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BoxWorks 2014 – quick thoughts, delayed

I attended BoxWorks2014 in San Francisco, from September 2nd to 4th. It was fun. It was great to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while, and to meet some people face-to-face for the first time. This paragraph feels like one of those “what I did during summer vacation” essays.

You may be wondering why I’m posting this so long (almost three weeks) after the conference and after it first appeared on my blog. Well, I’ve got a couple of reasons:

  1. I had some stuff to deal with which took precedence;
  2. By the time I got my stuff back together I decided that I’d wait a bit longer and see if I came across anything that warranted me changing anything in the original post. I haven’t.
  3. None of what’s below has materially changed since the end of the conference (Sept. 4th).

Boxshot

Before I get too deep down any rabbit hole … this is quite possibly my favourite thing that I saw at the conference last week …

Two Guys and a Messenger Bag

As I’m wandering around the floor late Wednesday (Sept. 3rd) afternoon I got accosted by some guy who overheard me say I am an analyst and consultant. To be honest, I though he and his partner were just two guys and a messenger bag waiting for happy hour. It turns out that they weren’t. They were the founders/creators/geniussesses behind Collected. What’s Collected? It’s this cool little service that hooks into your existing content (Word and PPT for now) and throws up snippets of stuff based on what you’re currently writing. The premise is that it will save you time when you’re creating content because you’ll be able to reference and reuse on the fly. If it works in the real world like it did at the show, it’s gonna be pretty cool. I can definitely see the applicability in a few things I am currently working on. Anyways, check it out.

It’s Inevitable

One of things that struck me as I wandered around the trade show area was the number of vendors competing against each other. There were multiple variations of security, analytics, collaboration and a couple other functions present. So what? Well, there’s a fairly major “what”.

As Box grows and more enterprises adopt it, there is going to be consolidation. Enterprises are going to want assurances that partner apps work with Box. They’re going to want assurances that when Box changes, anything attached to it changes with it. In short, they’re going to want a Box “stack”. Whether that stack is based on an industry (see the Box for Industries announcement) or on a function (see the Box Workflow announcement) enterprises are going to want assurances that their investment is not going to be jeopardized by changes to the core pillar. If moving to the cloud were just some fantasy this wouldn’t be an issue. However, the viability of cloud and SaaS is real. More and more organizations are heading there; maybe not going all in, but enough to be doing more than just testing the waters. There are some major organizations putting big chunks of key processes into the cloud and relying on Box and other services.

I can envision the day that Box finds itself in the same position as Microsoft vis-à-vis their partner ecosystem. As much as this will be a good thing in terms of creativity, innovation, and choice, there is going to be the inevitable requirement to “certify” partner add-ons. We can talk about innovation, cloud, disruption, etc. all we want, but the reality is that enterprise CIO’s and CTO’s want assurances that the tools they’ve chosen will work. At some point Box is going to find itself having to figure out which of its app partners they’re going to be tight with, and which they won’t. As someone who makes technology decisions for your organization do you want to sort through the haystack that is currently available, or would you rather choose from a “best of” selection?

The trick for Box is going to be in selecting the lucky few app / add-on developers that will eventually get certified. It’s going to be like a Bay Area / Silly Cone Valley edition of The Bachelor. I suspect Box may be aided in this by some of their larger enterprise customers (playing the role of meddling, future mother-in-law).

The trick for IT shops is in turning into, or ramping up, app stores. IT shops can, if they really, really need to, start developing apps to work with Box. My advice, however, is that they forget about it and curate.

Workflow WTF?

You should probably read this before tearing a strip off me …

Unsurprisingly, one of Box’s announcements last week was that there will be workflow. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?!?!?

Yes, we all know that content without workflow is a shared drive and incessant emails. That said, I would have much rather seen Box partner with someone like K2 to provide workflow. Now, I am thinking about workflow beyond simple check-in/check-out and content approval. I’m thinking about workflow that makes a significant difference in how business runs. In order for that to happen, businesses are pulling in content and people from multiple departments and repositories. The reality is that enterprises support and use multiple content repositories, some in the cloud and some on premises. In order for Box Workflow to succeed, either the content gets consolidated into the Box repository, or Box develops full blown BPM (please don’t).

Lastly, for now, workflow is really, really hard to implement in way that truly makes things easier for the users. In order for workflow to succeed, it must impose a certain amount of rigour, discipline, and rigidity. Metadata needs to be rock-solid and applied consistently – something users really aren’t very good at.

I’m really looking forward to trying out the workflow beta once it’s released, and to seeing how workflow matures.

Odds n Ends

  • Box announced Retention Management – Will legal hold processing be supported? How tightly will retention policies and classification be coupled? How much work will be involved for companies that have hybrid environments? Can Box RM grow to become the central policy manager?
  • Box for industries – which specific processes and use cases will be supported?
  • Will there come a time when Box succumbs to the inevitable and, in addition to being what it is today, makes a play for being the view into on premises repositories as well? I.e.: will there come a time when I can use Box to view all my content, regardless of where it is?
  • Why oh why does Box’s Windows 8.1 app suck so bad when the iOS version is so good?
  • There wasn’t nearly as much Kool Aid at Aaron Levie’s keynote as I expected.

What’s New is Old, or Legacy 2.0 (thanks John Mancini)

Sometime in the future we’ll be referring to Box as “legacy”, until then I’m enjoying using Box and seeing what develops. Once we get to the point where Box is deemed a legacy tool, I can’t wait to see what we’ll have available to us.

Final Thoughts

I don’t often get excited about tools / software, but when I do I get really excited. This year I’ve gotten excited about two things (I think that’s my 5-year quota).

I’m excited about Box on a couple of levels:

  • As a user I love how easy it is for me to manage stuff and get my work done, including collaborating with partners;
  • As someone that’s interested in information management and governance I’m excited to see Box growing and maturing into what could, in time, be a viable alternative to the current incumbents in the ECM space.

The other thing I’m excited about is Jostle; they say they’re an intranet, but they are so much more.

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