It turns out that most IT departments no longer want to buy, install, and run software on their own servers, and the ancillary benefits of the cloud -- like easier mobile access for workforces that combine full-time employees and contractors -- seal the deal.
Why Box chief Aaron Levie loves the iPad mini
Box CEO Aaron Levie loves his iPod mini so much, he says, "If you haven't bought one, I don't know what you're doing with your life."
Levie kicked off his remarks at the Financial Times' Financing Innovation summit today by showing off the device he carries with him everywhere.
He wasn't only talking about it from a user's point of view. He also loves it from a business perspective.
The rise of highly mobile computers like smartphones and small screen tablets has created a much bigger addressible market for enterprise software than existed five years ago. Box, a cloud-based file-sharing and collaboration service, is riding this wave.
"If you were trying to build Lotus, SharePoint, a software company that touched end users in the enterprise, the addressable market was the number of people that worked on PCs every day. The knowledge worker. That number was in the mid hundreds of of millions, effectively."
But Gartner recently estimated that smartphones and tablets will enable more than 1.3 billion mobile workers by 2015. And that's not just existing workers shifting to doing more work in new locations, like from their homes.
"Imagine the whole population of workers who never or rarely worked on computers before," said Levie. "The field sales person, the field auditor, the factory floor worker, the store clerk." All these new workplace "are now lighting up with computing.""
As an example, Levie pointed to Sunbelt Rentals, a heavy equipment rental company whose salespeople formerly lugged around binders. Now they're all equipped with iPads connected to Box for sharing files.
Levie also took time point out how this larger addressable market, combined with the rise of cloud computing, has driven the enterprise software market into two camps. On one side are traditional vendors like Microsoft and Oracle, which offer a vertical stack of technology that powers all components in the business. Their promise is that "you'll get radical efficiency because all the software ostensibly works together," plus simplicity because "there's one vendor to license all this software from."
But in reality, integration often wasn't as seamless as promised, and integrated vendors had less motivation to innovate. "The challenge with 'one throat to choke' is the inverse -- one company controls what you pay them, they're under no pricin gpressure, there's a limited amount of innovation demanded."
The other major approach is the one taken by Box, as well as SalesForce, NetSuite, Jive, Zendesk, Workday, and a whole host of smaller cloud-based startups. These companies use published APIs and standards to enable data sharing, enabling customrers to buy "best of breed solutions" for each function, then "stitch them together."
Levie also skillfully dodged moderator Richard Waters' questions about Box's business, such as whether the founders had taken any money off the table from the $287 million Box has raised in VC funds, or whether an enterprise software company can survive without the funds gained through a public stock offering.
"That's definitely a theory we talk about all the time," he joked. "I have nothing to announce on this stage."
Adding to a string of announcements aimed at making its service more appealing to businesses, Dropbox this morning said that Dell will start selling the service to its customers.
The battle over which platform delivers the best location and context services to mobile users is already underway with Google in the lead, but Apple's purchase of mapping startups and social analytics firm Topsy, combined with its Bluetooth-based iBeacons could give Apple a strong chance.
Box is experiencing some good times these days with new features, new funding and a high profile CEO, but Box has to be careful as it grows to say true to its root and not fall into the trap becoming just another enterprise software company.