Aug
29
2018
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Box builds a digital hub to help fight content fragmentation

The interconnectedness of the cloud has allowed us to share content widely with people inside and outside the organization and across different applications, but that ability has created a problem of its own, a kind of digital fragmentation. How do you track how that piece of content is being used across a range of cloud services? It’s a problem Box wants to solve with its latest features, Activity Stream and Recommended Apps.

The company made the announcements at BoxWorks, its annual customer conference being held this week in San Francisco,

Activity Stream provides a way to track your content in real time as it moves through the organization, including who touches it and what applications it’s used in, acting as a kind of digital audit trail. One of the big problems with content in the cloud age is understanding what happened to it after you created it. Did it get used in Salesforce or ServiceNow or Slack? You can now follow the path of your content and see how people have shared it, and this could help remove some of the disconnect people feel in the digital world.

As Jeetu Patel, Box’s Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer points out, an average large company could have more than a thousand apps and there is no good way to connect the dots when it comes to tracking unstructured content and getting a unified view of the digital trail.

“We integrate with over 1400 applications, and as we integrate with those applications, we thought if we could surface those events, it would be insanely useful to our users,” he said. Patel sees this as the beginning of an important construct, the notion of a content hub where you can see the entire transaction record associated with a piece of content.

Activity Stream sidebar inside Box. Photo: Box

But Box didn’t want to stop with just a laundry list of the connections. It also created deep links into the applications being used, so a user can click a link, open the application and view the content in the context of that other application. “It seems like Box was a logical place to get a bird’s eye view of how content is being used,” Patel said, explaining Box’s thinking in creating this feature.

A related feature is a list of Recommended Apps. Based the Box Graph, and what Box knows about the user, the content they use, and how it’s interconnected with other cloud apps, it also displays a list of recommended apps right in the Box interface. This lets users access those applications in the context of their work, so for instance, they could share the content in Slack right from the document.

Recommended Apps bar inside Box. Photo: Box

For starters, Recommended Apps integrations include G Suite apps, Slack, Salesforce, DocuSign and Netsuite, but Patel says anyone who is integrated with the web app via the API will start showing up in Activity Stream.

While the products were announced today, Box is still working out the kinks in terms of how this will work. They expect these features to be available early next year. If they can pull this off, it will go a long way toward solving the digital fragmentation problem and making Box the content center for organizations.

Aug
23
2018
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ServiceNow-Box integration brings together two enterprise cloud stalwarts

It used to be a one-vendor, stack-driven world in the enterprise. Today, the cloud has changed that and best of breed and interoperability are the watchwords of the day. Two enterprise cloud stalwarts have announced a new integration that brings Box content directly into ServiceNow.

For ServiceNow customers, it means that they can access Box content without leaving a ServiceNow application and changing focus. Company CTO Allan Leinwand says the two share a lot of common customers, and it made sense to bring them together.

“When you’re inside of a ServiceNow record, for example, you’re looking at an incident or problem or a knowledge base article, you are going to link to directly with a Box document or save files directly to Box from ServiceNow. There’s a lot of very practical things that help people get their work done faster,” he explained.

Jeetu Patel, Box’s Chief Strategy and Chief Product officer says the two companies are working to drive innovation inside organizations and that means working with multiple products to solve organizational issues.

“Our goal has been to be a neutral central content layer for every business process. Part of that ambition is to be able to plug into best of breed applications like ServiceNow. Companies already use these tools, and use Box, and they want to be sure they work seamlessly with each other,” Patel said.

On a practical level, customers can grab the Box plug-in from the ServiceNow Store. It comes with some prebuilt workflows for typical ServiceNow product usage scenarios, but the integration is flexible and allows customization. As an example, in an HR scenario, the ServiceNow administrator might build a workflow for onboarding a new employee in ServiceNow’s HR application. Using the company’s Flow Designer workflow-building tool, they can pull in all the documents a new employee needs to sign with other tasks into a single workflow.

Contract workflow with Box content in ServiceNow Flow Designer. Screenshot: ServiceNow

It comes down to helping customers work more efficiently. “We’re both cloud companies, and we’re both driving digital transformation for our customers. And we’ve really seen a lot of synergy between the way people work in Box, and how people are working in ServiceNow. We think we can integrate together and make work get done better,” Leinwand said.

Jul
11
2018
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Box opens up about the company’s approach to innovation

Most of us never really stop to think about how the software and services we use on a daily basis are created. We just know it’s there when we want to access it, and it works most of the time. But companies don’t just appear and expand randomly, they need a well defined process and methodology to keep innovating or they won’t be around very long.

Box has been around since 2005 and grown into a company on a run rate of over $500 million.  Along the way, it transformed from a consumer focus to one concentrating on enterprise content management and expanded the platform from one that mostly offered online storage and file sharing to one that offers a range of content management services in the cloud.

I recently sat down with Chief Product and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel . A big part of Patel’s job is to keep the company’s development teams on track and focused on new features that could enhance the Box platform, attract new customers and increase revenue.

Fundamental beliefs

Before you solve a problem, you need the right group of people working on it. Patel says building a team has a few primary principles to help guide the product and team development. It starts with rules and rubrics to develop innovative solutions and help them focus on where to invest their resources in terms of money and people.

Graphic: Box

When it comes to innovating, you have to structure your teams in such a way that you can react to changing requirements in the marketplace, and in today’s tech world, being agile is more important than ever. “You have to configure your innovation engine from a team, motivation and talent recruiting perspective so that you’ve actually got the right structure in place to provide enough speed and autonomy to the team so that they’re unencumbered and able to execute quickly,” Patel explained

Finally, you need to have a good grip on the customer and the market. That involves constantly assessing market requirements and looking at building products and features that respond to a need, yet that aren’t dated when you launch them.

Start with the customer

Patel says that when all is said and done, the company wants to help its customers by filling a hole in the product set. From a central company philosophy perspective, it begins with the customer. That might sound like pandering on its face, but he says if you keep that goal in mind it really acts as an anchor to the entire process.

“From a core philosophy that we keep in mind, you have to actually make sure that you get everyone really oriented in the company to say you always start from a customer problem and work backwards. But picking the right problem to solve is 90 percent of the battle,” he said.

Solve hard problems

Patel strongly believes that the quality of the problem is directly proportional to the outcome of the project. Part of that is solving a real customer pain point, but it’s also about challenging your engineers. You can be successfully solving the low-hanging fruit problems most of the time, but then you don’t necessarily attract the highest quality engineering talent.

“If you think about really hard problems that have a lot of mission and purpose around them, you can actually attract the best team,” he said.

That means looking for a problem where you can add a lot of value. “The problem that you choose to spend your time solving should be one where you are uniquely positioned to create a 10 x value proposition compared to what might exist in the market today,” Patel explained. If it doesn’t reach that threshold, he believes that there’s no motivation for the customer to change, and it’s not really worth going after.

Build small teams

Once you identify that big problem, you need to form a team to start attacking it. Patel recommends keeping the teams manageable, and he believes in the Amazon approach of the two-pizza team, a group of 8-10 people who can operate on..well…two pizzas. If the teams get too large, he says it becomes difficult to coordinate and too much time gets wasted on logistics instead of innovation.

“Having very defined local missions, having [small] teams carrying out those local missions, and making sure that those team sizes don’t get too large so that they can stay very agile, is a pretty important kind of core operating principle of how we build products,” Patel said.

That becomes even more important as the company scales. The trick is to configure the organization in such a way so that as you grow, you end up with many smaller teams instead of a few bigger ones, and in that way you can better pinpoint team missions.

Developing a Box product

Patel sees four key areas when it comes to finally building that new product at Box. First of all, it needs to be enterprise grade and all that entails — secure, reliable, scalable, fault tolerant and so forth.

That’s Job One, but what generally has differentiated Box in the content management market has been its ease of use. He sees that as removing as much friction as you can from a software-driven business process.

Next, you try to make those processes intelligent and that means understanding the purpose of the content. Patel says that could involve having better search, better surfacing of content and automated trigger events that move that content through a workflow inside a company.

Finally, they look at how it fits inside a workflow because content doesn’t live in a vacuum inside an enterprise. It generally has a defined purposed and the content management system should make it easy to integrate that content into the broader context of its purpose.

Measure twice

Once you have those small teams set up with their missions in place, you have to establish rules and metrics that allow them to work quickly, but still have a set of milestones they have to meet to prove they are on a worthwhile project for the company. You don’t want to be throwing good money after a bad project.

For Patel and Box that involves a set of metrics that tell you at all times, whether the team is succeeding or failing. Seems simple enough, but it takes a lot of work from a management perspective to define missions and goals and then track them on a regular basis.

He says that involves three elements: “There are three things that we think about including what’s the plan for what you’re going to build, what’s the strategy around what you’re going to build, and then what’s the level of coordination that each one of us have on whether or not what we’re building is, in fact, going to be successful.”

In the end, this is an iterative process, one that keeps evolving as the company grows and develops and as they learn from each project and each team. “We’re constantly looking at the processes and saying, what are the things that need to be adjusted,” Patel said.

Jul
10
2018
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Box acquires Butter.ai to make search smarter

Box announced today that it has acquired Butter.ai, a startup that helps customers search for content intelligently in the cloud. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Butter.AI team will be joining Box.

Butter.AI was started by two ex-Evernote employees, Jack Hirsch and Adam Walz. The company was partly funded by Evernote founder and former CEO Phil Libin’s Turtle Studios. The latter is a firm established with a mission to use machine learning to solve real business problems like finding the right document wherever it is.

Box has been adding intelligence to its platform for some time, and this acquisition brings the Butter.AI team on board and gives them more machine learning and artificial intelligence known-how while helping to enhance search inside of the Box product.

“The team from Butter.ai will help Box to bring more intelligence to our Search capabilities, enabling Box’s 85,000 customers to more easily navigate through their unstructured information — making searching for files in Box more contextualized, predictive and personalized,” Box’s Jeetu Patel wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

That means taking into account the context of the search and delivering documents that make sense given your role and how you work. For instance, if you are a salesperson and you search for a contract, you probably want a sales contract and not one for a freelancer or business partnership.

For Butter, the chance to have access to all those customers was too good to pass up. “We started Butter.ai to build the best way to find documents at work. As it turns out, Box has 85,000 customers who all need instant access to their content. Joining Box means we get to build on our original mission faster and at a massive scale,” company CEO and co-founder Jack Hirsch said.

The company launched in September 2017, and up until now it has acted as a search assistant inside Slack you can call upon to search for documents and find them wherever they live in the cloud. The company will be winding down that product as it becomes part of the Box team.

As is often the case in these deals, the two companies have been working closely together and it made sense for Box to bring the Butter.AI team into the fold where it can put its technology to bear on the Box platform.

“After launching in September 2017 our customers were loud and clear about wanting us to integrate with Box and we quickly delivered. Since then, our relationship with Box has deepened and now we get to build on our vision for a MUCH larger audience as part of the Box team,” the founders wrote in a Medium post announcing the deal.

The company raised $3.3 million over two seed rounds. Investors included Slack and General Catalyst.

Jun
01
2018
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Box acquires Progressly to expand workflow options

Box announced today that it has purchased Progressly, a Redwood City startup that focuses on workflow. All 12 Progressly employees will be joining Box immediately. They did not disclose the purchase price.

If you follow Box, you probably know the company announced a workflow tool in 2016 called Box Relay along with a partnership with IBM to sell it inside large enterprises. Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box says Relay is great for well defined processes inside a company like contract management or employee on-boarding, but Box wanted to expand on that initial vision to build additional types of workflows. The Progressly team will help them do that.

Patel said that the company has heard from customers, especially in larger, more complex organizations, that they need a similar level of innovation on the automation side that they’ve been getting on the content side from Box.

“One of the things that we’ve done is to continue investing in partnerships around workflow with third parties. We have actually gone out and built a product with Relay. But we wanted to continue to make sure that we have an enhancement to our internal automation engine within Box itself. And so we just made an acquisition of a company called Progressly,” Patel told TechCrunch.

That should allow Box to build workflows that not only run within Box, but ones that can integrate and intersect with external workflow engines like Pega and Nintex to build more complex automation in conjunction with the Box set of tools and services. This could involve both internal employees and external organizations and moving content through a much more sophisticated workflow than Box Relay provides.

“What we wanted to do is just make sure that we double down in the investment in workflow, given the level of appetite we’ve seen from the market for someone like Box providing a solution like this,” Patel explained.

By buying Progressly, they were able to acquihire a set of employees who have a focussed understanding of workflow and can help continue to build out that automation engine and incorporate it into the Box platform. Patel says how they could monetize all of this is still open to discussion. For now, the Progressly team is already in the fold and product announcements based on this acquisition could be coming out later this year.

Progressly was founded in 2014 and was headquarted right down the street from Box in Redwood City. The company has raised $6 million, according to data on Crunchbase.

May
24
2018
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Box expands Zones to manage content in multiple regions

When Box announced Zones a couple of years ago, it was providing a way for customers to store data outside the U.S., but there were some limits. Each customer could choose the U.S. and one additional zone. Customers wanted more flexibility, and today the company announced it was allowing them to choose to multiple zones.

The new feature gives a company the ability to store content across any of the 7 zones (plus the U.S) that Box currently supports across the world. A zone is essentially a Box co-location datacenter partner in various locations. The customer can now choose a default zone and then manage multiple zones from a single customer ID in the Box admin console, according to Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box.

Current Box Zones. Photo: Box

Content will go to a defined default zone unless the admin creates rules specifying another location. In terms of data sovereignty, the file will always live in the country of record, even if an employee outside that country has access to it. From an end user perspective, they won’t know where the content lives if the administrators allow access to it.

This may not seem like a huge deal on its face, but from a content management standpoint, it presented some challenges. Patel says the company designed the product with this ability in mind from the start, but it took some development time to get there.

“When we launched Zones we knew we would [eventually require] multi-zone capability, and we had to make sure the architecture could handle that,” Patel explained. They did this by abstracting the architecture to separate the storage and business logic tiers. Creating this modular approach allowed them to increase the capabilities as they built out Zones.

It doesn’t hurt that this feature is being made available just days before the EU’s GDPR data privacy rules are going into effect. “Zones is not just for GDPR, but it does help customers meet their GDPR obligations,” Patel said.

Overall, Zones is part of Box’s strategy to provide content management services in the cloud and give customers, even regulated industries, the ability to control how that content is used. This expansion is one more step on that journey.

Mar
01
2018
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Box shares fall over 20% on slowed growth

 Cloud storage provider Box started out the day Thursday down over 20% on the stock market. Shares traded as low as $19.11 in early hours of trading, down from a previous close of $24.07.
The company reported quarterly earnings after the bell on Wednesday, and while its losses of six cents per share surpassed analyst expectations of negative eight cents, investors were concerned about the… Read More

Dec
12
2017
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Box launches new consulting unit to help customers struggling with digital transformation

 Box announced a new consulting organization today called Box Transform. It is designed to help companies understand that transformation requires a new way of working and thinking as an organization, beyond simply adopting new technologies like Box. Box CEO Aaron Levie says that as his company has grown, they see their mission as more than selling software. It’s about helping change… Read More

Oct
12
2017
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Box’s dalliance with AI foretells a broader shift in content management

 As Box CEO Aaron Levie pointed out at his BoxWorks keynote this week, content management has been an evolving field since it came into being as an enterprise software concept in the 1990s. Back in those days, the state of the art was network drives. As content spread across the organization, we saw the rise of enterprise content management. Later file sharing tools developed and finally the… Read More

Oct
11
2017
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Box Graph unleashes relationships between content and users

 Box has vast amounts of content in its stores, and as it begins to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to make it easier to surface, it also wants to expose each piece of content and how it relates to other content and users. To help achieve that, the company announced the Box Graph today at BoxWorks. “The Box Graph enables customers to predictively recommend content… Read More

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