Box’s Next Move: Coaching Companies to Rethink How They Work with Content

This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter.

The shift to remote work boosted Box — and it’s now tackling the challenge of addressing unstructured content and complex workflows.

Last week, Box held its BoxWorks 2022 event in a virtual format. Box also ran an analyst summit in parallel with BoxWorks, which was kicked off by CEO Aaron Levie.

His keynote started predictably by addressing the change in work style from hybrid work, but he did so through the lens of content. He set the stage nicely by laying out how much work has changed—people shifted from working with local teams to collaborating with a wide network of people, digital processes no longer augments work but is at the core of work, data is scattered everywhere and that automation, if done right, enables us to work better.

To help understand the role of content and how complex workflows can be, Levie described the process of a company coming to market with a new shoe. He talked about the large amount of content that needs touching by an equally large number of people: project timelines, project plans, marketing documents, market studies, CAD diagrams, product images and more that need to be worked on by both internal and external teams. Then there are invoices, agency interactions, freelancers, contracts—the list goes on and on. That content then spreads across products like Slack, ServiceNow, Webex, Zoom, Salesforce and other apps. Content is at the center of all the workflows. The complexity of setting up and using all these content-driven workflows on different platforms—with each disparate platform having its own set of security and compliance issues that add complexity and increase costs—is what Box is trying to solve up.

In some ways, pre-pandemic Box might have been overkill for many companies and considered a “solution looking for a problem.” But then the problem came in a big way in the form of hybrid work and the corresponding, ever-expanding amount of unstructured content. Companies like Snowflake and Databricks do a fine job managing structured content, but unstructured content comprises 80% of company data. The solution to managing the chaos that is unstructured content is Box—not the “file sync and share” company that some might think of, but the Box Content Cloud that addresses all aspects of the content lifecycle. This includes not just sharing content but securing, ingesting, classifying, publishing, signing and anything else that involves some data in some context, i.e., content.

At BoxWorks 2022, the company announced an upgraded Box Notes and Box Canvas, which moves the company into the content creation arena. I find Canvas particularly interesting as it is a digital whiteboard (canvas) that users can upload images and videos to create freehand content, organize information, place sticky notes and more. While this certainly creates competition with partners, a company’s ability to manage “co-opetition” is critical to it being a success.

During the analyst day, Box had a couple of customers, whose names are under NDA, join us and talk about their experiences. I asked them if they want Box to be in the content creation space. Both stated that all things content runs through Box, and they want the company to do more. It will be interesting to see how far Box takes its content creation capabilities. While I don’t see them coming out with a PowerPoint replacement, there is certainly more work to do here.

The company also jumped into deeper analytics with the release of Content Insights, which gives users a visual dashboard to measure the impact of content. Content Insights shows who is using content, when it was accessed and by who, allowing businesses to make better decisions. For example, an HR department could see who has and has not read new company policies. An inside sales manager would have visibility into who on his team is using the new sales deck and who is using older versions. One of the more valuable aspects of Content Insights would be trending information and see how content usage changes by period, such as week or quarter. This can be used to make better decisions in the future. The content organizations create is their competitive differentiator, and Box provides insights to understand what’s working and what’s not. This is a new feature for Box, and I’m unsure if the product offers recommendations as to what the insights mean, but it’s certainly an area for the company to expand on.

This content “platform” approach has some significant benefits for customers, one of which is cost reduction from the consolidation of vendors. When dealing with content, businesses might use Seismic for publishing, DocuSign for e-signature, Miro for whiteboarding, SharePoint for content management and so on. With Box, a customer can get all the features from one vendor, but also have seamless interoperability between the functions.

Bringing these functions together isn’t the easiest task—as there are workflow and user issues. To help with this, Box has created Box Consulting, a service that starts with a workshop phase to create a custom content consolidation plan and then an execution phase to put it in motion. During the analyst event, Joe Klinker, Head of Solutions Marketing for Box, gave a few customer examples and quantified the benefits. The Law Offices of Los Angeles County replaced 23 legacy content management solutions down to just Box and then used custom APIs with Salesforce to create a single content platform to manage critical legal cases. Broadcom migrated 18 million files from its legacy system, eliminated all Windows based servers and saved $10 million.

It will be interesting to see where Box takes its platform next. Ransomware recovery is one idea, but it could go deeper into content creation. The company recently migrated its cloud to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and that will increase the company’s agility and ability to roll out new features faster.

What interests me more is how it becomes a broader platform. Right now, Box integrates with every major software company—from Adobe to OpenText to Microsoft, and one would expect that. Box helps companies manage content so any software company in the content ecosystem should have integration with Box. They also work with ISVs and SI partners for vertical apps. I specifically asked Levie about growing its ecosystem, and he mentioned a company called Crux that does asset management and contract management and leverages the Box APIs to bring additional functionality to its product. Levie did mention a third category that they haven’t taken advantage yet and that’s corporate developers and small ISVs. All the big platform vendors, such as Microsoft and Salesforce have massive ecosystems, much of which comes from this group. I know this is a focus area for Box, and if it’s to become a true platform, this is the next area it needs to grow.

One final point on Box and its ability to defend its position as the premier content cloud: One of the analysts asked if Levie was concerned about Microsoft due to its increased emphasis on improving Share Point and its other content-management products. To that, I’ll quote Bugs Bunny and say, “hardy har har har.” For all of Microsoft’s strengths, content management is not one of them. An interesting point about Box is that 100% of its customers use Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. In fact, Box is the best way to unify content across SharePoint, Teams, Office, and other Microsoft products is to use Box; it does a better job of this than Microsoft. I’ve had countless customers express their frustration regarding the lack of content interoperability across the Microsoft suite, and this is due to the silo-like nature of their products. SharePoint has its own back-end storage, as does Teams, as does Exchange, etc. With Box, the link to the content is stored and used across the family of products so a change to a document would then be reflected across all applications. Now throw in all the other vendors, and Box is way outside the scope of Microsoft and Google.

Hybrid work is currently lifting a lot of boats, but there are no “gimmes” in the business world. Box took its product and continued to evolve it, and so it is now the best way for organizations to bring order to the chaotic world of content.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.