It’s tough to be a cloud-based file-sync-and-share company these days. While there is demand for these services, there are also about a zillion contenders vying for that business — most of which offer a free option. And, almost every legacy software vendor is doing its own thing to keep customers from flocking to Dropbox or to business-focused players like Box. Case in point: Salesesforce.com, a Box investor, last year announced Chatterbox, a Box competitor.
But Los Altos, Calif.-based Box, isn’t taking any of this lying down. It’s busily lining up software vendors– new ones include AtTask, Autodesk, Marketo, Tibco’s Tibbr and Xero — to integrate with its service. And the great grandaddy of legacy IT companies, IBM, is integrating IBM Connections business-focused social networking software to Box. An analogous integration with Oracle Fusion applications is also available. And, nothing says enterprise like IBM and Oracle.
It’s about more than share-and-sync
All of this is part of Box’s move to cast itself as more than an enterprise-friendly file-sync-and-share company. Collaboration, says Whitney Bouck, GM of Enterprise for Box, is where the real action is. “There’s one camp that is all about sync and share — that’s not that interesting. It’s a commodity and probably should be free. Collaboration — making it easier to work together — is where it gets interesting,” she said.
So if an IBM Connections user wants to save corporate documents or conversation threads to a secure cloud so it’s accessible from her laptop or smartphone, Box could be an interesting option. Of course there’s no guarantee that IBM, or Oracle, or any of these other ISVs will actually push Box to their end customers.
Box’s proposition is that it combines the ease of use of Dropbox with the IT control required by businesses with regulatory and compliance issues and don’t want employees sharing documents outside their perimeter.
Boosting Box distribution
The company is also signing up big-name resellers and distributors to its new Box Partner Network. Inaugural members include Ingram Micro, the biggest IT distributor in the U.S., as well as CDW, and Softchoice. All of these companies sell hardware and software to business customers or, in Ingram Micro’s case, to the resellers selling to business customers.
By many measures, Box is a success. It has nearly 700 employees and has raised a healthy $312 million in venture funding. Bouck said the company started 2012 with 115,000 individual business customers and saw that number grow to 150,000 from 140,000 in the last quarter alone. It beefed up its worldwide presence last year with an expanded global data transfer network and with a new London office and plans further expansion in Europe this year.
But the big, glaring question remains: Box still won’t talk about profitability or about what percentage of its large customer base is actually paying for its service.