SAN FRANCISCO -- With Box Activity Stream, the content management software vendor is bidding to make its cloud platform a collaboration hub for all Box users' daily communications by integrating with popular third-party apps like Slack, Salesforce and DocuSign.
Unveiled at the BoxWorks 2018 conference here, Box Activity Stream enables users to use apps in the file preview pane of the Box user interface, where users tag each other about file sharing and exchange messages.
As well as giving users the ability to share and post links on non-Box apps, the new feature also recommends apps for people to use in conjunction with a file they are working on in Box. The app recommendations are customized according to how often a user chooses them, their popularity in the company, and the file type with which they are most frequently associated.
Box Activity Stream is expected to see beta release next year, following a pattern of Box product releases being announced the year before they are available in beta.
Analysts familiar with Box Activity Stream said the technology is a useful addition to the Box platform, but that it also puts Box in the position of competing with a host of software platforms to be the go-to hub for enterprise users, and could also lead to notification overload.
"It helps Box go from cloud file storage to being an interactive user experience that involves content. It makes it a more collaborative workspace," said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research.
Vendors vying to be digital hub
"In theory, it's a great concept," Lepofsky added. "But everyone wants to be the digital hub. Everyone wants to fight for everybody's attention and eyeballs and to do that they want to bring in all the other products."
Alan Lepofskyanalyst, Constellation Research
Meanwhile, the company views Box Activity Stream as a key part of its digital workplace strategy to redefine content management, workflow and services as digital first, said Faizan Buzdar, senior director of product management at Box.
While modern SaaS enterprise applications have accelerated time-to-market and time-to-adoption rates, they have also created a sort of scattering of content, Buzdar said.
"It's an awesome trend, but at the same time it creates a challenge. How do I know what's happening, how do I know where all that content lives?" he said.
Box Activity Stream enables users to, say, create a document in response to an email, send it to a collaborator for editing, send it to someone else over Slack and then attach it to an account in Salesforce or NetSuite.
With that process, Buzdar said, "our goal is to avoid content fragmentation and segmentation and let enterprises apply the same security and compliance layers across all their content from the perspective of the touch points that their end users have."
Buzdar said Box has seen demand for this kind of capability among users in CRM, sales and ERP.
In addition to Box Activity Stream, Box on the first day of the conference said its previously announced Box for G Suite and Gmail integrations are now available for public beta use.
Box enterprise users have been calling for Google integrations more and more, Buzdar said.
"We love Google. We work closely with Google," Buzdar said. "Customers are coming in who are basically deciding to standardize on Google. If you're a big company, say with 100,000 employees, somewhere in the organization you have Google."
The company also said Box Feed, which was announced at BoxWorks 2017, will also now go into public beta. The machine learning feature provides personalized updates, activities and recommended Box content.
A primitive precursor to Box Activity Stream was rolled out in 2011 when Box added a collaboration feature to its then mostly cloud document storage-focused platform, which it termed "activity streams."
Possible confusion, more engagement
As for Box Feed, Karen Hobert, a Gartner analyst, said with Box Activity Stream, Box runs the risk of confusion between the two.
"One would think a user might want them combined as long as they could control the experience. But maybe the different UI experiences -- Activity Stream in viewers, Feed in Box UI -- will mitigate any confusion," Hobert said.
But Hobert said she sees value in Box Activity Stream in terms of smoothing what can be a sometimes disjointed experience toggling between apps and Box.
"Basically, I see it as a way to keep employees engaged in Box throughout the day. Certainly users will like not having to bounce around from app to app," she said. "Activity Stream clearly makes a more seamless experience with Box and content in other apps. In the end, Box wants to -- and needs to -- be a destination that users won't live without."
Hobert also questioned Box's record on delivering on new systems and features, noting that there were "significant delays" in two earlier products, Box Relay and Box Sync, and that Box Feed and Box Skills, the company's high-profile AI play that was announced nearly a year ago, are still in beta.
Lepofsky said he expected significant news at the conference about the much-touted Box Skills system.
"Otherwise, they're going to look bad," he said.