Box CEO will double-down on security

Three-and-a-half months on from its long-awaited IPO, Box CEO Aaron Levie sounds like a man grateful to no longer have to answer that question when I speak to him by phone on the eve of today’s Box World Tour event in London.

It’s funny because we don’t have to speculate about when we’re going to go public which is certainly nice,” he says. “It’s the next chapter.”

Instead the company has been liberated to focus on getting under the skin of industry-specific workflows as enterprises seek to improve the way they share information internally and with partners.

“The heavy lifting has now born fruit and we’re starting to actually see what that looks like at scale,” he says, mimicking my mixed-metaphor question with characteristic ready humour.

Healthcare, media, retail and entertainment are strong for Box while financial services he describes as “nascent” but there’s “no vertical where we see complete resistance”.

That includes companies that are heavily regulated and/or have high security demands.

“That’s the pseudo-ironic part: the more regulated, the better fit they are for Box. There is not a lot of other choices that they have.”

I ask about the rise of communications services which, even if anonymous messaging app Secret has just given up the ghost, have thrived in all sorts of directions. Will Box attempt to segue into these services?

Levie says the plan is “to be the best place for your collaboration around your content”, noting the emergence of Box Notes and integration with Slack, WebEx, Jive and the Confide “ephemeral messaging” service.

On the other side, he feels that the chances of a giant muscling in on Box’s territory and effectively attempting to lock in users to their collaboration/synchronisation services is a manageable risk.

“That always remains a risk with any category of software [but] customers have demanded that Google, Microsoft and others are open - that’s the only way to drive today. This era of cloud is not going to look like the old one of controlling forces but one of best-of-breed platforms delivering the best user experiences.”

That platform change that so many organisations are experiencing today might suggest that a strategic emphasis on consulting and deployment services is a way forward for Box but Levie flat bats the idea.

“We’re not focused on size of [consulting] revenues as a goal in itself but delivering the most value to customers and having great, in-depth relationships with customers. I don’t have a forward-looking view of what [Box’s consulting operation] looks like from a revenue point of view but only a philosophical view.”

So what should we expect? More security, both home-grown tools and acquired ones, is the short answer.

“You’ll see more investment from us in the security space. As information is more mobile, is more collaborative and integrated, that all needs to be secured.”

As he’s a keen student of IT history, I ask Levie what he makes of the Salesforce.com sale stories.

“I’d love to know who the bidder is,” he says. “Anybody would want to buy Salesforce and my question would be why Marc would want to sell. Marc has obviously achieved a great deal. He’s very philanthropic and maybe it’s an interest in doing that.”

On the other hand, his own experience has seen him endure stories that are “entirely fabricated”.

Of the other breaking news story, John Chambers stepping down at Cisco, he says this:

I know Chuck [new CEO Chuck Robbins] a little bit and he’s a very strong leader. John obviously is the quintessential technology CEO and the stewardship he’s had over so many market transitions is amazing. It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes.”

Just as IBM announces today a marketing alliance with Facebook, he also expects unusual partnerships that combine complementary specialisms.

The modern pairings are going to have to be more just than the legacy ones,” he says, citing IBM-Apple on enterprise IT as a good example of the modern approach where “two DNAs” are happily blended.  

Back to business closer to home, what does he see in the current period of change that’s either opportunity or risk?

“Every day I wake up and the market has changed,” he says. “The only way any company can survive all these dynamic shifts is by staying customer focused. That’s why 30 to 40 per cent of my time is spent in the field with customers: to listen to them and maybe see potentially what are their blind spots.”

And with that he’s off – no doubt to talk to more customers.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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