to deployment to project management to collaborating on stuff, too.”

Microsoft, which is one of Atlassian’s top rivals, is a large financial backer of OpenAI. Consequently, when GPT-4 responds to user input such as a request for information in a Confluence file, the underlying computing work happens in a cloud service run by Microsoft.

But Farquhar dismissed this concern, explaining that OpenAI won’t be training its models on Atlassian’s customer data, so Atlassian won’t be necessarily making OpenAI better by giving it business.

The new features will be available under the brand Atlassian Intelligence. Customers can join a waiting list and the company will start inviting people from it over the next few months, a spokesperson said. Corporate users will only see the new features if their employers opt in.

Atlassian employees have been able to use the new Atlassian Intelligence features internally, and they have become popular, especially for those leading teams, Anu Bharadwaj, president of Atlassian, said. Bharadwaj said she appreciates the Confluence feature that lets her transform the style of content while writing it, and she finds it helpful when Atlassian Intelligence can identify the common thread across multiple products in development at the same time.

Bharadwaj said Atlassian hasn’t figured out how much to charge for Atlassian Intelligence. Nor does she know how much money Atlassian will wind up paying OpenAI for GPT-4, because it isn’t clear how heavily Atlassian customers will use the new features.

Farquhar said the data that companies already store in Atlassian will help its use of AI stand out.

“If you start at a company that’s been using our Confluence or Jira products for 10 years, the day you start, you have access to all the information that’s happened over the last 10 years,” he said. That data makes for a knowledgeable “virtual teammate,” he said.

In March, Microsoft’s GitHub code storage subsidiary said that, thanks to a collaboration with OpenAI, it had started testing AI-generated messages to describe changes known as pull requests. GitHub said it would experiment with letting AI identify pull requests that lack software tests and suggest code for appropriate tests. Atlassian sells Bitbucket software where developers also work on pull requests. But Farquhar said Atlassian did not have any announcements about Bitbucket to discuss.

Duolingo, Morgan Stanley and Stripe are among the many companies in addition to Microsoft that have said they’re integrating GPT-4.

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