GitHub shifts from tool for nerds to business collaboration platform

Published on the 09/03/2017 | Written by Anthony Caruana


GitHub might sound like a silly name but it has become a trusted tool for developers, and now other business people, to store and share information…

Initially conceived as a repository for source code, GitHub has grown into a broader catch-all information repository in the vein of Microsoft’s SharePoint; with customers like the REA Group, Xero, and ANZ Bank, it is a platform which has gone from helping codies collaborate and manage versions, to being used for multiple purposes.

The company’s chief business officer, Julio Avalos, said “When I got to GitHub in 2012, it was transitioning from this source code repository tool to a one with broader use.”

At the time, GitHub could connect to LinkedIn via an API, but the business social media giant cut off access on discovering that GitHub was being used as a recruitment tool. Prospective employers were looking at code snippets shared by developers and making hiring decisions on that basis, cutting into LinkedIn’s revenue stream.

“We were competitive with them in a way the world had not really seen. It became a de facto place for tech hiring,” said Avalos.

In much the way start-ups use AWS and other online platforms as part of their foundational technology stack, Avalos said the same was happening with GitHub as companies are using the repository as a platform for their businesses.

For example, one application sees the law as a collection of source code, stored in GitHub. Legal issues are then seen as bugs in the code, said Avalos. That allows the company to manage the issues in the same way developers see bugs in source code, tracking their remediation.

The ‘repository’ approach makes it easy to find and re-use documents; with legal issues, precedent is important – when workers can quickly identify similar issues, it is possible to share resolutions and accelerate the process,saving time and effort.

Success when using GitHub, or any other collaboration tool, is achieved by answering some key questions, explained Avalos. “It’s about starting with the problem we are trying to solve. What are the business outcomes we are trying to get to? Who are the stakeholders? Then, let’s let the teams come to us with solutions on how to solve that rather than being prescriptive and top down. That’s not going to work.”

As anyone working in the real world knows, getting people to collaborate through formal systems and structures is challenging. Avalos, and ANZ lead Sam Hunt, agreed that there needs to be cultural and behavioural shift.

“It’s really about having best of breed tools that make the cultural change as easy as possible,” said Hunt. “People know what they need, but not how to apply those tools. They need the cultural shift. The tool’s not going to do it for you.”

Hunt said it can be daunting. As a recent starter with the company, he was thrown into the deep end as GitHub uses its own software for internal collaboration. But he said the learning curve, while challenging, was not insurmountable.

Until recently, GitHub has been a cloud-based service; it has since released an on-prem offering for enterprises that don’t want their code repositories or other business data stored off-site. The features in that on-premises offering have been updated over time while this week, the company launched a new cloud-based enterprise version.

Over time, Avalos has seen companies that initially used GitHub’s original cloud service, move to the on-prem enterprise service that supported LDAP, SAMIL and other enterprise needs, and now want to take that enterprise service back to the cloud using public or private services.

“There’s been a real shift in the market from a risk tolerance viewpoint,” said Avalos. “They are choosing a deployment model so they can have GitHub any way they want it.”

Oh, and that silly name? Linux programmers will recognise ‘git’ as a version control system for or tracking changes in computer files and coordinating work among multiple people. While the git was primarily used for software development, its incarnation in GitHub has shown that it can be used to keep track of changes in any files.

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