Box CEO Aaron Levie may not be able to talk about the cloud storage and collaboration company's forthcoming IPO, but he still took the stage at the company's biggest BoxWorks conference yet, with 5,000 attendees.
Levie discussed the future of the business and make some announcements -- including the beta of a Box integration with the Windows version of Microsoft Office 365; the introduction of Box Workflow, a tool coming in 2015 for creating repeatable workflows on the platform; and the unveiling of Box for Industries, an initiative to tailor Box solutions for specific industry use-cases. And if that wasn't enough, Box also announced a partnership with service firm Accenture to push the platform in large enterprises.
The unifying factor for the announcements made at BoxWorks, Levie said, is that users expect their data to follow them everywhere, at home and at work. That means that Box has to think about enterprise from the user outwards, putting them at the center of the appified universe -- in effect, building an ecosystem of tools that support the things employees already use.
The 47,000 developers making almost two billion API calls to the Box platform per month are a good start, Levie says, but Box needs to go further and do more to customize its platform to help push this user-centric, everything-everywhere-always model at larger and larger enterprises.
"We had to change the rules of how we build software," Levie said.
Tailoring Box for verticals
This is where the Box for Industries initiative comes in.
Box for Industries is comprised of three parts: A Box-tailored core service offering, a selection of partner apps, and the implementation services to combine the two of those into something that ideally can be used by any enterprise in any vertical.
"We are going to do this for every major industry that we serve," Levie says.
At today's launch, Box is announcing solutions for three specific industries: Retail, healthcare, and media/entertainment. For retail, that includes vendor collaboration (helping vendors work with manufacturers and distributors), digital asset management, and retail store enablement.
Ted Blosser, senior manager of Box Platform, also took the stage to show off how managing digital assets benefit from a just-announced metadata template capability that lets you pre-define custom fields so a store's back-office can flag, say, a new jacket as "blue" or "red." Those metadata tags can be pushed to a custom app running on a retail associate's iPad, so you can sort by color, line, or inventory level. Metadata plus Box Workflows equals a powerful content platform for retail that keeps people in sync with their content across geographies and devices, or so the company is hoping.
Similarly, Box for Healthcare will consist of combining Box's HIPAA-compliant cloud to sync patient data securely. And by way of partner apps like DrCrono, which demoed on stage, doctors can securely share that patient and confer with each other. Box for Media & Entertainment is similar, as Oscar-winner Jared Leto stopped by to discuss -- not before passing his Oscar around the audience for selfie purposes (seriously) -- but with a focus on sharing media and content distribution.
It's the same collaboration model that cloud storage vendors have been pushing, but customized for very specific verticals, which is exactly the sales pitch that Box wants you to come away with. And developers must be cheering -- Box is going to help them sell their apps to previously inaccessible markets.
Going where the users are
More on the standard enterprise side, the so-named Box + Office 365 (previewed a few months back) currently only supports the Windows desktop versions of the productivity suite, but Levie promises web and Mac integrations are on the way. It's pretty basic, but potentially handy for the enterprises that Box supports.
The crux of the Office 365 announcement is that people expect that their data will follow them from device to device and from app to app. If people want their Box files and storage in Jive, Box needs to support Jive. And if enterprises are using Microsoft Office 365 to work with their documents -- and they are -- then Box needs to support that too. It's easier than it used to be, Levie says, thanks to Satya Nadella's push for a more open Microsoft.
"We are quite confident that this is the kind of future they're building towards," Levie says -- but just in case, he urged BoxWorks attendees to tweet at Nadella and encourage him to help Box speed development along.
In addition, Box Product Manager of Enterprise Annie Pearl came on stage to discuss how Box Workflow can be used to improve the ways people work with their content in the real world of business. It's worth noting that Box had a workflow tool previously, but it was relatively primitive and seems to have only existed to tick the box -- it didn't really go beyond assigning tasks and soliciting approvals.
With this new Box Workflow product, content can be flagged to send notifications (email and push) to the appropriate parties if it meets certain criteria, like sending any expense report over $1,000 to the CFO's office for approval automatically. In Pearl's example, the Miami Heat could have been notified two days in advance when their contract with Lebron James was about to expire ("If you do a keynote with Aaron Levie, you're required to do at least one joke," quipped Pearl).
Box Workflow comes with a set of APIs for partners to integrate these automated processes into everything from existing Oracle or SAP systems all the way to custom apps hosted on Amazon Web Services or iPhone apps. Pearl also notes Box Workflow's intelligence layer means that it can be used for eDiscovery, meeting a major enterprise use-case.
For its "One Last Thing," Levie concluded the program with the Accenture announcement -- Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty took the stage to discuss how the cloud is changing how workers at even large enterprises collaborate, and how the firm is going to push Box's vertical strategy forward.
Box gives its mission as "connecting people and their most important information within your walls." All of these announcements are pretty diverse, but that might be a good thing -- all Box wants is more (paying) customers in more (lucrative) verticals and more (paying) developers to support them with solutions. The more enterprise data that lives in the Box cloud, the better for the company.
But at the same time, it's hard to ignore Box's burn rate, and it's a real question if it can get enough traction to make this work long-term.