Collaboration and data storage cloud service provider Box held its annual BoxWorks Digital 2020 user conference last week. At the event Box unveiled several new features and enhancements to its cloud content management (CCM) platform, geared toward organizations with remote workforces.
The platform enables secure collaboration across the enterprise and integrates with more than 1,500 apps, including Salesforce, Slack, Zoom, Okta, Microsoft Office 365 and Google Suite. Think of Box’s CCM as being almost a unifying data layer that normalizes content across the different apps, simplifying the worker experience as it creates a single data repository instead of dozens or even hundreds. The announcements at BoxWorks 2020 were aligned with the COVID-19-induced changing nature of work.
Work from home is now the norm
Historically, remote working comprised a small percentage of the workforce working from home. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has chased knowledge workers back into their homes, and that trend is likely to stay. The 2020 ZK Research “Work From Anywhere” study found that prior to the pandemic about 22% of the user population worked from home. Respondents to the survey cited that post-pandemic a whopping 42% will remain working from home--almost a doubling of the numbers.
This has had a profound impact on the way we work. During the analyst keynote, Box CEO Aaron Levie (pictured) discussed some of the major changes in work because of the pandemic. The most dramatic has been the 9-to-5, office-based work is now work from anywhere, which requires a much higher degree of agility. Also, people primarily collaborated with internal employees, but now external collaboration has gained more importance. Another change is that businesses that still had manual, paper-based processes—such as law firms and insurance companies—were forced to become digital and automate their workflows almost overnight. The focus on at-home work has also created the need for the vendors to shed their complex interfaces and focus on usability and simplicity. Lastly, the security paradigm has changed. Instead of relying on a secure perimeter, information needs to be secured wherever the worker is.
Box rolls out features to make working with multiple apps easier
One of the more interesting enhancements is for the popular collaboration app Microsoft Teams. Starting in October, users will be able to find, share and access Box content directly from the Microsoft Teams app. Box folders will automatically sync with Microsoft Teams chat, and Box files will be instantly accessible in Teams, making life easier for remote employees who use the app on a daily basis. The use of Teams has skyrocketed since the pandemic began, and workers are now relying on it to maintain social connections and collaborating with co-workers. The Box integration brings some badly needed content management capabilities to it. Without it, workers would need to manually sync content between Box and Teams.
Ease of use is a big focus area for Box, as it comes up with better ways for people to work with content anywhere, on any device or app. Earlier this year, the vendor launched a feature for creating annotations in common document formats like images, PDFs and slide decks. Later this year, Box will expand annotations to mobile devices—both smartphones and tablets—allowing users to select content and leave comments on the preview of a document. Team members will receive automatic notifications of any changes made to the document. These features create consistency across all of a worker’s devices.
Box adds Apple Pencil support
Box is also adding support for Apple Pencil and Scribble for those who work from home on iPads. Users will be able to mark up documents and make comments on their device, with the option of converting handwritten notes into text. The idea is to boost productivity for employees working on iPads, so they don’t waste time typing on cumbersome built-in keyboards. This is one of my personal favorite features. It might fly under the radar because not everyone has an iPad Pro with a pencil, but the Box innovation makes the pencil a viable way of updating documents.
Another area of focus for Box is the automation of critical content-centric processes. Box Relay helps organizations automate manual processes, including asset reviews, regulatory reporting approvals and work order submissions. Box is introducing new custom-built templates in November, which users can create, publish and manage themselves without IT’s assistance. Box has a library of pre-built templates for creating workflows. Organizations can use APIs to connect workflows within Box to third-party apps such as Salesforce or custom apps. Content management is no longer just about where documents are stored—it’s about workflows, and Relay takes the manual overhead out of the processes.
These enhancements reflect changing needs of organizations since COVID-19 began. The pandemic altered not only how people work and collaborate, but also how enterprises approach security. Employees are working remotely, using more apps than ever, and accessing sensitive data on personal devices—all of which creates new challenges for IT.
Box also addresses security concerns
Box Shield is a feature that secures all content, workflows and collaboration within the Box platform. The vendor previously added native malware detection and automated classification to Box Shield for analyzing threats.
Starting next year, Box Shield will have new security and compliance features for protecting and governing data in the cloud. This becomes increasingly important in a work from home scenario as the number of phishing attacks has jumped almost 700% since the pandemic began. One false click and the user’s computer is infected putting all the data at risk. Shield can’t stop a user from taking the click bait but it can protect the data.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came, it caused businesses to scramble and implement whatever solution they could to get workers up and running. Now that we are six months into it, it’s time for IT and business leaders to take a step back and rethink their content management strategies.
In a post-COVID-19 world, every business should be thinking about collaborating securely but with the highest levels of ease of use. The new features for Box, announced at BoxWorks 2020, are well-aligned to protect data but not hinder productivity.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.