Box COO predicts billion new knowledge workers, dramatic IT shifts

Mobile, cloud convergence will remake IT architectures, organizations and foster new "meta OS"

The convergence of cloud and mobile is going to add about a billion new knowledge workers and fundamentally change the way enterprises think about their IT architectures, their IT organizations and the definition of an operating system, according to Dan Levin, the chief operating officer of Box.

Levin, speaking Thursday on the second day of the Cloud Identity Summit being held in Napa, CA., told attendees that in the next two to four years this convergence is going to "fundamentally change your life, and you will need to change your behavior to succeed in this world."

Dan Levin
Dan Levin, COO of Box, speaks at Thursday's Cloud Identity Summit in Napa, CA. He said the convergence of mobile and cloud will add a billion knowledge workers to enterprise IT. ©Brian Campbell

Levin predicts the biggest change the mobile and cloud convergence will bring is the addition of roughly a billion new knowledge workers within companies, many of which previously had none.

He gave an example of a Box customer called Sunbelt Rentals, which dominates the Southeast region but was working off a paper-based rental workflow system anchored by 3,000 clipboard-carrying workers. Today, those workers all have iPads with custom applications that automate Sunbelt's rental and business processes.

"They rent stuff faster, they are more accurate about inventory, and their prices are falling as a result of the automation. And there are 3,000 guys who use to just be guys and now they are knowledge workers," said Levin, noting that the company is now killing it in the Northeast as well.

"They are my customers and my addressable market has doubled. How often does that happen?" he said.

Levin said IT has to get out of the "mindset that your job is to install raised flooring and into the mindset that your job is to enable your colleagues to solve their business problems. These (mobile) devices can fundamentally change the growth rate of your organization."

The convergence of cloud and mobile will bring on a seismic shift, said Levin, for almost everything in technology. He said by 2016 there will have been 44 billion mobile application downloads. That there are now twice as many enterprise relevant applications as there were last year and that it will double again next year.

This kind of growth will shove the old platform model - a computer on every desktop - out the enterprise door.

He laid out three factors that will bring about this change, new architecture, a new mindset and a new "meta operating system."

The meta OS, Levin said, will replace those key pieces of the operating systems IT use to have on Windows and other desktops, and that they relied on for a consistent set of services and policies.

"Identity is only one problem, what about federated access control, permissions models; will I configure each user separately in each tool." he said.

The onus will be on companies like Box, Ping Identity and others to make sure staples such as consistency, access control, security, reporting, audits, regulatory compliance do not erode.

In terms of a new architecture, enterprise client server and data centers will die.

"That model is done," said Levin. It doesn't integrate well. The new world is hundreds of independent devices enabled by the cloud."

He said enterprises will move into a world of point products built to solve a task and based on open APIs that integrate and communicate.

In terms of mindset, Levin said enterprises will stop managing tech and start managing information, which will become the currency of competitive advantage.

"If IT is going to add value, it has to focus on the 'I,' they have to figure out how to use technology to help colleagues solve problems - that is the big mindshift," he said.

(Disclosure: My employer is the lead sponsor of the Cloud Identity Summit).