One of the strongest themes in the field of digital collaboration today is something of a surprise. It's always been assumed that collaboration was mostly about connecting people and content. While both remain important, the ability to connect applications is now also very much in demand. This trend has been rising for some time and could be seen in full flow yesterday, at the annual BoxWorks event in San Francisco.
Cloud content and collaboration vendor Box also made important product announcements around security and workflow automation — more on those shortly — but deeper integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with a new partnership with Adobe and a tie-up with Splunk, played to the big theme of helping enterprises connect across applications. In the opening keynote, CEO Aaron Levie laid out the application challenge Box aims to help enterprises solve:
We are no longer in an era where you can buy all of your technology stack from one, or two, or three, or five vendors ... We work with customers that have 50, or 100, or 200 applications in their enterprise ...
It's incredibly important to us in the end to make sure that we're giving employees choice, and we're letting them use the best technology that is fit for purpose for the business processes that they're powering. But, and incredibly importantly, those technologies have to work together.
We have to make sure that our technology interoperates. We have to make sure that we're delivering seamless experiences when we're leveraging these best-in-class, best-of-breed technologies.
Best-of-breed business systems specialists
Such large portfolios of best-of-breed applications are becoming increasingly common, to the extent that this has given rise to a new breed of IT professionals calling themselves business systems specialists, who connect and optimize best-of-breed applications to help deliver business goals. An afternoon session at Boxworks yesterday heard two examples. Tiffany Benton, Business Systems Manager at Bain Capital described how the investment group had connected Box to ServiceNow, while Jennifer Stephenson, IT Business Relationship Manager at Pacific Dental, showed workflow automations from connecting Box to Salesforce and Workday.
A closing panel session chaired by Levie picked up the theme of collaboration across applications. It brought together the CEOs of Slack, PagerDuty, Zoom and Okta to discuss the future of work in a best-of-breed world. Among customers of identity management vendor Okta, "the average company has 140 applications, and it's growing quickly," said CEO Todd McKinnon. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield forecast an imminent future when the ability to easily connect to other applications would be table stakes for software vendors:
At some point, if we're not at that point already, not being integrated with the services people use every day is going to disqualify you from the market ... You can't buy all of your software from one vendor anymore.
Box has taken that mantra to heart, launching deep integrations to Slack and Slack's arch rival Microsoft Teams. There's now a bot that runs in Slack so that a user can find and share Box files within a Slack channel. A thumbnail image of the file appears within the Slack message stream, while in Teams there's the ability to preview an entire file. There are also tighter integrations with Box security parameters, limiting access to files and metadata in Slack or Teams based on a user's permissions and admin settings.
Getting the right balance between integration and security is crucial, says Varun Parmar, VP Product Management at Box:
Having all of these apps work together in a way that ensures security and at the same time drives massive productivity is a big challenge that we're seeing from companies of all sizes.
The newly announced integration to Adobe Acrobat will let users access the Acrobat viewer and use selected PDF and e-signature tools within Box.
Box Relay and Shield
Box also unveiled new features to its recently upgraded Box Relay workflow automation tool. Relay entered general availability earlier this summer with a new no-code approach designed to allow business users to quickly automate common business processes such as approvals and onboarding/offboarding.
There were also significant additions to Box Shield, which provides admin tools, policies and automation to help prevent accidental data leakage, detect potential misuse of access rights, and proactively identify threats. Shield enters general availability at the end of this month. The newly announced partnership with Splunk will provide additional insight and automation of alerts.
Shield adds to Box's existing broad portfolio of security, data protection and compliance capabilities, which is one of its differentiators against other digital collaboration platforms. Standing in front of a slide that named Microsoft Onedrive, Dropbox and Google Drive as examples of consumer tools, Levie explained in his opening keynote:
We believe legacy systems are too hard to use, tend to be too rigid and costly to be able to update ...
We believe that more consumer apps, the personal storage tools, also can't help us work in this modern way. They're fine for my personal and individual use, but not for access to data, to my business processes. They don't allow me to stay secure in a regulated industry, they don't allow me to control my data in the ways that I need as an enterprise.
For several years now I've been following the evolution of digital collaboration and wondering which platforms would emerge as the market leaders. I started out thinking that content platforms like Box would have the edge. Then I realized that messaging platforms had more to offer than I'd initially thought. Finally I settled on the concept of a collaborative canvas that anchors the flow of work, and decided that no one at that time offered a complete solution.
Earlier this summer, I was impressed by the new Dropbox app as the most complete example I'd yet seen of a collaborative canvas. Last week this took shape as Dropbox Spaces, introducing new integrations to Slack, Trello and Zoom as CEO Drew Houston lamented the time and energy people spend hopping between today's multiplying digital tools.
This imperative to integrate a plethora of best-of-breed cloud apps is now becoming the new collaborative battleground, part of a wider quest to align IT with today's fast-moving business demands. I think the afternoon panel of best-of-breed partners showed where all this is heading.
There will be no single platform that offers a complete collaborative canvas. Instead each enterprise will stitch together their own unique best-of-breed combination. In aiming to support them in that endeavor, Box, Dropbox and Slack are all heading in the right direction — along with others, including Okta, that provide other crucial connection services. And as PagerDuty's CEO Jennifer Tejada pointed out, this remains "a super nascent category" where most enterprises have barely started on their journey.