Jigsaw Pieces Can Be More Agile Than Platforms

Box.net, the little company that likes to tweak Goliath Microsoft's nose with digs at Sharepoint - the billboard above is near Microsoft's silicon valley digs -  announced an alignment with Salesforce.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

Box Billboard
Box.net, the little company that likes to tweak Goliath Microsoft's nose with digs at Sharepoint - the billboard above is near Microsoft's silicon valley digs -  announced an alignment with Salesforce.com CRM earlier today. Nothing earth shattering here at first glance: it makes perfect sense for both sides and extends the simple to use but clever palette of options Box provide for their users.

What struck me today was the rapid pace at which platforms both large and small are forming in a week Microsoft unveiled their Sharepoint 2010 compendium of complementary business products.

Scale is the key here: there is a huge difference between enterprise integration using 'connector'  technologies such as StoneBond whose 'Enterprise Enabler' allows users to 'Migrate, Integrate and Manage (MIM) data regardless of where it may live', from Sharepoint, SAP etc and the needs of Box's clients.

Stonewall Kitchen, a creator of specialty foods, is a featured Box client, and has grown from selling jams and vinegars at Maine farmer's markets in the early nineties to eight retail stores, postal catalogs, a strong web presence and thousands of wholesale accounts. Sounds like a great business and it's not hard to see why box.net would feature them as a reference client.

Hands-on small and medium business owners use services like Box because their browser based 'software as a service' (SaaS) approach means they are always there if needed (assuming they have internet connectivity) without the overhead of enterprise software.

Once businesses reach critical mass however they often get into compliance and security issues which require more formal enterprise software. This is where the Sharepoints and SAP's of the world come in, along with content management systems that satisfy regulatory and legal concerns. Open source enterprise content management company Alfresco now offers full governance, retention and compliance to US department of defense 5015.02 for example.

As businesses grow departments get larger budgets however, and it's not uncommon in this era for enterprises with industrial strength ERP and compliance technology as their backbone to also use services such as Box at a departmental level, on the local budget's credit card.

Because of this the battle for who the key connectors in the value chain are - the companies who are the central jigsaw pieces - is getting hotter, as value is demonstrated.

The enterprise mothership model - Oracle, SAP, IBM, Microsoft - is under attack from well defined modular SaaS components. Salesforce is interesting in this context because it is also well on its way to being a mothership player: Japan Post for example relies on the Salesforce platform for tens of thousands of users and many mission critical applications.

The differentiator is their ability to quickly and seamlessly integrate with a company like Box if a client needs it, but to also provide light weight agility as well. This is enormously powerful, and in the case of the Sharepoint CRM/Box alliance allows salespeople in the field - who may already be using both services separately - to have fully integrated connectivity from their browser.

The result of this convenient all-in-one-platform of services to the salesperson - and in this case the company could be Stonewall Kitchens or Japan Post sized - is to get the best of both worlds in one place. Business platforms and the interoperability between them are changing fast.

In truth, Box's digs at Sharepoint are probably to get attention, because the reality is they are in somewhat different markets. The options open to business software users are pretty rich right now, and much depends on size of business and specific needs. Cost effective agility is there if you look, and with it enhancements to collaboration between business units, partners and individuals.

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