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How Aaron Levie and Box will crush SharePoint

Meet Aaron Levie. He’s 25 years old and running one of the un-coolest, cool companies in the valley. He is CEO of Box, the cloud content management company, and he is not shy about wanting to take out SharePoint. After meeting Aaron in San Francisco at Boxworks, the company’s first user conference, I encourage you to watch this company. If you know anything about Enterprise software, you know it’s in the midst of a big disruption. Companies like Salesforce.com have lead the way for Box and other disruptive enterprise software. (Full disclosure, Openera is a Box partner. SmartCloud automatically saves email attachments to many cloud services, including Box and Salesforce.com.)

Why Box? Why Now? SharePoint represents everything that Box is not. Complicated, restrictive, expensive to manage, difficult to upgrade and mostly despised by users. Calling SharePoint customers “users” is not accurate because SharePoint has an adoption problem. Customers don’t actually use SharePoint. It’s imposed upon them. It’s available to search for mostly stale content…  if the content has actually been put in SharePoint, you will find something. If not, you are out of luck amigo. (This is the problem Openera helps Box with – make sure your company’s most important, relevant content is actually IN box, not in your inbox. That’s a mouthful.) 

How pervasive is the problem that Box is addressing? It presented itself at Dreamforce, Salesforce.com’s annual user conference, which one might expect. Content Management is still a big problem within the Salesforce ecosystem.  Salesforce’s own content management is one of Salesforce.com’s least adopted offerings. Box can and will play a big part in this world. Unlike the most well-known cloud content management service, Dropbox, Box has a higher level of security, more administrative controls, a developing partner ecosystem and enterprise features that adress both IT and user needs. Dropbox implementations are often rogue and not sanctioned by IT.

Box understands enterprise customers.  I didn’t expect the issue of cloud content management to be addressed by the mobile industry while attending GigaOm’s Mobilize conference the day before Boxworks, but it was. One of the speakers asked the audience to “raise your hand if you use Dropbox at work.” Almost all hands in the auditorium went up. When asked “How many of your IT departments know about it?” I saw two or three hands go up. That was good news for Box. Why? Because Box understands the Enterprise. They aren’t trying to circumvent IT, they are making IT super heroes.

Box understands the importance of a strong partner ecosystem. There were glimmers of brilliance in the delivery of announcements at Boxworks. Aaron and his team announced several key new features that are important to make Box an attractive alternative to SharePoint. BoxSync, Security, and Social Features. But it was the litany of partner announcements that showed us where Box is going. Each partner paraded on stage brought a critical element to the box solution.

The big integration announcement was with Salesforce.com‘s Chatter, but Jive and Yammer were there to show off their collaboration platforms and how they seamlessly integrate with Box as well.  Okta rocked the audience to spontaneous applause simply talking about their solution to a huge problem for companies and users of cloud services – single sign on! But it may have been the announcements with Motorola and HP that could make the biggest impact on Box adoption in the enterprise. Box will be pre-installed on all HP Business PC’s and all Motorola tablets. Next year at Boxworks, we at Openera hope to elicit spontaneous applause from the audience when we announce how we have solved the problem of getting your companies most valuable content out of your inbox and into Box… without changing user behaviour.

Microsoft, Oracle, SAP… they aren’t going anywhere, but the clock is ticking.

Among the speakers at Boxworks, it was Geoffrey Moore and Mark Andreessen that perhaps added the most poignent arguments for Box’s bright future. Both, in their own way, articulated how the dominant players in the market, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and others aren’t going anywhere, but their time of dominance is over.

The rise of the nimble, strategic and forward thinking IT department is upon us. Companies like Box will accelerate growth because IT must be more responsive to business needs. Users demand the same user experience they have with facebook, LinkedIn, Google and other cloud tools they have become to rely on. The incumbent players simply cannot compete and move fast enough given the complexity and deep roots within organizations.  Again, this is good news for Box and maybe the reason Aaron is so vocal about taking on SharePoint.

“How many of your companies are running SharePoint 2007?….. pause… now, how many of you are running an outdated version of Box? Trick question. You get my point.” -Aaron Levie, CEO Box at Boxworks 2011, San Francisco

Do you think Box can win in a head-to-head battle against Microsoft? Even though Openera and SmartCloud are agnostic and work with all cloud services, we are rooting for Aaron and his team to deliver a great user experience to the enterprise. It’s about time.

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