IBM thinks Box, grabs cloud mindshare

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright June 24, 2015
IBM has formed a partnership with cloud collaboration vendor Box, illuminating and adding credibility to both vendors' broader strategies

Box and IBM logos on blue collaboration background
Today's announcement of a tie-up between cloud collaboration vendor Box and venerable computing giant IBM gives new insight into a broader strategic direction for both vendors.

In Box's case, this is its second partnership with a big name in enterprise software in as many weeks. Earlier this month it joined forces with Microsoft to announce Box for Office Online, which allows direct editing of Office files shared in Box.

The partnership with IBM brings Box APIs into enterprise apps and web services as well as linking IBM analytics, social, security and cloud capabilities into the Box platform. The two companies will also jointly market solutions and there's a big emphasis on bringing vertical solutions to market in fields such as healthcare, financial services, retail, engineering and research, and the legal profession.

This is a huge boost for Box's enterprise aspirations and bolsters its ambition to become a platform for enterprise content and collaboration. Partnership with IBM confers respectability and brings deep relationships with technology buyers in many of the vertical industries that Box is already targeting. No wonder the company's stock price jumped today in response to the news.

Watson to the fore

For IBM, the deal confirms a strategy of forging relationships with a new generation of vendors, ranging from Apple and Twitter to Box and cloud procure-to-pay vendor Coupa (with whom it announced a partnership last month). It brings fresh credibility to the 105-year-old computing giant as it adapts to the mainstreaming of cloud computing and connected digital working.

It's rapidly becoming evident that one of IBM's strongest assets as it forges these new alliances is its Watson analytics engine. Watson has a significant role in the Coupa partnership, while it's no coincidence that the lead spokesperson IBM fielded for the Box announcement was Bob Picciano, senior vice president for IBM Analytics. One of the big wins of the partnership is the commitment to apply Watson Analytics to surface new insights from content stored in Box.

Box's willingness to store content on the IBM Cloud is another win to chalk up for IBM's cloud credibility. This is the first time Box has agreed to keep content on a partner's infrastructure and raises the question whether this presages a more flexible stance that would in the future allow customers to keep files on their own servers (a capability that rivals such as Egnyte promote as a competitive advantage). Box did not reply to questions on this point by the time we went to press.

Another aspect of the partnership is a commitment to develop content management solutions that integrate Box technology into the industry-specific iOS mobile apps that IBM has been developing with Apple.

Box also plans to make use of IBM security technologies to add to its capabilities in complying with enterprise security and privacy demands.

My take

This is a good move for Box and makes a strong statement that IBM means to be a significant player in the cloud applications space.

I'm particularly impressed by the way in which this announcement validates several different moves that IBM has made in the past year or two. The Softlayer acquisition of cloud infrastructure, the development of Watson, the partnership with Apple to create a portfolio of vertical industry mobile apps — all of these combine to bring value to the partnership. At last, IBM begins to look as though it has a coherent cloud applications strategy for the connected digital era.

Image credit: Logo graphic provided by Box.

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