Steven Sinofsky talks future of collaboration apps at BoxWorks 2013

The former Windows chief argued that "empowered knowledge workers" will acquire whatever tools needed to be successful -- regardless of IT rules and regulations.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- The future of workplace collaboration could be summed up as follows: People will actually contribute positively to your organization if the tools are easy to use.

At least that's the suggestion of tech industry veteran Steven Sinofsky, speaking during a panel discussion about the shift of collaboration at BoxWorks 2013 on Monday afternoon.

Seems simple enough, but arguably that's easier said than done for a laundry list of reasons.

It also presents a potential chicken-and-egg scenario begging what needs to come first: the demand for such solutions from employees or the solutions themselves to pique their interests.

Now serving in an advisory role at Box along with being a board partner at Andreessen Horowitz, Sinofsky theorized the real change for enterprise collaboration has been caused by the "empowered knowledge worker" who will acquire whatever tools needed to be successful.

"PCs came about for that very same reason," quipped the former Microsoft Windows department chief.

Acknowledging that the name of the segment (now bounced around as "collaboration") has changed over the years, the Box leadership on stage seemed to believe that the core concepts of this area haven't really shifted at all.

Forrester principal analyst Rob Koplowitz also cited figures from the research firm that it's actually the baby boomer generation -- rather than Millennials or Generation X -- asking for newer collaborative solutions. Koplowitz admitted that's a "counter-intuitive" finding.

"The most interesting thing about collaboration is it's just the work that people need to get done. What changed is the modality of it," Sinofsky said.

"What we care about the end of the day is the business goal," remarked Schillace, adding that "anything that gets in the way of that is just irrelevant."

Sinofsky described that collaboration used to be someone in front of a PC authoring a document and distributing it, usually through email attachments. But based on his comments, such a workflow didn't provide fruitful results.

Instead, the rise of mobile and cloud-based storage along with the ability to expand networks beyond organizations changed collaboration, argued Sinofsky.

"This notion that you can truly collaborate rather than automate the steps involved is really what is so different," he continued, admitting later that a lot of people will "resist" this paradigm shift.

Box's senior vice president of engineering, Sam Schillace, outlined an ongoing debate in information technology in which arguably there are people who think they always know better than to follow industry fads.

But Schillace asserted that the economic driver for these industry pivots concerning collaboration is that the cloud-based model is "much more effective" being that it is more agile and interactive.

"What we care about the end of the day is the business goal," remarked Schillace, adding that "anything that gets in the way of that is just irrelevant."

Mobile and cloud come together as a single platform to satisfy those goals, Schillace defended.

Yet hinting at a potential continuous cycle here, Schillace predicted that the next wave is taking these simplified collaboration programs (such as new Box Notes word-processing app unveiled earlier on Monday) and then making them "more sophisticated."

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