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Box-IBM partnership opens doors for task-oriented mobile ECM

The combination of Box content services and IBM cognitive computing tools could unlock new functionality for mobile ECM by powering smart, task-oriented applications.

Recently, Box and IBM teamed up to transform how work is done in the cloud -- but what does that mean? It's a wide-ranging question, and enhancements for mobile enterprise content management (ECM) are likely part of the answer.

Among other things, the partnership will integrate Box's content management capabilities with IBM's cognitive computing services. IBM gets an upgraded cloud file-sharing presence, while Box becomes part of a sizable and established application ecosystem.

Enhancing mobile ECM is a key goal of the partnership. The two companies will collaborate on developing mobile apps, putting Box content services into the toolkit for developers building cognitive computing applications on the IBM cloud. With Box providing a cloud link between ECM software and remote devices, there's potential for new capability, if Box and IBM can make the partnership work.

ECM in the cloud

Let's be clear on what Box brings to the table. It is expanding well beyond its roots as a cloud-based file sync-and-share platform.

The new Box Developer Edition integrates content management APIs as RESTful services, making that functionality accessible to other applications within an enterprise application ecosystem. Packaged as the Box Content SDK, these APIs support features such as enterprise-scale security, full text search, collaboration and metadata management.

While currently in beta (with release slated for later this year), the Box APIs will be added to IBM's Bluemix cloud platform, making essential ECM functions for editing, sharing and controlling content across multiple channels available to application developers.

As a formally defined set of APIs, Box content services should augment IBM's app development capabilities for enterprise mobility and cognitive computing. This combination could manage mobile enterprise content for IBM's next generation applications. Here are some examples of how this could play out.

Augmenting iOS-powered technologies. Apple and IBM already have a strategic partnership for developing task-oriented mobile apps to serve a variety of industries, including insurance, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, government and retail.

Apps running on iPads and iPhones rely on back-end services to access enterprise applications. To date, these apps mobilize procedural and transactional tasks -- such as field supervisors updating work orders remotely or flight attendants changing passenger reservations mid-flight. The use cases are mobile workers accessing structured information and directly engaging with customers at critical moments.

But suppose safety inspectors working remotely need to write short reports, access case files, submit content for review and receive responses about next steps -- all while in the field. Task-oriented apps for managing enterprise content are a better fit there, and developers will soon be able to rely on Box content services to support mobile ECM functions and blend them with the IBM-Apple ecosystem of back-end services to manage unstructured content as seamless experiences.

Enriching cognitive computing solutions. IBM's Bluemix Services for Watson provide app developers access to an ever-growing collection of cognitive computing services running within an IBM hosted cloud.

Notably, cognitive computing applications are designed to answer questions and offer insights across large collections, analyzing content from existing data sources.

But how do application developers assemble those data sources? Watson includes data services to prepare content for analysis and then store intermediate results within an online repository. That's an important first step.

Yet other services are required to create, edit and manage new content before it's added to the repository. This is where the Apple and Box strategic partnerships should have a big impact on the services IBM can deliver.

An enterprise technology is the sum of its parts. With cognitive computing apps, developers need to assume related services are available to manage content and mobilize experiences.

Imagine an oil exploration company using Watson to assess the environmental impact of proposed drilling sites. The company needs to automatically include reports collected from remote inspectors, and developers realize they need ECM capabilities to expand the impact of the cognitive computing application.

Box can provide the content services within the IBM ecosystem, so that inspectors can rely on a mobile app to describe environmental conditions, photograph points of interest, link observations to maps, and immediately transmit reports to a shared repository. The mobile ECM app (running on an iPad) can then automatically send reports to a back-end cognitive computing application for analysis. With rapid and detailed assessments, inspectors can receive requests for additional information while still on site. This kind of timely response can reduce inspection delays.

Making mobile apps smart

When it comes to assessing mobile enterprise apps, task-oriented experiences are only going to be as useful as the back-end information sources on which they are based. It's one thing to mobilize an experience that relies on structured data to query and complete transactions. It's an entirely different thing to deliver a task-oriented experience that analyzes unstructured information and delivers results in real time to mobile workers.

While the jury is still out for producing profitable results, IBM is assembling many of the key services to mobilize next-generation enterprise apps. Watson services have potential for identifying and delivering essential information to workers in the field. Box provides the content services for managing unstructured information within an application ecosystem. Apple delivers the iPad and iPhone experiences.

Considering the IBM and Apple partnership as well, Box will become the third leg of a stool that pushes the envelope of enterprise mobility and delivers task-oriented apps. But business leaders, enterprise IT strategists and application developers are going to face many challenges in delivering on this promise. They are going to need a good roadmap, and the partnerships offer a path forward.

Next Steps

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