When Aaron Levie co-founded Box in 2004, he envisioned how businesses would benefit from cloud storage and file sharing -- improved data access and collaboration -- and, since few vendors grasped this, Box cashed in when this technology got popular years later.
However, this market is now wholly commoditized. There's a merciless price war and many vendors, including Google and Microsoft, now compete with Box, so pitching a plain vanilla offering no longer cuts it.
Levie and his lieutenants have been preparing for this moment for years, and last week their strategy to extend Box into document, content and business process management became clearer and more concrete. What's not clear is whether the scrappy vendor will be able to survive this transformation and carry on being a thorn in the side of its bigger rivals.
"It's been a great rising tide that has lifted them for sure [in enterprise cloud storage and file sharing], and given them tons of visibility, but it's time to recognize that if you're going to remain in a market where low margins are going down to zero, then you don't have any future opportunity," said Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst.
In other words, Box can't just be a secure repository of data that is easy and convenient to access via a Web browser and mobile apps. If its customers are using Box to store data from their ERP or CRM systems, designs for a new product, animation footage for a film, or patient information from a hospital, Box wants to offer features that help those employees better use, analyze, visualize, share and collaborate with that information.
"Box has to move well beyond file sync and share and collaboration to differentiate itself at this point," said Paul Hughes, an IDC analyst.
At BoxWorks, the company announced improvements to its service in areas including security, governance, regulatory compliance, content creation, mobility and third-party software integration. Two announcements in particular stood out as emblematic of this goal to differentiate itself.
One is a new workflow engine that will automate the routing of documents and files, as well as the actions that people need to take on them.
Box Workflow, due next year, will let IT administrators set up rules that will trigger actions for specific types of files, documents, folders and data stored in Box. For example, they'll be able to configure rules for contract approvals that will steer the documents involved through a set of predetermined steps and actions, like requesting sign-off reviews from some managers and signatures from other employees.
By tapping machine-learning algorithms, Box Workflow will also generate recommendations for other content that may be relevant for a user to check out, as well as auto-classify new documents that the system finds similar in format to others, like invoices. Box Workflow will also have open APIs so that it can be integrated with third-party software and systems, thus following a long tradition at Box to make its software extensible and easy to integrate.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.