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Box.net Uses Collaboration For Cloud Storage Advantage

Vendor is at the forefront of capitalizing on social, analytics, and other capabilities that we only dream about--or don't even know to dream about.
The Social, Collaborative Box: Using Box.net as an adjunct to social and collaborative software is one of those no-brainers that was dissected in great detail at the conference and outside the conference as well. I’ve been keeping a running tally of the times I see and hear Box in the context of some other vendor’s social or collaborative offering, and so far Box is batting 1000. A recent briefing with SAP about Streamwork included a Box reference, and my favorite social/collaborative start-up, Sococo, can make use of Box.net as part of its amazing visual communications and collaboration environment. There’s Box.net and Chatter. The list seems endless.

The Analytical Box: We’re only just starting to crack the nut on how to use metadata for business advantage, and the folks at Box.net seem to grok the fact that data about how data is used could be an extremely valuable to businesses trying to improve anything from customer satisfaction to data governance and risk management. There’s a lot we don’t know about how data really gets used, and by putting it in the cloud, Box.net can use the cloud to collect information on every aspect of data usage and use that data for some interesting analysis. Analytical services on top of Box.net could prove to be as valuable as the company’s original content sharing raison-d’etre.

The Innovative Box: Here's where the real challenge--and opportunity--lie. If Box.net is to rise above the noise and make good on all those millions from its investors, it will have to be in the forefront of defining a new set of processes and functions around content collaboration that weren’t ever possible before. This approach is a corollary to what I call the SaaS 2.0 imperative. It’s not enough to just flip an established process from on-premises to the cloud, a la Salesforce.com. In order for Box.net to really make its mark, it has to be on the forefront of defining and bringing to market the things we only dreamed of doing--or never even dreamed we could dream of--that are now possible with the functionality that Box.net can provide.

Using Box.net in a social/collaborative context is a good place for the company to begin to define this opportunity to the market. That’s why I like the marriage of Sococo and Box: Sococo creates virtual workspaces for collaboration where collaborators can show up--online, using their avatars. In addition to communicating and working with one another, they can participate in the creation, editing, and development of documents and other content. One of Sococo’s fascinating capabilities is the ability to create task-specific virtual rooms that are open by permission only to fellow collaborators. This effectively adds context to the documents that are being used in the virtual room, and that context, especially when combined with workflow and other collaborative tools, takes the commodity-level concept of cloud-based storage up a notch or two.

The above example is merely one among the many possible scenarios for using Box.net in a value-added process. As the innovation opportunities grow, the key to Box.net’s continued success will be similar to what every innovator must do in order for innovation to be adopted: proscribe the ways in which the new capabilities can be used.

This approach is necessary for almost any truly innovative product, but it's especially needed in areas where collaboration and analytics are part of the process: there are enormous cultural gaps in the business community’s understanding of how to collaborate and analyze, and every truly innovative collaboration and analytical tool needs to include methods and other proscriptive help or, no matter how cool a tool it is, real-world users just won’t get what to do with it.

Cloud-based storage is a useful, but hardly a sufficient business case for the success of Box.net. Value-added services are where Box has to go, and it’s clear that there’s an entire class of new innovative applications and services waiting to be created on the back of their core capability. It’s going to fun watching what Box.net does next.

Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at [email protected].

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