Box and IBM introduce Box Relay, a new product to streamline work in the cloud

Partnerships and competition in the cloud

Online storage company Box and enterprise giant IBM on Tuesday introduced Box Relay, the first in a number of new products Box will roll out this week at its BoxWorks 2016 customer conference.

"We are going to be introducing an all-new Box," said Box CEO Aaron Levie. "One place to manage, share and collaborate around your information."

Box Relay is part of Box's broader strategy aimed at making its service more "sticky," and the go-to service people use to collaborate and get work done in the cloud. The company now has 66,000 paying customers, including 4,000 new customers who signed up in its most recent earnings quarter. The stock is up around 7 percent over the past year.

"We want to make sure we can be as embedded into your business as possible, and Relay allows us to do that," said Levie. "The more Box can help you replace other technology and solutions, the more value we can offer customers."

Aaron Levie, CEO, Box
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

The way work gets done in the enterprise is broken, said Levie. Organizations need better ways to build, track and manage work in order to get things done faster. Complex legacy software, email, spreadsheets and task management software fail to automate routine tasks, slowing things down.

"We wanted to build technology that would help you automate those types of tasks so you don't have to have really complex and cumbersome ways of doing that work," said Levie.

Box Relay is an add-on to Box's core cloud storage service that will allow any team within a company to build a custom workflow and invite partners from outside the company to join. Inside a dashboard, users can review, edit, upload, approve or reject documents. Alerts, notifications and email reminders provide updates throughout the process. Users can send links to others for review and track progress in real time. Everyone involved can see if a project gets stuck along the way, and where the bottleneck lies.

It is a modern version of a content management system and marks a new direction for Box into more sophisticated workflows, said Box's head of product, Chris Yeh.

The new product is designed to work for any role within the enterprise without requiring the help of the IT department, said Yeh. For example, if a business is hiring someone, the human resources department may need multiple people to review the candidate's resume, work samples and offer letter before making a new hire. Instead of sending an email, they could use Box Relay to upload the documents to the cloud, and ask people to review and approve them.

At the company's annual customer conference in San Francisco this week, Levie will be joined onstage by senior vice president at Alphabet's Google, Diane Green, Amazon's chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, and Microsoft Executive Vice President Peggy Johnson, among others.

Source: Box

The future of the software industry will involve partnerships between the major players in tech, said Levie. The days of ruthless competition between tech giants are over, he said. Legacy infrastructure will fall by the wayside to enable all the work people are doing to come together in one place.

"Work is changing in some pretty fundamental ways. We believe the way most enterprises manage their data isn't going to work," said Levie. "You can bring together the best of those platforms and show customers how all of these technologies can work well together in future."

In developing Box Relay, IBM bought its years of experience building workforce platforms and the underlying components of the service, while Box bought its cloud management and user experience skills, said Levie. The new service has been more than a year in the making and will be available next year.

IBM's massive sales force has been key to delivering Box's products to customers, said Levie. IBM played a role in eight six-figure deals for Box that were closed in the company's most recent quarter, and more than 50 percent were international.

In general, Box is becoming more strategic to enterprise customers and is now recognized as an emerging software as a service player, said Drexel Hamilton analyst Brian White. Two other iconic tech companies have also struck partnerships with Box: Apple and Microsoft.

"Box is building out a next-generation enterprise content management and collaboration platform," said White. "In our view, Box is one of the more underappreciated and misunderstood cloud plays in the market today."

Investor appreciation is likely to improve as Box shows continued momentum in the enterprise market and Box Platform — which allows customers to leverage Box's content services within their own custom-designed apps — ramps in 2017, said White. The company has said it expects to be cashflow positive starting in the fourth quarter of next year.