Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Achieving Mobile Ubiquity in the Enterprise

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In the coming years, I think we’ll point to 2011 as the year that the mobile enterprise truly emerged. Sure, workers have been using smartphones to be more productive for years now, and it was 2010 that introduced us to the iPad and broader tablet device category. But 2011 has truly solidified the power of these platforms in business…and we’re only seven months in.

At Box, we’re on the frontlines of this movement, reading the pulse of change from our users on a daily basis. Only a few weeks into the iPad’s availability, we were receiving calls from enterprise customers that wanted to manage content on these devices in a scalable, secure way. This volume has since soared, with 600% growth in Box mobile deployments in 2011 compared to all of 2010. You don’t have to look any further than Box’s leading position in the Forrester Mobile Collaboration Wave to see that we’re deeply committed to supporting this exploding marketplace.

Recently, calls to diversify our platform support have increased dramatically. Our customers were originally focused on managing iOS devices, and later wanted support for Android phones and tablets. Now, we’re starting to hear large enterprises expand their asks to BlackBerry and WebOS. In fact, the only platform we don’t hear about in conversations with large enterprises is Windows Mobile (which won’t be a surprise to many).

Today, we’re responding to our customers in a big way with three major product launches: the first Box for Android tablet app, a Box for PlayBook app, and an all-new HTML5 version of m.Box.net, our mobile web application that works across all platforms and devices.

Why Now?

Every employee is also a consumer, and we want to use the same devices we love in our personal lives to be more productive in our jobs. While incredibly empowering for end users, this fragmentation of platforms in the enterprise means that any organization that is embracing mobility also has to embrace device diversity. And IT departments not only need to support all these new devices – they also need to ensure that the content and tools employees need to get work done are both accessible and secure.

Because of these new demands, we’ve worked diligently to ensure that users and CIOs alike have the best, broadest and most secure access to their content from any device, with today’s new mobile offerings being the latest evidence. At Box, we believe that you should be able to store your information once, and then easily extend it to the applications, devices and people you want to share and collaborate with. There are very few enterprise software companies that are able – or willing – to make the investments necessary to accomplish this. Microsoft supports its platforms first, regardless of customer demand. Oracle, IBM and others are still very much tethered to the client-server paradigm, lagging when it comes to mobility since they have yet to fully embrace the cloud. Apple, while amazing when it comes to building compelling consumer experiences, doesn’t support the enterprise in any meaningful way.

The shift to a post-PC world is one of the most profound transitions of the past two decades. The devices we’re using to get work done are changing dramatically, and with them, our business software and systems are also evolving rapidly. From executive teams managing corporate presentations, to investment bankers transacting deals, to product teams reviewing new designs – we are all working with new technologies at both the software and hardware levels to stay competitive.

We follow demand, and build for the future

One of the most difficult challenges when running a software company is deciding which platforms, architectures, and “paradigms” to support. We make these tradeoffs, directly and indirectly, every time that we make a product decision or write a line of code. But our most important guiding principle is to make sure we’re solving our customers’ problems today, and building for what they’ll need tomorrow. And this means supporting the environments and devices that they’re working from in the best possible way.

Many of today’s leading tablets and smartphone devices offer rich development environments to build native applications (e.g. writing software for the device vs. for the browser). The speed that the app can run, the services it can call locally, and the integrated and embedded experience, are generally all more capable when you build locally. That said, managing for various platforms – both varying devices of the same operation system flavor and separate operating systems – can be a challenging and time-consuming task. This is why in addition to launching native apps for Android tablets and PlayBooks, we’ve built out a fully-HTML5 version of m.Box.net, our mobile web application, to support the long tail of devices, choosing to focus our native application development on the platforms that will represent the majority of the total market.

In parallel, we will continue to innovate in how we go to market (such as our 50GB partnership with HP), as well as the kinds of features and functionality we build on these platforms (media uploading on Android Tablets), while also developing a longer term and broader strategy around HTML5.

We’re incredibly excited for the vast changes already occurring in the mobile ecosystem. Every night we say a little prayer of thanks to Steve Jobs for changing the world, and our collective expectations about what we can gain from mobility. Now it’s time for mobile ubiquity in the enterprise.