Mattermost chosen by CERN for secure, self-hosted messaging and collaboration
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is a research institute straddling the border between Switzerland and France that studies the fundamental structure of the universe by examining the behavior of subatomic particles using highly complex scientific instruments, including the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. In 2015, CERN rolled Mattermost out across the organization, streamlining collaboration while meeting user expectations and ensuring full data ownership with an on-premises solution.
Bringing messaging to one place securely
In 2015, CERN found itself facing an all-too-familiar problem: everyone ended up using the platforms they preferred. Over time, the research institute began to rely on several different chat systems—some professional, some personal—which was not an optimal situation.
Seeking a better way forward, the team at CERN began searching for a new secure messaging solution that would meet user expectations. After doing their due diligence, they decided to deploy Mattermost because it delivered a modern messaging experience and could be hosted on-premises, enabling CERN to maintain full control over all of its data.
“We didn’t want to use another service that locked in our data,” explains Adrian Mönnich, a lead developer for collaboration tools at CERN, who manages the research institute’s Mattermost instance. Due to the platform’s open source nature, the team at CERN was also able to load data from existing chat systems into Mattermost, preventing data loss.
Speeding up collaboration—during COVID-19 and beyond
After deploying Mattermost, adoption was swift and organic. “Really most of it was word-of-mouth, like colleagues mentioning it, then people starting their own teams and own channels,” Adrian explains. “We have a user community very happy with Mattermost.”
Now, Mattermost is primarily used as a central collaboration space where CERN employees can find colleagues in other departments and fields and ask them quick questions. It’s also used to facilitate communication between shifts to keep everyone working on projects on the same page. Additionally, Mattermost accelerates the resolution of issues between dependent services, since service managers can quickly ask questions of colleagues running other services to help align and work around issues.
According to Adrian, CERN’s 22,000 total users—including nearly 10,000 monthly active users spread out across 3,000 teams—were able to figure out how to use Mattermost on their own thanks to the platform’s intuitive design. “I was pleasantly surprised by how well it scales,” Adrian says. The organization’s Mattermost instance currently includes 26,000 channels and 58 million posts.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, CERN—like many other organizations—was forced to rapidly transition to remote work. Mattermost helped make that transition seamless.
“Our site access was highly restricted for a few months during the lockdown in our host states due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a great proportion of people were teleworking,” Adrian says. “Mattermost provided a great way for people to communicate while working remotely without having to fall back to things like phone calls or video conferences for anything that could be handled using text.”
CERN has taken advantage of Mattermost’s extensibility and flexibility to better embed it within their organization. To speed up workflows, CERN has also extended Mattermost by integrating it with close to 100 tools, including Jira, GitLab, and GitHub. “People can create whatever integrations they want,” Adrian says.
Building a stronger community and institution
By bringing stakeholders together in a digital space, Mattermost has also helped CERN build a stronger community. Here are four ways CERN is using Mattermost to support its community-building efforts:
- Team-building.“Socializing and collaboration grew new forms with Mattermost,” Adrian says. “CERN has a vast community of guest scientists, comprising over 12,000 scientists of 110 nationalities, from institutes in more than 70 countries. When they are not at CERN, it is essential they can keep collaborating as efficiently as possible with their colleagues working on the same CERN experiment. Now, with Mattermost, they can ‘meet’ people in channels and have conversations around topics of shared interest.” CERN also has a dedicated channel for sharing memes.
- Knowledge base.Mattermost has also become a place where employees can crowdsource knowledge from their colleagues. “Anyone in a channel can answer questions on Mattermost,” Adrian adds. “It’s an easy and very informal way of reaching people in other groups and departments.” As a result, CERN staff is able to increase cross-department communication and speed up collaborative research projects.
- Conference collaboration.When CERN has conferences—or virtual conferences, these days—they create a dedicated Mattermost instance that attendees can use to collaborate during the event. “We had a hackathon a month ago, and I spun up a custom Mattermost instance,” Adrian says. “It is quite easy for me to create a new instance using OKD/OpenShift and containers.”
- Employee surveys.CERN has also used Mattermost to send surveys about their impressions of Mattermost. Compared to other methods of collecting survey data, Mattermost has proven to be a better option. “We got 800 out of 2,500 responses to the last survey we sent about Mattermost,” Adrian says. “Thirty-two percent is a very good response rate for us.” Additionally, CERN creates Q&A surveys during all-hands meetings that pump questions from website forms into channels, categorizing them with hashtags.
The decision to consolidate all messaging with Mattermost has proven to be a valuable one for CERN. As a result, they’re able to move breakthrough research forward faster while fostering a more welcoming and collaborative environment for every stakeholder—which, in turn, helps us all understand the world we live in more completely.
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s leading laboratories for particle physics. The Organization is located on the French-Swiss border, with its headquarters in Geneva. Its Member States are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Cyprus and Slovenia are Associate Member States in the pre-stage to Membership. Croatia, India, Lithuania, Pakistan, Turkey and Ukraine are Associate Member States. The European Union, Japan, JINR, the Russian Federation, UNESCO and the United States of America currently have Observer status.