IBM and Box

Yesterday, IBM and Box co-announced a new partnership between the two software vendors. As soon as the announcement was public I was contacted with questions about what this means to both companies, and especially how it impacts IBM’s current collaboration portfolio. Below are the key points you should be aware of.
It's Not A BigBlue Box: This announcement was not about an acquisition but rather a partnership. Could that happen in the future? Possibly, but let’s not speculate on that today and instead focus on the current and near term implications. It’s important to note, Box has also announced significant partnerships with Microsoft, most recently around Office 365 integration. This Box / IBM announcement does not indicate a similar level of functionality with IBM Docs.

This Does Not Impact IBM Connections Files: The primary focus of this partnership is not related to IBM’s collaboration portfolio: IBM Connections, IBM Verse, Notes/Domino, Sametime, etc. Yes, there is some integration between the two companies today, such as Box integration in Connections Communities, but this announcement is more about IBM’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Analytics capabilities. (see below) In January, IBM announced IBM Connections Files, which is essentially a Box like tool, but to be clear, IBM is not replacing that product with Box.

Insights Into Business Content: Over the last few months, IBM has made several announcements regarding integration of 3rd party content with IBM’s tools. For example, the partnerships with Twitter and Weather Channel. Box represents another large repository of content that several IBM customers rely on. Therefore, combining Box’s content-centric workflows with IBM’s analytics (IBM Watson) and governance (StoredIQ) capabilities, makes a lot of sense. This gives Box a great additional set of capabilities while IBM gets to deploy their tools against a large new source of (customer) content. Questions still remain as to what the combined solutions will cost, and what hosting options will be supported.

Let’s Get Vertical: Both IBM and Box have successful go to market strategies around vertical solutions such as healthcare, finance and manufacturing. This partnership will allow both vendors to tap into the customer base of the other. For example, a healthcare customer currently using Box to store medical records (or Xrays) will now be able to leverage IBM’s Analytics and Case Management capabilities to derive insights from that data.

Mobile Computing: Both IBM and Box are investing heavily in mobile access. IBM has recently partnered with Apple to create several applications which they call MobileFirst for iOS. As mentioned above, Box has a strong customer presence in those same verticals, so if Box integration is added to those iOS applications, Box customers will get a seamless file-centric experienced embedded in this applications.

That raises the question as to why IBM is using Box for file-sharing features of these applications instead of IBM Connections Files? The answer is most likely that Box, available for many years, has a significant head-start obtaining customers in these industries verses IBM Connections Files which has just recently launched. IBM is doing what works best for customers, realizing that if they don't, those customers will look elsewhere. As the Box/IBM announcement is not exclusive, I predict IBM will announce additional file sharing integrations/partnerships, including better integration with their own collaboration tools.

Developers In The Mix: One of the most interesting parts of this partnership is that Box’s APIs will be added to IBM BlueMix, their cloud based application development platform, or PaaS. That means developers building applications on BlueMix will be able to easily add Box’s features to their applications. This is a big win for Box, as it dramatically extends their reach to a large partner ecosystem. Here is example code from IBM developerWorks, Integrate Cloud File Storage and Sharing into your Bluemix App with Box

Keeping Things Secure: In 2013 IBM acquired Fiberlink, developer of the MaaS360 mobile management and security suite. Today MaaS360 supports secure file sharing for Box, so this is another synergy point between IBM and Box which they will continue to build upon.

Files. Files. Wherefore Art Thou Files? What about future hosting implications? Today Box’s infrastructure is hosted by Equinix. Perhaps a move to Softlayer could happen, but that is not part of the current announcement.



It’s certainly an interesting time in the enterprise file market.

A few years ago large enterprise software vendors such as IBM, Microsoft and Google did not really offer their own enterprise file storage solutions. To fill that gap, stand-alone vendors such as Box and DropBox stepped in and secured large customer bases that the enterprise software vendors are certainly envious of. But as file-sharing become a key part of organization's collaboration strategies those companies realized they required enterprise grade solutions. Fast forward to today and the large vendors now offer solutions such as IBM Connections Files, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Citrix Sharefile and Salesforce Files as integrated parts of their collaboration platforms; while Box, DropBox, Egnyte, Intralinks, Huddle and other stand-alone file sharing vendors continue to enhance the file-sharing specific elements of their solutions.

The trend now is to combine the best of both worlds. It seems like almost weekly there is a press release about a new integration or partnership between one of the enterprise software platform vendors and one of the stand-alone file-storage vendors. The key is that these partnerships need to go beyond the basic “you can open file X from inside platform Y”. Today’s Box and IBM announcement provides a foundation for more advanced integrations built to solve specific industry solutions leveraging the best of both IBM and Box. However, it’s important to move beyond the press release stage and deliver real code soon or customers (and analysts) will quickly look for alternative approaches. I look forward to seeing demos of the IBM + Box solutions soon.

BTW, I'd be negligent as an analyst if I didn't notice that both companies have 3 letter names and blue logos, so the partnership is a natural fit. (don't quote me on that one!)