Box Isn’t Disrupting Because of the Cloud


I recently realized this truth which seems both contradictory and obvious at the same time. Box and the other cloud vendors aren’t disrupting the industry because they are Cloud/Software-as-a-Service(SaaS) vendors, they are disrupting it because they put people ahead of the Enterprise.

Think on it a minute. I talked about this in my AIIM keynote but I didn’t link it all together. SaaS may be the disruptive technology but it is the ease-of-use built into the applications themselves that is giving them market share.

The SharePoint “Disruption”

Take a look back at the history of SharePoint. It came into the Content Management market with such great force that people called it a disruptive technology. The problem with that theory is that the technology wasn’t special or disruptive. What gave Microsoft such a boost in market share was that it was easy to setup and use.

Flash-forward to today and you see Microsoft having the same challenges as the vendors they “disrupted”. Like them, Microsoft is taking SharePoint to the cloud to defend their place in the industry.

Why the failure by Microsoft to sustain its momentum?

Simple. Microsoft didn’t fully understand their advantage and they became more like their competitors over time. Their system became complex, cumbersome, and challenging to upgrade. Just like their traditional rivals, Microsoft now has installations that are running on 10-year-old versions because upgrading is too challenging.

The Cloud’s Disruption

Now there are new vendors that are trying to do the same thing that SharePoint did, but better. Best exemplified by Box, they are trying to make Content Management easy, usable, and, most importantly, adopted. So far, Box is succeeding.

Why might Box and their compatriots succeed where Microsoft failed? Their combination of the focus on the user and SaaS.

The weakness that SharePoint shared with their predecessors was the increasing complexity of the system as it added features and had to scale. Specialized servers were needed and teams of administrators were required to maintain the system.

The SaaS vendors solved that problem. Clients don’t have to manage the server technology, just the people and the processes. Now when clients want new features, they appear. There is no long window of waiting for test deployments and upgrade scripts.

I hate upgrade scripts.

This leaves us with user friendly applications that are readily updated and easy to support. From a Content Management perspective it is a win-win.

Box is disrupting because they focus on the people using the application. SaaS is the the disruptive delivery mechanism that enables the spread of their solution.

One Last Challenge

All IT vendors are being disrupted in this fashion, not just Content Management. Ease-of-use is driving adoption in a viral nature that is almost unheard of in the space.

When was the last time you had to force users to STOP using a Content Management product?

The challenge ahead is for Box and their fellow cloud vendors to meet the advanced needs of the Enterprise without losing the very thing that is powering their market disruption…

An un-erring focus on the user.

11 thoughts on “Box Isn’t Disrupting Because of the Cloud

  1. Couldn’t agree more that unwavering focus on the user is key. The trick is to recognise that in the enterprise world there are multiple classes of user with different, and at times contradictory, requirements. There are also “users” who may not directly use the system at all, but who act as a good proxy for requirements that an organisation has – CIOs, for example, care about compliance and control, but rarely actually perform those functions hands on themselves. That doesn’t make those requirements any less important.

    This is one of the bigger challenge that companies such as Box that have pivoted from consumer struggle with. Showing up on lists such as this one clearly show that they’re still not really enterprise grade.

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    • The problem with those Enterprise requirements is that if the application isn’t user friendly it won’t be adopted. Then those requirements sit on the shelf. If you can’t master the requirements of the people using the tools, then those other requirements don’t matter.

      Disagree with some of your cause-effect. Banning of apps is also driven by “over-reaction” (strong word but term fits). “They are using this tool and not our tool so I’ll just block it and not care about the reason.” Blocking also doesn’t work. AIIM research has also shown that more organizations believe that they are preventing access (18%) to these apps than Fortune 500 orgs that don’t have multiple people using Box, much less Dropbox.(8%) I think orgs that see a lot of adoption of these tools need to figure out that they aren’t meeting the needs of the staff. They have to provide a solution or they will be worked around forever.

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    • Sure it was the fat fingers that were stoopid? :)

      Seriously…you are correct, it isn’t either/or. Problem is that right now those are the choices. I’d argue that if you don’t address the UX then the other features won’t be used as the software won’t be adopted.

      The question for some orgs is tricky….do I let people use these apps that don’t have the Enterprise features or do I block that and deal with the content living on laptops, email, and shared drives?

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  2. first – sharepoint was never that easy. acknowledgement of the complexity was more about ending denial after the marketing wore off and they had to deal with upgrades.

    second – if it was just the UX or even just that plus SaaS it wouldn’t be enough to explain the disruption. I don’t think you give enough credit to the freemium business model for breaking the siege on software acquisition in the enterprise. Credit dropbox more for that. Box came through the hole once the wall was breached

    third – overall application complexity affects different constituencies in different ways. IT hates upgrades because they are hard and expensive.That does not mean that application complexity and business change management are made less challenging once the cloud products mature. It is less of an issue now because honestly they don’t do much but as we have discussed many times before – for some constituencies they do enough.

    The problem faced by the cloud crowd moving forward is that in order to maintain growth trajectories that investors demand, they have to expand and address more lucrative problems to solve – which ultimately make the products more complicated for everyone.
    One day they too will be victims of the same ironic cycle and accused of abandoning the users by adding the features they asked for in the first place.

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    • Lee, I simplified. Basic SharePoint was easy to setup, especially the 2003 Windows SharePoint Services. It tied easily into MS Office without any tricky plugins which made it almost as easy to use as File Shares for the average user. It was when Microsoft, and Enterprises, started trying to do more that things got complicated. They failed in the transition from “better” to Enterprise.

      Agreed that it wasn’t easy to upgrade any installation that tried to use too many features or those that built to scale. That was a betrayal of the “easy to use” mindset. It went from anyone being able to setup SharePoint to needed expertise to upgrade.

      You are correct, the freemium model has a lot to do with the initial take-off. SharePoint was inexpensive to start with out of the box. However, Enterprise end-users don’t adopt software based upon the cost of the product. I will say that SP was primarily pushed by both shadow and real IT departments more than users but users adopted more readily because it was very similar to their file share paradigm, which was easy for them.

      We both agree on the future challenge of the cloud providers. That is where they have to make sure they can add those requirements without becoming “hard”. That is the secret though. They need to create different features that meet the same old requirements. If they can do that, they can continue to grow.

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  3. First, I agree with you point that the reason Box and others have been successful is their focus on ease of use and end-user experience. But

    Maybe I’m stupid, remember I’m a sales guy not a smarty-pants like yoos-all, but I don’t see this massive traction you keep saying Box is getting. They claim that they are being used in like 98% of the Fortune 500. But that is qualified by the statement of at least three users. 3 out of 300,000 isn’t really statistically significant.

    But I have to assume that since your argument is based Box’s focus on the user that your idea of disruption is also based on users and wouldn’t that be number of users?

    Disruption could also be central IT realizing a decrease in the need for their services because departments are self-serving through Box but I don’t hear that being said.

    Like I said in my post, I think the cloud is the obvious path of the future. But I just don’t see Box being a part of that. I think an IBM & Viewpoint type offering is going to be much more appealing to a majority of the market.

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    • I’ll be replying to your post next. Quick answer, Box may or may not be a player in 5 years. A lot depends on them being able to expand their base. I don’t see IBM being a player and don’t really see Viewpointe growing out of their niche but I could be wrong there.

      The leader in Content Management in 5 years will not be a company founded more than 10 years ago. May be Box. May be Dropbox. May be some other vendor. Doesn’t change the fact that change is happening and the end of this wave of disruption is going to leave broken dreams in its wake.

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