Next week sees me in San Francisco for the annual Box user conference (disclosure – Box is covering my T&E account), it’s an interesting time for the company, only a couple of weeks ago Salesforce stole some of their thunder by announcing a file sync and collaboration tool. BoxWorks is an opportunity for the company to fight back, and for CEO Aaron Levie to answer for the charisma and aspirational vision that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff exudes.

Traditionally before large vendor events I write a prediction post so, in keeping with this modus operandi, here’s my thoughts on what we can expect from the coolest kids in content management

More Stories of Customer Delight

From the “SharePoo” tee shirts, to the billboards on 101 (see below), Box has spent years telling the world that Microsoft SharePoint (its #1 nemesis) is a user nightmare, inflexible, expensive and inflexible. Box CEO Aaron Levie has taken the opportunity at every turn to pull Microsoft’s tail. To an extent this good natured (or not) banter is valid – no one would accuse SharePoint of being fun to use. But Box is now a company with a valuation well north of $1B, simply critiquing the competitor is fun and all, but they need to deliver real customer success to back up their claims. The BoxWorks agenda needs to have a good selection of customers from different industries, all prepared to put some hard metrics around the benefits they’ve seen from moving to Box. Yes we’re all happy to be entertained – but at the end of the day Box needs to deliver some empirical data along with the popcorn.

I’m interested to hear some case studies that Box is suggesting will be talked about at the event where Box has been implemented alongside SharePoint – for some organizations SharePoint use is non-negotiable and hence a story that plays more nicely with SharePoint is an important part of Box growing up.

A Credible Social Fabric Story

Content management is important, but it’s just part of what an organization does – the main reason that Salesforce has had so much success evangelizing Chatter is that there is a credible story that goes something like “social is the fabric that weaves across an organization and touches all functional areas. Building a social platform is always going to more impactful than reinventing any one specific area”. It’s for this reason that the recently announced integration between Tibbr and Box is so interesting. As Alex William wrote:

Tibco has a new enterprise social graph that includes a partnership with Box… What a contrast to and its new Chatterbox. Instead of building its own file storage technology, Tibco has moved to partner with Box and offer integrations through an API. The move gives Tibco a deeper third-party play, and Box gets an installed base of 1 million Tibbr customers

The jury is very much out on the question of whether social needs to be an integral part of an application suite or a third party integration suffices. Box will be trying very hard to articulate why the best opportunity for enterprises is to select best of breed solutions from multiple vendors, and that an enterprise social feed product is just one of these discrete functional areas.

The Continuing Security Questions

Box has an exemplary record when it comes to security but, notwithstanding this, they have a tendency to be lumped into a product category alongside lightweight and less robust consumer focused solutions such as DropBox. It’s interesting to see a panel specifically looking at security. I expect Box will go into detail about it’s own infrastructure setup and make a point of articulating the points of difference between itself, and lightweight consumer tools built on top of commodity cloud storage.

It’s All in the Ecosystem

Over the past year we’ve seen Box start to tell the story of its vibrant ecosystem. Perhaps reading from the same playbook as Salesforce, Box realizes that enabling third party vendors to leverage the content platform is a sure fire way to deliver better experiences, and better fitness for purpose to customers. Earlier in the year Box launched the Box Innovation Network (/bin) which was designed to foster an ecosystem of enterprise software solutions all built upon the Box platform. There hasn’t been much said about the success of /bin so far – Box set aside a $2M fund to jump start the program, dedicated resource to it, opened up the API and access to its own partners, all in an attempt to create some sparks. I’m hoping to see showcased some innovative solutions being built on top of Box. The valuation of the company is such that is has to deliver far more value than a mere point solution can – an ecosystem built on the back of it would go a long way to helping that.

Making Mobile Matter

Box has been banging on about the revolution in the workplace for years now –  the coming rise of the millenial generation, organizational demands for agility, project specific teams and the big one, mobility – are all valid themes, but ones which grow perhaps a little tired after the thousandth time you’ve heard about them. I’m expecting some progress on articulating a compelling vision of what the mobile file system actually looks like and means for organizations and, most importantly, their users. I’m not sure what any announcement will look like, but expect some mobile-centric news.

Lots of KoolAide

It’s a little unfair to compare Boxworks with DreamForce – the two companies are at completely different stages of life and Box in particular is still trying to find its own groove. That said, they share many traits, especially that of having an uber-charismatic CEO who can take customers and partners on a journey, often well before the marketplace is actually ready for that journey. It’s going to be interesting to hear from Levie, and see how he articulates a vision in light of the Salesforce announcement – it’s no longer a happy little troop of cloud companies going up against the legacy vendors – there is now a degree of tension within the cloud players and how each company articulates its own vision of the future will impact upon the landscape for many years to come.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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