Content sync and share systems are available from many players - Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive are just a few of the many for those who want to be able to access their files from anywhere via the cloud.
However, the ubiquity of systems and the lack of adequate monetisation at the consumer level is making this a difficult market in which to make a profit. Each of the vendors now has to make a better commercial play - and this may mean establishing product differentiators.
The first step has been to offer enterprise content sync and share (ECSS), where central administrators can control who has access while individuals can work cohesively as teams and groups. Again, though, although the likes of Huddle and Accellion were early leaders (and still differentiate by offering on-premise and hybrid systems), Box, Dropbox and Microsoft are all busy moving into the same space, and all that is happening is the base line of functionality is getting higher - differentiation is still difficult.
The trick is in making any ECSS tool completely central to how people work - making it a platform rather than a tool. At a basic level, this means making any file activity operate via the ECSS system, rather than through the access device's file system. File open and save actions must go directly via the cloud - this basic approach makes the tool far more central to the user.
However, this is also likely to commoditise rapidly. Vendors still need to do more - and this then requires far more from the system. For example, increasing intelligence around the content of files can enable greater functionality. Indexing of documents allows full search - but this in itself is no better than many of the desktop search tools currently available. Applying meta data to the files based on parsing the content starts to add real value - and makes each ECSS system different.
At the recent BoxWorks 2014 event in San Francisco, some pointers as to possible direction were indicated. The basic workflow engine built in to Box is being improved. Actions will now be taken based not only on workflow rules, but also on content. For example, data loss prevention (DLP) can be implemented via Box through checking the content of a document against rules and preventing it from being moved from one area to another or from being shared with other users who do not meet certain criteria.
Alerts can be set up - maybe a product invoice needs paying on a certain date, or a review needs to be carried out by a specific person by a certain date. Based on the workflow engine, these events can be identified and processes triggered to enable further actions to be taken.
By controlling the meta data correctly, ECSS tools can start to move into being enterprise document (or information) management systems, and even towards full intellectual property management systems. Maintaining versioning with unchangable creation and change date fields provides the capability to create full audit chains that are legally presentable should the need arise. The meta data can be used to demonstrate compliance to the numerous information and information security laws and industry standards out the, such as HIPAA and ISO 27001 or 17799. Through such means, the ECSS system becomes an enterprise investment, not just a file management tool.
To make the most of this, though, requires an active and intelligent partner channel. The channel can bring in the required domain expertise, whether this be horizontally across areas such as data protection, or vertically in areas such as pharmaceutical, finance or oil and gas. Box has pulled in partners such as Accenture and Tech Mahindra to help in these areas.
Partners need to be able to access the platform to add their own capabilities, though. This requires a highly functional application programming interface (API) to be in place. This is an area where Box has put in a great deal of work, and the API is the central means for enabling existing systems to interface and integrate into the Box environment and vice versa.
Box has a strong roadmap for adding extra capabilities. It needs to get this out into the user domain as soon as possible in order to show prospective users how it will be differentiating itself from its immediate competitors of Dropbox, Microsoft and Google, whose marketing dollars far outstrip Box's.
Box is in the middle of that dangerous place for companies - up until now, it has been small enough to be very responsive to its customers' needs. In the future, it needs to have a more controllable code base with fewer changes - which could make it appear to be slower in adapting to the market's needs. By building out its platform and creating an abstracted layer in how its platform works through using its own APIs, Box can create an environment where the basic engine can be stabilised and extra functionality layered on top without impacting the core. Through this, Box is setting up a disciplined approach for its own engineering to use its platform for innovation as it wants its partners and customers to do so. Provided it sticks to this path, it should be able to maintain a good level of responsiveness to market needs.
Box and its partners need to build more applications on top of the ECSS engine; to create a solid and active ecosystem of applications that are information-centric and have distinct enterprise value. It also needs to make a better job of showing how well it integrates with existing content management systems, such as Documentum and OpenText to create even more value, democratising information management away from the few to the whole of an organisation and its consultants, contractors, suppliers and customers.
It is likely that over the next year, some of the existing file sync and share vendors will cease to exist as they fail to adapt to the movement of others in their markets. Box has the capacity and capabilities to continue to be a major player in the market - it just needs to make sure that it focuses hard on the enterprise needs and plays the platform card well.