It’s fair to say the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways we could never have imagined. In-store shopping has been replaced with on-line sales and curbside pickup, kids are learning remotely, and even live entertainment has been replaced with virtual events.
For businesses, the biggest change has been the shift to work from home, and this trend is likely to remain into the foreseeable future. A recent ZK Research study revealed that 22% of all users worked remotely prior to COVID-19. This number jumped to more than 72% during the pandemic but is expected to settle at 42% once things go back to “normal,” which is almost twice the pre-pandemic number.
Remote working means more cloud content
This high number of remote workers forced businesses to rethink their IT strategies, and this resulted in a rapid migration to the cloud for everything from infrastructure services to collaboration. One of the areas that has seen a huge boost is online content management, which enables workers to store files of all types in the cloud and then access them on any device, from any computer. Many organizations used local file servers – or worse, email – which worked fine when in the office but required a VPN to connect back to the company network when the user is off the company property.
This might work fine for technically-savvy users and road warriors that are used to using a VPN but VPNs are expensive and intimidating for many workers. When dealing with the rising number of remote workers, it’s important to understand that many employees have never worked from home in the past, and the more processes and steps put in place for them can cause a frustrating experience for many of them.
Digital interactions are the norm
In addition to basic file sharing, many organizations are interacting with business partners in new digital ways. This includes using features ranging from providing comments and version control to security and compliance, and even more advanced capabilities, such as workflow and integration into other applications. However, it’s important to understand that when it comes to cloud-file storage services, not all of them are created equal. A great example of this is the differences between Box and Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.
OneDrive and Drive are typical Microsoft and Google tools that are free with the right licenses, making the barriers to entry extremely low. However, as is the case with most Microsoft and Google tools, the goal is to offer a “good enough” solution that meets the minimum requirements but doesn’t solve any bigger business problems, such as compliance or even making the user’s life simpler.
Microsoft, in particular, has been masterful in selling the good-enough value propositions through license bundles and marketing to IT pros. This often outweighs user experience and worker preference.
Box versus Microsoft and Google is an ‘and,’ not an ‘or’
The decision to use a vendor like Box or Microsoft/Google isn’t an either/or choice. Box has more than 100,000 customers, 100% of which use Microsoft or Google apps, usually with Box integrated into those and numerous other business applications. There are two types of customers that eschew OneDrive and Drive in favor of Box: The first is the one that prefers a best-in-class product. In this case, the customer is likely to be using apps like Slack and Okta versus defaulting to the Microsoft tools. This type of customer cares about user experience and needs to tie these apps together. Box can be thought of as the Switzerland of content because it works with most apps.
The other type is the customer with complicated business processes or regulatory needs that are dependent on content. Tools like OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams are built around defined use cases, although they do cause a lot of confusion for users (that’s another story). If the customer has more complicated requirements, such as multi-step processes and working with outside parties, or if there are specific security and compliance requirements, that’s where SharePoint, OneDrive and good enough tools won’t cut it.
While the two groups of customers may seem distinct, there is one commonality, and that is the IT organization is well-versed in the organization’s business requirements. In this case they have a deep understanding of workflows, processes and what the users are actually doing for work. Juxtapose this to companies where IT is trying to provide a basic set of tools with little considerations. In this case, as the expression goes, all problems look like nails, so the solution must be a hammer. Furthermore, free doesn’t mean there is no cost associated with it. While many customers may think they are getting these products bundled in at no cost, there is a heavy burden of administration, user confusion and security risks that are not always taken into account.
Box out features Google Drive and Microsoft One Drive
This includes the ability to classify a sensitive document and have the policies automatically enforced. For example, a user who tags a document as confidential can restrict downloads or external sharing. One of the biggest differences for Box is they do this across all file types they support. Microsoft does this with Microsoft documents, but if the customer has AutoCAD or Adobe documents, Box will support them, where Microsoft and Google do not.
From a user’s perspective, Microsoft tools are very complicated and challenging, making controlling documents difficult. For example, enforcing no-print or no copy-paste requires users to download and install separate plug-ins. Box does everything from the cloud, simplifying the process. Also, Microsoft tends to have inconsistent controls between Windows and Macs, where the Box features are normalized across all operating systems.
–Single repository for documents
One of the biggest points of confusion with Microsoft is there are so many ways to store documents. Sharepoint? OneDrive? Teams? Locating the document after can be a challenge creating a highly fragmented user experience. With the Box interface, users have access to everything in one place. Personal files, team files, externally shared information and other types. This creates a consistent way of being able to make comments, assign tasks, etc.
It might seem easy to create policies like put personal files in OneDrive, group documents in SharePoint, and so on but the reality is, this creates a bifurcated experience as one can’t search across the different file repositories as the OneDrive desktop tool does not have access to SharePoint content leading to confusion. This is why users do things like store the same document in multiple places or email files to themselves, which simply adds to the confusion.
Box is architected to be a platform for content management. One can think of Box as being a platform composed of several layers that include a security layer, which includes policies, encryption, compliance and more, and then a content services layer where one can find workflows, metadata, intelligence and search. Sitting on that are custom applications such as employee apps and admin tools as well as third-party integrations into almost every major application.
This platform approach highlights the strength of Box and enables it to be a single source for your files across multiple applications. Box is a first-class citizen with Microsoft and ties into tools such as Active Directory or cognitive services. This eliminates multiple-copy issues, because a user could save a file into Teams, update it and drop it into SharePoint, yet it would be contained in the same Box location. Without this, businesses face the likelihood of content sprawl, which has huge compliance and risk ramifications.
Cloud is certainly the way of the future, particularly when it comes to anything collaboration-related. The cloud enables workers to seamlessly work from anywhere but maintain the same experience as being in the office. The choice of tools becomes critically important to worker productivity, and the free choice is rarely the right one because you don’t get what you don’t pay for. Box provides a best-in-class file sharing service that can simplify collaboration but also gives IT the controls it needs to ensure the company is protected and adhering to compliance mandates.