Cloud storage company Box has launched a series of new products aimed to boost secure collaboration by enhancing interoperability between different best-of-breed apps and breaking down data silos that disrupt the flow of information.
At the annual BoxWorks conference in San Francisco, Box announced a new recommended apps feature that makes personalised suggestions of apps to use with different files, and public beta versions of the Box for G Suite integration and Box Feed, which surfaces relevant content for individual users, but the biggest audience reaction was caused by the new activity stream.
The activity stream is a content hub that supports collaboration across different applications by surfacing potential actions, current activities and relevant context from all third-party apps within the file preview of Box. It also offers personalised app recommendations to each individual user.
It's designed to make it easier for people to see how their content connects and interacts with the 1,400-plus applications that integrate with Box by presenting relevant information from all these apps, whether a contract is added to an account in Salesforce Sales Cloud or a conversation is happening around a marketing proposal in a Slack channel. All the activity is visible on the preview of the file, alongside comments, tasks and other relevant updates.
"The digital workplace will be built on an ecosystem of best-of-breed applications and platforms," said Jeetu Patel, Chief Product Officer at Box. "Box is the content hub for the digital workplace - one place where people can collaborate on the files most relevant to them and easily move between the apps they use to get work done. Enterprises today need a single source of truth for information across their end-user applications and back-end systems. That's the power of cloud content management."
Users can jump to each app record or thread directly from Box, and review a curated list of recommended applications to use in conjunction with that file, such as sharing a link with Gmail or sending a file for signature with AdobeSign. Apps are recommended based on factors including the individual's patterns of use, the organisation's most popular applications, and the apps that are most closely associated with each file type.
The activity stream provides one place to maintain the activity taken on files across all the connected apps, avoiding content fragmentation as it passes through different teams and individuals.
To ensure that the notifications don't turn into distractions, Box claims that they are designed to improve the signal to noise ratio, by offering relevant content but avoiding mandatory actions.
Box will hope that embedding this deeper view into how files are being used across the users choice of apps will help ward off the challenge posed by the more consumer-focused Dropbox and cloud giants such as Google and Microsoft which are investing in their own content collaboration products.
The announcements came shortly after Box stocks slipped on the back of weaker than expected third quarter revenue forecasts, despite the company posting record revenues for the second quarter of 2018.
"Box's announcement of Activity Stream - for release next year - means that employees will be able to see where their document is being used - for example this contract is attached to Salesforce and was mentioned in a Slack conversation," Guy Creese, research vice president for collaboration and content at Gartner, told Computerworld UK. "This breadcrumb capability will give greater insight into how files are being used."
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Box also announced that customers will soon be able to use the product as the storage backend for G Suite, Apple iWork, and Office 365.
"This is important for customers that run these suites side-by-side – and many do," said Creese. "With Box as the cloud content repository, those IT departments will have one location in which to enforce data policy – for example, how long to keep copies of those files around. At the moment, IT must implement data policy in each suite separately, and work to ensure they're consistent.
"With this Box capability, employees will be able to continue to use the suite of their choice, but IT will have a much more streamlined administration process on the backend."
Box Feed was also launched in public beta. The tool uses machine learning to surface personalised content and updates based on the people and files you work with most.
Users can preview, comment, share, mark files for later use and access their recent files directly from within the feed. Files that are trending across the organisation are also showcased to keep users updated on developments at the company level.
"One of things that we found in our early customers is when people look at content that surfaces up in Box Feed they're 67 percent more likely to comment on it or engage with it or share that content," claimed Patel.
Further announcements included an upcoming update the automation capabilities of Box, which will allow users to create simple triggers for recurrent actions in their content collaboration activities such as triggering monthly automation to copy financial close checklists and send tasks for individuals to complete, and a December release date for the Box Skills Kit, which developers can use to create custom AI integrations with Box.
Box CEO Aaron Levie said the new tools would help users to take advantage of an increasingly collaborative technology sector in which many companies are now working together to deliver products that benefit their shared customers.
"I think what's incredible to see is how much that has shaped the partner ecosystem and is causing technology players that might otherwise be competitors to really be able to join forces and deliver more value and innovation for customers," he said. "It's truly astonishing the amount of transformation in this industry just in the past three to five years."