At Home or Work, Box's Identity is No Crisis

Same Box, different everything.

levie hands crossed

This week at BoxWorks, the tagline was "How Tomorrow Works," with a focus on promoting the kind of frictionless collaboration, smarter cloud platform tools, and that the company has been slowly but surely building out over the last year and change. 

At the same time, Box's announcements at the conference seem to speak more to filling traditional enterprise checkboxes and ensuring the product's ability to meet security and compliance requirements at even the most conservative companies -- take as an example the company's new security, compliance (retention management), and document protection (information rights management) tools, which were announced at the show. 

This mixture of table-stakes security and access control features and every-file-everywhere storage nirvana with the user at the center may seem like an odd juxtaposition, bordering on contradiction. 

But according to Box CEO Aaron Levie and SVP of Engineering Sam Schillace, it's no identity crisis. It's all part of the plan: Take these super-shiny, user-centric collaboration tools that can change the way people work, and then build whatever they need to get those tools into places where the old way of doing things was the only way. 

"Our job is to build software like a consumer company, but learn like an enterprise company," Levie says. 

Cloud storage is a given, so what's next?

There's this meme out there that the major cloud storage sync-and-share market players -- Box included -- are frantically attempting to escape cloud storage pricing's spiral to the bottom and figure out some way to make money. 

But that's not strictly true: All of them have been using cloud storage, free or otherwise, as a method for getting people to put their data on the platform. Box will stay committed to developing its consumer-focused storage service, no matter what: That space is absolutely getting commoditized, Levie says, but it's really basically a loss leader. 

Now, everyone everywhere knows what's up with cloud sync-and-store services, even if Box isn't the one they use.

"In these things [consumer and enterprise], the interplay is massive," Levie says.

Levie tells the story of a sales meeting he went into at an unnamed major manufacturer, prepared with slides and charts and demos, with 200,000 seats on the line. Instead, the prospective customer kicked off the meeting by saying that he downloaded the Box app the day before off the app store and liked what he saw. That company went on to become a customer.

"Imagine any other era of enterprise software," Levie says. "Transport yourself 20 years ago, it wasn't like you went into a meeting and they said 'Oh, I downloaded Lotus.' That didn't happen."

Now that the world has embraced the benefits of cloud storage -- your data, everywhere you need it -- the real challenge for Box becomes getting it into their hands. 

Take the example of Box for Industries, a set of vertical solutions for the retail, healthcare, and media & entertainment segments (with more to come). These industries are in the weird position where they could benefit most from social collaboration, but are also most saddled with strict compliance rules that keep them from getting there with most out-of-the-box solutions. That's why Box goes after things like HIPAA compliance (and Levie accidentally let slip that they're now PCI compliant, to boot) and workflow management.

"We used to think of that stuff as features on our platform, and they are to some extent, but now we see it as enablers of actual transformation in those businesses," Levie says.  

Platform, platform, platform

Which is where the platform comes in. Sam Schillace originally came to fame as the developer of Writely, which eventually got eaten by Google to become the Google Docs that we all know and lovingly tolerate today, but now serves as VP of Engineering at Box, where he's still thinking of better ways for people to work together

The thing about reaching out to new customers as a platform is that it requires you to help other people build stuff on top of the platform. 

"Our customers don't need to be convinced to go to the cloud, they're in the cloud. Now the question becomes, what can we do with their data?" Schillace says. 

In order to develop that aspect of the solution, Box is doing what Microsoft and Facebook did before, and making itself the number-one customer of its API, ensuring that the stuff they build stays useful and relevant to developers. 

In terms of the week's announcements, that means stuff like deeper support for metadata, tighter access controls, and a commitment to helping partners develop more stuff on top of what Box has already built. That's good for vertical support, and good for businesses that need to build custom apps based on the data they're storing with Box.

"Now that it's there, they can do stuff with it," Schillace says. 

That's what really sets Box apart from the other players in the space, Schillace says: It has the user experience and design that makes users actually want to put their stuff on Box's cloud and use it every day. Because after all, if you don't use it, it's a "failed deploy," Schillace says. 

"We really serve both of those customers -- the end-user and the CIO -- very well," Schillace says. 

This sentiment is at the core of how Box approaches its future. No matter what industries its tackling or features it's adding to help people get there, Levie says that building tools to ensure users build business value by working together better is always and will always be its first priority -- everything else is just window dressing and something that helps get Box into more hands. 

"That will always be core to what we do. There's a reason we started with that," Levie says. 

This story, "At Home or Work, Box's Identity is No Crisis" was originally published by CITEworld.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 secrets of successful remote IT teams