Box aims to leverage partnerships to bring AI to its platform

The cloud content management company says it will have AI-related product announcements this year, achieved in part by taking advantage of its partnerships with companies like Google and IBM.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

In its first quarter earnings report Wednesday, Box highlighted the progress it's made building partnerships with tech giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft. In the coming year, Box aims to leverage those relationships to bring AI capabilities to its content management platform, CEO Aaron Levie said.

"We think AI is going to be fundamental to the future of work," Levie told ZDNet, promising that Box will be "a major player in intelligent software for the enterprise."

He added on Wednesday's earnings call that "throughout this year you're going to see product announcements, as well as more direction from a roadmap standpoint, that brings intelligence into Box."

Box has been busy building up its capabilities in terms of security, compliance and other features needed to convince enterprise customers to move beyond its core storage product. Wednesday's earnings report gave some evidence the strategy's working: Box landed 25 deals over $100,000 for the first quarter of fiscal 2018, up from 17 deals in the first quarter a year ago. Box Governance, one of its add-on products, grew 70 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, its net expansion for the quarter -- the increase in total account value from existing customers who had accounts worth more than $5,000 a year ago -- was 17 percent.

Levie explained why AI needs to be a part of its offered features: The quantity of unstructured data in Box storage creates an "unbelievable opportunity for AI to increase the productivity of our users and help provide insights around information that wasn't otherwise available," he said on Wednesday's call.

After posting its second sequential quarter of positive free cash flow, Box has room for investments or acquisitions that could bolster its AI capabilities. There are some AI-related areas where Box will have to invest directly and build up its own teams, and Levie said "we're already doing that."

Still, he stressed to ZDNet that he doesn't expect these new capabilities to "change the financial profile on the cost side of Box."

"There are multiple ways we can bring intelligent experiences into Box," he explained. "Sometimes that can happen through partnerships. If you think about the work Google and Microsoft and others are doing in the AI space, IBM as well -- there's a lot of areas where we can collaborate with those companies to bring their technology into Box, which would obviously have significant efficiencies on the R&D side."

Box has put strong emphasis on its partnerships, attempting to ensure that the all of the SaaS applications its customers are using could be integrated into its platform. "We need to make sure Box is plugged into those experiences," Levie explained.

With its interest in AI, that formula has been reversed, he said. Now, Box is "starting to explore how can we plug in the technologies from those companies into our applications."

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