Box CEO Offers Perspectives on AI, Machine Learning at Work

Storage and data protection have come from far behind the other key components of IT--computing and networking--to catch up in terms of innovation.

Aaron Levie Box

What will workplaces look like in a few years?  If you say they will be very different from in the past, that's a safe assumption.

Workplaces are continually changing, mostly because the tools people use in business keep evolving. Even in this, the third stage of the IT-in-the-office revolution--from mainframe-centralized office computers to distributed desktop PCs to mobile laptops and smartphones--the tools continue to evolve, getting faster, easier to use and full of more functionality than anything used previously.

One place where the tools have never improved faster is in the data storage sector, which has taken on new dimensions of private, public and hybrid cloud during the past decade. In fact, storage and data protection have had to come from far behind the other key components of IT--computing and networking--to catch up in terms of being recognized as true new-gen, 21st-century systems.

Disaster Recovery Still a Thorny Problem
However, IT professionals increasingly are finding that changing times aren't always the best of times, according to new data from IT modernization company Vision Solutions.

In a global survey of nearly 1,600 IT professionals, covered by eWEEK's Don Reisinger, Vision Solutions discovered the biggest challenges and opportunities affecting respondents in the ever-changing tech landscape. It found that disaster recovery, a major component in all enterprise storage systems, is fraught with troubles and IT professionals don't always know who is responsible for certain kinds of data.

IT professionals also discussed the potential value in transferring business data to the cloud and revealed that a "no-cloud" policy is, in fact, giving way to a "must-have" cloud policy. Overall, the research found that the corporate IT landscape is changing rapidly as companies attempt to modernize their infrastructure, the way their employees contribute to the business and prepare for new business opportunities.

But all this rapid change is putting pressure on IT decision-makers, who need to efficiently adopt new IT technologies at the office while maintaining business continuity. A good step toward alleviating some of that anxiety is getting the storage/data protection/employee collaboration function down to a dependable single solution that is easy to use and that will work across various departments.

Companies such as Dropbox, Box, Egnyte and several others specialize in this.

How the New-Generation Workplace Will Operate

"The broader industry trend is that the way that we're going to be working in the enterprise is going to be very, very different from how people have worked in the past," Box CEO Aaron Levie told eWEEK. "If you look at what a modern company is built on today, it's the ability to collaborate in real time; it's the ability to share insights, ideas and information with people all around the business. It's the ability to share insights and capture ideas as effectively as possible.

"To do this, companies are going to need a modern set of tech tools to build their businesses. That's really what's causing enterprises to move rapidly to the cloud and move to these modern platforms."

Levie started Box in 2005 while he was a student at the University of Southern California and has built the company into a formidable IT cloud service, yet he's only 30. Box went public in January 2015, employs 1,410 full-time workers, has already acquired 10 companies and occupies two new high-rise buildings in downtown Redwood City, Calif., where 80 percent of the workers either take public transportation or their bicycles to work.

That's another hallmark of the new-gen workforce: Not only are they more open to learning about and using new tools, they're much more likely to not use their own motor vehicles to commute to work.

All That Past Development is Now Coming to Fruition

These are the type of sensibilities companies who want to attract millennials and younger employees need to possess.

"What's really exciting for me, is that the stuff you and I talked about six, seven, eight years ago, is finally coming to fruition," Levie said. "This is not tech that only works for only small businesses or startups anymore. This is  something every company on the planet can now use, whether you're GE, of Pfizer, or Eli Lilly. Any size organization is now able to work in a modern way, and do so securely and with the compliance and governance you need to move your information to the cloud."

"This is a very exciting time to be in corporate IT. There's never been a better time to be within an enterprise or be a CIO, because you have so many companies now working to build innovative products for you and to drive innovation for you and your organization. You have Facebook, you have Slack, you have Box, Google, Microsoft -- so many companies now are building these modern technologies to make you as productive as possible."

Levie pointed out that five or 10 years ago, only the smallest startups could use these new tools and services to actually run their businesses.
"The technologies didn't scale through the world's biggest businesses, they didn't necessarily support the compliance or regulatory requirements of banks or hospitals, or pharmaceutical companies," Levie said. "So what's happening now is we're seeing that the maturity of these platforms has grown significantly, and that regulated businesses can now use these tools as well."

Free, Real-Time Collaboration Within Regulatory Guidelines

Along these lines, Box on Feb. 7 released an update for Box Notes, the company's collaboration suite of tools. The update, designed for employees who work in regulated industries, enables them to freely collaborate and share information within the application and yet to a higher degree maintain all the security requirements that are inherent in such environments.

"So if you're a bank, hospital or pharmaceutical company, you can collaborate in real time with the people you need to work with in a way that much more resembles what you would do as an individual," Levie said.

Where does Box fit into the major trend of using artificial intelligence in more and more applications?

"This is a significant area of interest for us," Levie said. "Most enterprise software today, unfortunately, is mostly 'dumb.' The tech can only do what we tell it to do. It can only answer questions that we ask it. We are finding that the same trends we're seeing in the consumer world with Alexa, Siri and Google -- those same capabilities of machine learning and artificial intelligence -- are going to be applied to the enterprise as well. This will truly change the way that we work with our information and the way we collaborate and share.

"At Box, we have a platform that manages a large amount of information. We want to allow customers to gain more intelligence from their data. Whether it's recommending content or files --something a user didn't immediately think about paying attention to -- or if it's keeping you in compliance with regulatory requirements through machine learning, based on what people are doing in regulated content, we want to apply AI and machine learning in a wide array of ways in our software and for the enterprise."

This idea of becoming a home for data in cooperation with AI and machine learning services is a major area of investment for Box, Levie said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...