Box is Leading Innovations in Content Services Platform

(Added some post publishing clarification and correction ***)

Last week I attended Boxworks, my first Box conference.   I’ve been following Box for some time but really hadn’t jumped on the bandwagon.  So after having some conversations with the Box team at AIIM 2018, I decided I had to give Box a good look.  I shared my first thoughts about how I think that Box could dominate the midmarket.  So now it’s time to share my thoughts on Box for the enterprise market.

First let me share how I’m interpreting Box.  With over twenty years experience in this space I’ve come to realize that very little that happens is truly new.  Lots of things get rebranded and spun with a new message, but if you look at the basics of it is the same.   Yet there are only a few of us that have been around this space long enough to remember these details.  So I’m going to share my thoughts based on theis bias.

Some Really Powerful Changes to Content Services

The net new features to Content Services Platforms (CSP) were rather impressive.  Some had previous iterations,  but how they are being addressed is what’s interesting.  I see these as the four major game changers announced by Box.

  • Box Skills – Box announced availability in December of its framework to support Artificial Intelligence (AI) engines.  While text extraction, entity extraction and facial recognition within documents, images, and video files are very interesting, it’s not really new.  The real power is how Box has opened up its platform to allow for the use of almost any AI instead of focusing on just one.  The integration supports Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft AIs, and includes an open framework to add others.  With adoption of AI just getting started, the ability to easily integrate platforms will allow organizations to find the AI that best supports their business rather than fits their technology stack.
  • Box Feeds – When you log into Box you will now be able to see documents that others have created or accessed that might be of interest to you.  The idea is that presenting this content you might not be aware of will increase productivity.  Conceptually this sounds valid and, while it’s been tried in the distant past, I think the modern workforce is ready for this type of functionality.  I do have some concerns about whose activity gets shared.  Will you be able to turn off sensitive documents and users?
  • Suggested Apps – In a similar light, Box is looking to suggest some of the 1,600 integrated applications that you might want to use based on the current content.  If there’s an engineering document it might suggest Autodesk.  This positions Box as an “always open” application.  Along with this new support for integrated applications, Box also announced Activity Streams, the ability to see which apps have been used with a content object.  For the general users that lives in one or two applications this won’t be a big deal, but for those that support various roles this will be a timesaver.
  • Editor Neutrality – One of the biggest surprises for me was that Box now works with GSuite.   This required Google to make changes to Docs, Sheets, and Slides to save their content as an object that could be stored in another system.  So now from within GSuite you can save to Box.  This extends Box’s editor support which includes Office 365 and iWork.

But Some Basic ECM Features Too

The first part of the keynote was a bunch of functionality that was “new” to Box but was not new to the market.  The audience was thrilled by the features I mention below.  I’ll include why I didn’t really see these as industry revelations.  I will share that in conversations with co-blogger Lee Dallas, who’s now at Box, he pointed out that it really doesn’t make sense to build every bit of legacy functionality into a Cloud Content Services model.  Still, I was surprised that they weren’t already in the product.  Here were my three shockers:

  • Mark for Offline – Later this year you will be able to mark documents to be available when disconnected from Box Drive ***.  Putting this into perspective, Windows 95 Briefcases allowed documents stored on a network share to be synced and used offline.  Briefcases made this a requirement for Document Management Systems and Enterprise Content Management Systems going back at least eighteen years.
  • Metadata Enhancements (or Aspects)Standard metadata and aspects have been part of Box object.  Box is now including the ability to add metadata to folders.  This metadata can then be propagated to subfolders and the content within the folder or subfolder.  Another part of the metadata message is that a lot of this metadata can be automated from things like Box Skills, Activity Streams, and workflow.  Activity Streams and Box Skills are very new approaches to additional metadata, but folders is something that some vendors have had in the past.  *** The ability for a document to have new properties, often related to a process, added outside those that are required by the standard document type.  Alfresco included support for aspects with 4.1 in 2012, though it’s my understanding that it’s not often used.
  • Workflow – These announcements brought the loudest cheers from the people around me.  Unfortunately I was just lost in time.  Apparently Box only supported simple tasks without using Box Relay and the workflow now supports things like entry and exit criteria, the ability to change attributes and locations and even voting logic.  All of these have been part of feature battles for the last twenty years.   Box will be sending the message to the user’s Box InBox and user’s email account. ***  (Box even followed the same mistake most vendors made previously by creating a separate in-box in Box rather than using the user’s existing email client.)  I expect future releases to include reject paths and task timers for when legal does not approve the document.  I also think those that create workflows will want a graphical workflow designer.

Box has definitely become a content services platform to reckon with.  I didn’t even touch on security enhancements and regulatory compliance.  Box has become the platform for organizations looking for next generation content management features built on an open platform.  With more than 150,000 developers on Box, there’s lot of people ready to help build those applications.

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