At its annual BoxWorks conference last week, Box offered reassurance for organizations seeking to adapt their operations to new digital ways of working. This is the paradox that the cloud content management vendor has to navigate — its products take enterprises into uncharted and thus inherently risky waters, and so it has to avoid doing anything that feels like it's rocking the boat. Product news at the event focused on enhancements to existing offerings, with a heavy emphasis on making all those digital interactions more secure, compliant and connected.
Calm reassurance is needed at a time when the transition to digital is a source of enterprise turmoil. In a CEO roundtable during the event, Yamini Rangan, CEO of digital marketing platform HubSpot, referenced a survey that had shown how urgently enterprises are looking for ways to connect across the digital tools they've hurriedly adopted over the past two years. She says:
If you think about the last, maybe 24 months, everyone has flipped to being digital first. There was just this almost frenzy of buying digital tools, and we didn't quite stop to think about how many tools we need. Now we find ourselves in this place where the data that you need to be able to connect with your customer is disconnected across too many systems, and the data that you need to collaborate internally is across too many systems ...
We call this a 'crisis of disconnection' coming out of the last couple of years of digital transformation. More than ever, people need to feel connected, systems need to feel connected, and you need to drive that connection with your customers.
In his opening keynote, Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, emphasized the dangers of disconnection — of content cut off in silos and exposed to unknown threats as employees adopt various workarounds to set it free. This sets the scene for Box’s answer to the turmoil — a single platform that allows an organization to safely and efficiently channel all its content across every step of every process.
Security and compliance has been a cornerstone of Box's reassuring proposition for several years now, recognizing that content often includes both highly confidential intellectual property and personal information. There were a number of announcements at BoxWorks giving enterprises more granular controls over access to content. For example, a new ethical walls feature automatically guards against sharing of sensitive information between different user groups within the same organization. Automated content watermarking has been extended to video files, and content retention policies can now be modified on the fly. There were other announcements around malware and ransomware scanning and data residency.
A secure foundation gives enterprises the confidence to move to more digital forms of collaboration. Hubspot's Rangan noted that her company's office utilization rate has settled at around 8-12%, forcing it to come to terms with hybrid working relationships. She says:
For us, the future is hybrid, and hybrid is challenging. We are this year in the process of figuring out how to balance the connection that is required by people versus their need for flexibility.
New tools for collaboration
This is where there's a role for new tools such as Box Canvas, the visual collaboration and whiteboarding tool, which enters public beta next month. Among other use cases, it's being pitched for highly sensitive strategic planning and product design. Again, this highlights the importance of a robust security and compliance regime, because this builds confidence in holding such meetings virtually rather than in the perceived safety of behind closed doors.
Supporting more structured and long-lasting collaboration throughout a task or project, last week saw the roll-out of a new version of Box Notes. This initially launched almost ten years ago to provide an online focal point for team collaboration within a Box folder. The new version offers a richer set of display, formatting and content creation options, reflecting a more crowded competitive landscape for similar functionality — see my take below for more commentary on this.
Box Sign similarly benefits from Box's underlying security and compliance infrastructure, as well as automated workflows. The Box-native e-signature product is adding some high-volume capabilities along with custom branding, multi-document support and the ability to include signer attachments, for example when a signatory needs to upload supporting documentation. New integrations to partners have been added, including online notary Signix.
Content analytics is a new capability which provides dashboards for tracking engagement with individual pieces of content, such as who has viewed what and when.
Other announcements concerned closer integrations with other digital teamwork platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. These allow Box to function as the default content platform for any or all of these channels. There were also new workflow integrations with Salesforce as well as a federated search capability.
Learning new habits
While virtual and hybrid work may feel disruptive, it does of course also have benefits. Levie recalls being on a video call with a customer in Japan who had been asking about Box's integration with Zoom. Levie was able to message Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, and have him join the call. Levie comments:
We were able to have Eric just randomly jump in on the Zoom call out of nowhere with this customer in Japan. To me, I think that represents the full power of digital, which is this cross-continent video meeting between two companies. And just as the conversation is evolving, we need to address another topic, and you can actually have that party join — in this case another partner of this set of companies. That would have been truly impossible in any prior era era of working.
But these new patterns of work do require us to learn new habits, especially finding new ways to gather feedback and taking care to communicate very clearly. Rangan notes:
Way back before the pandemic, there was something [known as] management by walking around. And I used to do this, I used to just grab a hot cup of tea and walk around at three or four and talk to different team members and say, what's working, what's not working? We don't have that anymore, which means as leaders, it is exceptionally important for us to go reach our frontline employees, as well as customers who are using the product, to get that feedback.
Levie expands on the need to think through how leaders are communicating the company's values and mission:
You don't have the same kind of, almost easy-mode touchpoints that you get by everybody's in the office at all times, where you don't really have to work that hard on propagating the mission and the culture and the values, because it kind of comes for free from just the system. So now it really is on the managers and leaders to be driving that.
There seems to be a convergence of themes among digital teamwork vendors at the moment. One of the most noticeable recurring themes is the emphasis on security and compliance — this was a big talking point this week at Google Cloud Next, too. It's clearly front-of-mind for enterprise tech buyers, especially when digital adoption is opening up new vulnerabilities. Box's decision to focus on this very early is now being vindicated.
Another prominent theme is the concept of a digital workspace where teams can track progress and find key information relating to a shared task. Box was a pioneer of this concept with the launch of Box Paper almost a decade ago, and again that early innovation is vindicated by the emergence of Slack canvas last month, as well as the smart canvas in Google Workspace, to which Google added new features this week. Like many early pioneers, I feel that Box Paper has now been overtaken by these later arrivals, particularly in their ability to embed and connect to other applications. But that doesn't mean that it can't hold its own within the specific context of content collaboration, which of course is where Box is resolutely focused.
The final convergence is on virtual or hybrid events. It was impressive to see Box walking the talk in delivering BoxWorks as a virtual event, even running panels as Zoom calls rather than physically getting everyone on the same stage. There are times when you need to be present in-person, but one thing we've learned over the past few years is that you can reach far more people when you're able to do things virtually. If you're trying to persuade your customers to adopt virtual working practices, then lead by example with your flagship event!