Box Works 2022 Report

Box held their online analyst summit this week as part of Box Works 2022, a virtual event for the Box ecosystem featuring executive speeches, product news, and testimonials by customers and partners. At Deep Analysis we try to make sense of these annual events with their typical avalanche of news and product updates, then cut through the confusion it can stir up, and finally distill our analysis into highlights for our readers. So here we go.

Box CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie began the summit with an upbeat talk about the permanent change to “hybrid” work (some in the office, some from home, and some on the road) and how the cloud is really the only sensible way to manage content for a hybrid workforce. He posited that most everything we do in business revolves around content and that’s why Box is bullish about the future.

At one point Aaron presented a slide with the oft-repeated statistic that 80% of all data is unstructured. We are not aware of any actual research to back up this claim; rumour is this originated from an IBM marketing white paper in the 1990s. It’s been repeated so many times over the past 25 years (including by us) that we all seem to accept that statistic as fact and build business cases around it.

No matter. There are other proofs to the staggering number of documents, files, notes, images and other “unstructured data” types containing invaluable data that when mined can improve business processes and operations. Box alone counts over 500 Petabytes of content currently stored on its servers (Figure 1) and expects this to double in a year or so. By next year the base measurement will be in exabytes. Two customers on the call added that their companies already had petabytes in Box and expect that to grow exponentially in the next several years as both video and audio file creation have exploded.

Box and SharePoint: Frenemies?

Aaron Levie is one of the friendliest and authentic “big-company” CEOs we know. He is a software product enthusiast who speaks like a user not an exec, rarely hiding behind the corporate-speak platitudes that fill the Q&A sessions from some CEOs. When it came our turn, Deep Analysis asked how Box intended to keep up with its acknowledged #1 competitor SharePoint. Once a fairly easy target for Box to pick off, SharePoint has been revamped and enhanced with impressive new features such as Syntex AI and Power Automate, and Microsoft has put a lot of resources behind it.

Aaron calmly pointed out that Microsoft still has a self-induced dilemma that causes confusion at the customer: should files be managed in OneDrive or SharePoint, or both? And the product sprawl (Syntex, Power Automate, VIVA, Teams etc.) has not simplified a SharePoint deployment; it has only made that far more complex. He contends that Microsoft has nothing comparable to Box’s single source of truth, highly integrated content management platform. We think Aaron makes a good point. Box’s best value propositions have always been its ease of implementation and the friendly user interface. To us, the real question is can Box keep that distinction in the midst of its own product sprawl? So far, Box has done a good job adding functionality to the core and even integrating acquisitions into a unified platform.

The Product News

Unlike the past two years’ flurry of game-changing product announcements such as Box Sign, Box Shield, Box Governance, and Box Shuttle, Box Works 2022 was short on “new” and long on “we’re now in GA with all the stuff we said we would do”. This will be good news for Box’s enterprise license customers who seem eager to deploy the new tools. It takes time for a customer base this large to absorb so many new products into the core use case. 

Box’s product stack has grown exponentially since its early days as a simple EFSS (Enterprise File Sync and Share) solution for file storage. Today Box offers a complex, broad enterprise stack (Figure 2) not that dissimilar to the complexity we were accustomed to from the legacy ECM vendors. The platform slide reminded us of those old ECM “boil the content ocean” slides, with one notable exception: Box has no intelligent document processing (IDP). 

There were several announcements about enhancements to the product line, but no game-changers. Mainly good, incremental version 2.0 or 3.0 type features in response to customer requests or filling competitive gaps.

Where’s the AI?

Interestingly, Box seems to be the only enterprise software company that is NOT blowing its AI horn. AI and machine learning pronouncements were few and far between. There is some cool AI in Box Shield. But what about the elephant in the room? Box has yet to leverage AI magic on its core use case: 500 PB (soon to be an exabyte) of content.

In contrast to the AI-dominated communications we receive out of many other software companies, Aaron responded to a question about the Box AI strategy with a refreshingly practical and grounded reply. He said a lot of the “cool” happening today in AI development is perfect for Box customers.  We do agree. A lot of AI tech is geared for content creation and analysis, with vision, speech and natural language processing (NLP) AI as examples.

Aaron said the product team is thinking about how best to leverage AI across the Box ecosystem and asked us to be patient for good things to come. He then mentioned invoice processing using AI as an example of what Box might do with templates in the future. 

In the meantime, now that Box has moved to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) the product team encourages customers to create their own AI-driven content solutions with Google’s impressive AI toolkit.

In Summary

By eschewing huge product announcements and focusing this year on delivery and incremental enhancements, we think Box once again has done the right thing by its customer base. 

Leave a Comment