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Blogs > MWD Advisors

Will the real Box please stand up?
Neil Ward-Dutton By: Neil Ward-Dutton, Research Director, MWD Advisors
Published: 20th February 2014
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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Last week Box brought its analyst tour to London. With the newswires still glowing warm on the company’s ‘secret’ filing for IPO there’s a lot of interest in just what sort of a proposition Box is trying to be, and to whom.

This last year has seen the company ramp up its coverage across territories and vertical markets. Box’s traditional game plan (of landing with a small sync-and-share trial that establishes a departmental beachhead, before going viral and very quickly winning an enterprise-wide expansion measured in the thousands of seats) is paying off. It’s certainly getting the Box filesharing app onto corporate iPads across the world. For a while that’s been serving Box well in terms of getting a name as the easy-to-use cloud filestore you can bring home to meet your IT department parents without risking their wrath. But now they really want to be more than that, and they’re desperate to be taken seriously for it.

And no wonder. Everybody wants to be a platform these days. It’s the 'new black’, and seemingly the coolest way for last year’s disruptors to slip on their serious suits and cement a place at the enterprise dinner table. With the big bucks come big investor appetites… and Box has serious ambitions to make it onto everybody’s invite list for the posh banquets now.

The Box play here is to fuse its own app development (primarily for collaboration, editing and content creation) with third-party SaaS providers and customer enterprise IT systems integration—thereby leveraging its core search, security, storage, upload/download acceleration, document conversion, workflow rules, and logging functionality to support a far-reaching system of engagement. With this (goes the mantra) comes a secure cloud-based content platform enabling customers to do far more with their data than simply shuffle it around their iPads.

So whilst analysts were treated to the expected raft of louder bells and shinier whistles that embellish Box’s mobile file-sharing onslaught (e.g. smooth document conversion courtesy of recent acquisition Crocodoc, so files themselves need not leave the Box cloud—more secure, and lower bandwidth so cheaper when roaming), it was the company’s play for the platform crown which it most wanted us to go away convinced by.

And was I? Well, it’s one thing to proclaim an ecosystem that works brilliantly on PowerPoint, but nothing convinces like a testimonial form someone you trust. There are undoubtedly some Box customers who are venturing into those content platform waters and looking to slap a ‘powered by Box’ sticker onto all manner of enterprise services (hitherto the domain of the larger players you would expect to be mainstay guests at those banquets). The Box strategy to encourage adoption here is to partner hard with developers who know their market segment, in an effort to build up a compelling ecosystem of specialist tools and get some serious integration with those pesky Enterprise Applications Which Won’t Go Away Overnight (ERP, ECM, etc.). But they’re not legion. Still the dominant use case would seem to be cloud based sync and share (even if it does achieve enterprise levels of penetration, and start to change working / sharing / collaborating paradigms in-house and with customers).

To go that extra mile will take a leap of credibility which Box is working hard at here. Its staffers are a hybrid of the social-happy and the be-suited, which it’s rightly proud of knitting together. The product roadmap seems equally split in focus between keeping happy the people who put them where they are today, and looking to usurp incumbent giants to power the enterprise from its cloud… But Box started this story last year and one might have hoped it would have been able to say more, more convincingly, on the apparent eve of a $2bn IPO.

Box has ambition, and some good ideas to take it to the next level in the enterprise adoption game, but some time very soon it needs to be able to wheel out some very big name customers who’ve been prepared to show some faith and can demonstrate these much vaunted claims of transformation and information-driven value creation… with a Box cloud beating at its heart.

I’m updating MWD’s current ‘On the Radar’ report on Box, so expect to see that in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, what do you think—would you invite Box to dinner, or just share your lunch with them; could theirs be the platform for engagement that gets your people working smarter?

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