Last week IBM and Box jointly announced a partnership that heralds a much closer working relationship between the two companies, and easier integration for their customers and developer communities alike.
Enterprise vendor partnerships aren’t new to Box. Earlier this year it joined Microsoft’s Cloud Storage Partner Program and tightened up its integration with Office, but the IBM news goes much further than opening and editing files from Box within A. N. Other vendor’s applications, or making workflows and sharing more seamless. Yes, the IBM deal brings that sort of thing too - but here it’s IBM’s enterprise content management, case management, analytics and social collaboration applications that get the Box treatment, allowing them to access the content stored there. IBM Datacap will be able to capture content and store it directly in Box; IBM StoredIQ will be able to access Box content as part of its eDiscovery and data clean-up operations; IBM Case Manager will have access to content on Box, as will IBM Content Navigator, and Watson Analytics; and IBM Verse and IBM Connections will get Box integrations to bolster social capabilities (tools which my colleague Angela Ashenden covered in her report on IBM’s social collaboration portfolio).
Where this gets particularly interesting is that it marks a much more prominent position for Box in content-centric workflows beyond its original use cases of file sharing and editing. It also plays to IBM’s mantra of seeking to ‘harness and analyse all data’ - i.e. all types, in all forms, and from all sources as it flows through an organisation. Plus there’s the recent partnerships the company has announced with Twitter and The Weather Company to bear in mind too, designed to enrich Watson’s data sources still further.
It brings a little cloud pragmatism to Box’s offering too. Whilst this is hardly signals that the company is wavering in its commitment to public cloud, it does represent significant support for organisations embracing more of a hybrid on-premise / cloud strategy (with IBM’s tools ranging across both environments through a single interface). It also provides some storage flexibility, with joint customers able to keep their Box content on the IBM Cloud (rather than Box’s own).
Of course each party will naturally benefit to an extent from the footholds the other has already established in industries where its presence is the more mature (given IBM’s longstanding global reach, that relationship is bound to be a little asymmetric), but the real coup for Box is having its APIs integrated directly into IBM’s developer cloud platform Bluemix. Both companies have pledged to jointly develop content management solutions targeted at specific industries (such as financial services, healthcare and life sciences, and education - the first two of these already benefiting from the focused attention of Box’s ‘for Industries’ programme - so expect Box for Education to become a likely addition before too long!). However it’s the third-party developer community, so important to Box’s platform growth ambitions, which will be the one to watch here. Not only are Box APIs now served up on a plate alongside other Bluemix service components, but also developers are being enticed with the recently-announced Box Developer Edition (offering not just packaged APIs and an API call-based charging model, but also support for an app user model of access to Box content so end users donÂt need to separately authenticate with Box when they come in via an app calling Box APIs).
All in all, there are some clear areas where both IBM and Box stand to gain from the partnership. Sure, there are inevitable overlaps with some of IBM’s existing portfolio (IBM Connections Files on Cloud, Aspera File Sharing Suite, etc.) – but with a portfolio as vast and wide-ranging as IBM’s, even the company itself risks treading on its own toes every so often. So as long as both companies’ professional services arms can make sense of the options, then there should be good mileage here. What future some of these components has if the Box option takes off remains to be seen, though. As with Box’s own cloud infrastructure if the IBM Cloud option proves popular. Expect both companies to take stock and consider potential for rationalisation at some point, depending on how well this mutual cross-promotion fest goes.
And if you’re a customer? Well, developer customers of Box (and IBM’s Bluemix) will find it easier to build Box technology into their cloud applications. IBM Case Manager and Watson analytics customers with some content in Box will be able to leverage it to bring further context and richness to their decision-making, etc. But if you only currently have IBM would this news alone spur you to buy Box, and vice versa? Well, the integration dimension is a key one for anybody seeking to embed cloud-based content in enterprise workflows – and having that box ticked is a big plus in any purchasing decision, though other considerations will doubtless come into play too (the extent of any investment in rival products and services in closely related areas, for example – how much are you committed to IBM’s tools; how much of your content’s on Box, and where’s the rest of it, etc.). However, if your situation lies in the two companies’ adoption sweet spot – especially if you’re in one of the named industries both are committing to tailor solutions for – then this partnership could be about to make your life a whole lot easier.