iPad App Fills Killer Enterprise Need: Collaboration in the Cloud

A new version of Box's app that lets iPad users collaborate on files in the cloud adds much needed enterprise security features. Check out why one customer calls it "idiot-proof."

One reason that business people love the iPad is because it's so darn easy to use. Just whip it out and get a little work done on the iPad whenever there's a little downtime, which often means collaborating on projects, whether it's the presentations that look so good on the iPad display, or routine work documents.

"It's not unusual for me (in one country), an employee in Europe and another in Japan all to be working on a project," says Lance Locher, senior vice president of Total Traffic Network, a division of Clear Channel that delivers traffic data to the company's radio and television stations and other outlets.

Locher, an avid iPad owner, taps the power of collaboration in the cloud with an app called Box. Like the iPad itself, Box is a simple file sharing tool and cloud storage service built for the enterprise.

It's so easy to use that his team, spread out across the United States and Europe, was recently able to write a response to a complex request for quote, or RFQ, in only two-and-a-half weeks. "That's unheard of," Locher says. "It normally would have taken anywhere from six to nine weeks."

Collaboration in the cloud just might be the iPad's killer enterprise app.

The problem, though, is that enterprise collaboration tools on the iPad often gridlock at the main intersection of user simplicity and rigid IT requirements. Users want to tap an app, grab the file and get to work. Yet IT needs to make sure that the file has enough security and manageability wrapped around it. After all, the file is likely a critical corporate asset.

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Today, Box released a version of its iPad enterprise app that "balances both the needs of the users and the needs of IT," says Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box. On the security front, the new version has an option to apply a four-digit passcode to access the Box app. iPads tend to get passed around to friends, family and co-workers, but now they won't be able to access a company's files.

On the user front, the new version has single sign-on and a Video Out feature that lets Box users display PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and Word documents from their iPad onto a TV, projector, or LCD Monitor. There's also support for wireless Air Printing. (Box enterprise edition costs $15 per user per month.)

"The ease-of-use becomes even more prevalent in this version," Locher says.

When it comes to collaboration tools, ease-of-use is super critical, Locker says. In the past, he's had to train users on SharePoint and FTP sites. The effort to manage SharePoint took its toll on his small IT staff, he says. And one person on an FTP site could accidentally delete a shared file. "We never found anything with the ease of use as Box," Locher says. "The version tracking is almost idiot-proof."

Collaboration on the iPad has grown almost as rapidly as the iPad itself. Box claims that more than 60,000 businesses, including nearly three out of four Fortune 500 companies, use Box to share, manage and collaborate on content. Box counts more than 300,000 downloads of its iOS app. (Box is also available on Macs, PCs, iPhones and Android devices.)

The trend has kept Box developers busy. Box plans to release more admin controls later this year. In the event of a lost iPad, admins will be able to control access to that user's account and prevent caching data. Box also wants to allow its service to hook into a company's custom-built iOS app.

Such features will be necessary as cloud collaboration on the iPad continues to proliferate. Last week, Locher recommended Box to the CTO of Clear Channel for a potential global rollout. The mobility of the iPad means that collaborating on files is only a finger tap or two away from doing real work.

"It just saves a huge amount of time," Locher says. With the iPad and Box, "I never have downtime unless I choose to have downtime."

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at mailto:tkaneshige@cio.com.

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