Box.net raise huge round; Sharepoint continues to rule world

Businesses are involved in a war of the worlds - the entrenched old guard of IT and telephony suppliers and the cloud wave. The larger issue is configuration, organization and upkeep of information to make working together easier in our rapidly maturing global broadband era
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

As Sharepoint chief Jeff Teper proudly declared on the main stage of the Sharepoint 2011 conference last week in Irvine California, if Sharepoint was a standalone firm it would be in the top 50 global IT companies.

The scale of the event was huge: over seven thousand people from all over the world convened for a week in Southern California to get into the practical details in dozens of technical sessions, with a distinct expert culture defining the atmosphere. Jeff Teper hits the high points of the 'productivity delivered' conference theme in my video conversation with him above.

The previous week was the 'BoxWorks' event in San Francisco, and today Box announce the details of an $81 million round of series D funding from Bessemer Ventures, NEA, Salesforce & (interestingly) SAP Ventures, taking them up to a $162 million war chest to take on Sharepoint. In the complicated world of parent child partner relationships Box are now arguably outstripping many of their peers.

What this activity shows is how much the state of the collaboration technology market is currently in play as we mature into fully broadband enabled global ways of working. As I often say to our clients, Sharepoint is like grass in most enterprises: you may love the way it's been implemented or hate it ...but it is part of the terrain and often part of multi year enterprise license agreements.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and while the latest version of Sharepoint ('2010' which thousands of companies have been upgrading to this year) is much improved, the sheer 'lived in' factor of employee perceptions of Sharepoint can make alternatives attractive, shiny and new.

Microsoft want small and midsize businesses (and often departments of larger enterprises) to move to their cloud via their Office 365 products but understandably don't want to cannibalize their enterprise Office desktop seat license business. Meanwhile Box, along with Salesforce and a whole host of more specialized collaboration technologies - Jive, SocialText, Moxie, Podio and many other flavors and price points of Enterprise 2.0 and small business offerings - hope to provide new ways for you to work together. As the technology and theoretical use cases have matured, many other vendors are now adding 'social' features to their core products in many business verticals.

While Sharepoint sit very heavy in the water in global businesses, commanding huge market share, a significant shift in equilibrium has occurred as a result of mobile technologies. Motorola - now owned by Google - gave all attendees at BoxWorks a Xoom Android tablet, along with an announcement that they would now come bundled with Box preinstalled.

In sharp contrast we had several clients and other friends and acquaintances at the Sharepoint 2011 event, many of whom are troubled by Microsoft's mobile strategy and whose anxiety increased as a result of lack of any discussion of this important part of their work in the keynotes. At an event whose major sponsor was Blackberry the apparent lack of focus on mobile, as I discuss in the video above, was cause for concern.

As the big dog, Microsoft can go last in the mobile space and are focused on the enterprise void under the superb consumer user interface of Apple smartphones and ipads, providing the industrial strength back end to connect to content. Windows phone's new Mango 7.5 release features a startlingly good user interface and like Sharepoint is now an increasingly credible choice.  What's changed is the momentum Android and the Apple IOS have and the perceptions of new ways of working, along with the current dead man walking status of Blackberry.

Blackberry, of course, rose to fame as a combination text email and phone device, but the world is rapidly mutating to web content which can be viewed on mobile devices. (The US hardware store Lowes is deploying 42000 iphone 4's with credit and debit card point of sale scanners to  its staff for example: there are also apps for consumers to download and check products and watch videos).  Keeping visual and audio information on an iphone or ipad in a store situation to help customers is clearly useful, and a service like Box.net is tailor made for this type of use model. Box boast of over 100,000 businesses using their service, and we heard from AA, Amlyn Pharmaceuticals and Pabst beer at their event - they also have an 18000 seat deal with Procter & Gamble.

This is small beer compared to Sharepoint's 125 million customers - not to mention their huge ecosphere, including 'social' layer Microsoft partner of the year Newsgator - but never underestimate momentum.

In a world where the bar for publishing and distributing materials is now virtually nonexistent, the reality is we're all generating a lot more digital 'stuff' and content 'management' is really all about content location and findability. One of the keys to effective collaboration is effective organization of information, regardless of the devices you attempt to locate and access it from.

No software vendor or integrator in their right mind will remind you of this as they attempt to sell you their next generation, shiny new solution seat licenses, but just like being in a Lowes hardware store, being able to quickly find what you need gets harder as the size and volume of items increases.

Sharepoint is only as good as its configuration, organization and upkeep, just like any other much used repository whether physical or digital, and Microsoft's plans for their Office 365 and Box's larger environments will inevitably run into the same issues.

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