An Update on Tasktop—and the Future of Software Development

You can learn a lot from a quick breakfast meeting. I’m at a French bakery in Assembly Row in Somerville, MA, with executives from Tasktop Technologies, a software company Xconomy has covered for years. Inside, the smell of croissants and coffee. Outside, a coating of fresh snow, just enough to be dangerous.

These are heady times for Vancouver, BC-based Tasktop. The 10-year-old company has grown to 106 employees and is in the midst of closing new funding. But that’s not why I took the meeting. I took the meeting because the Tasktop team has a unique perspective on a large and growing industry. If they’re thinking about it right, they could be at the forefront of a movement to transform how big companies do software development.

Mik Kersten is the co-founder, CEO, and resident expert on human-computer interaction. Neelan Choksi is the president, COO, and former MIT Blackjack Team member. Wesley Coelho is senior director of business development; he’s been there since the beginning. Kersten and Coelho are based in Vancouver, while Choksi is in from Austin, TX. They’ve got a new product, and they’re in town for meetings with software partners. (Given the U.S. political climate for immigration and visas, having a development team in Vancouver seems like a plus, too.)

As Kersten explains, traditional and well-established businesses—banks, insurance companies, manufacturers—are all moving their daily operations to digital processes and systems. But software practices like “agile” development and “DevOps,” which emphasize speed, iteration, and collaboration, don’t always work well for big corporate teams. “The economics of software delivery are not working for them,” Kersten says. “They need a new approach.”

Tasktop thinks it has the answer, after several years of work. Its new software integrates and connects developer workflows across many different tools and projects, and provides a Web-based user interface to help visualize the software delivery chain. If it works well, it could help big companies push out software updates (and products) more quickly and efficiently. And that means big bucks for everyone involved.

Choksi compares Tasktop’s new product to a “highway system” connecting all the different parts of the software development chain. Or, in a manufacturing analogy, he says, it’s like the “conveyors in an assembly line.” Tasktop doesn’t replace agile methodologies, DevOps, or any of that good stuff—but it makes those processes and tools work together better at large scales, Kersten says.

It’s a bit hard to tell who will really prevail in this messy arena. In the field of application lifecycle management, for example, companies like Accenture, Kovair, and Agosense work on many related problems. And giants like IBM, SAP, and Microsoft have their own products and systems for developers. (Tasktop has had partnerships with many of the big players.)

But every few years, the software development industry seems to get a kick in the pants, so the timing may be right. Kersten, for one, insists that “the old tools don’t have the monopolistic hold they once had.”

Meanwhile, Tasktop has come a long way since its early days of organizing developer workflows by tasks instead of files or folders. The firm currently counts 42 Fortune 100 companies among its customers, including Comcast, Nationwide, and Bank of America.

What’s the endgame for Tasktop? The most likely scenario would be an acquisition by a big software company. Indeed, it sounds like the startup has fielded several offers over its lifetime. But if I take the team’s comments at face value, they’re really just focused on trying to move a really big industry in the right direction. If they manage to do that, the exit will take care of itself.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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