At one time, when professionals thought of sharing and collaboration, Microsoft's SharePoint stood out as the standard solution. These days, the extensive features of SharePoint might also give its competition the upper hand, particularly in the cloud. At least that's what Aaron Levie, CEO and co-founder of Box.net, thinks.

"The vision around Box is that we want to make it incredibly easy for people in businesses to share, manage, and get to their content from anywhere," Levie tells CMSWire. "Box does this by delivering a cloud solution that can be accessed from any mobile device -- iPad, iPhone, Android -- integrated into nearly any application you're using (Salesforce, Netsuite, etc.), and used across organizations."

Levie says that the reason Box has more than seven million users and 77% of the Fortune 500 using it is that it provides an enterprise-secure and scalable solution, while still keeping the product simple for individuals to use.

Mobile, Integration Key to the Box Strategy

The market is fairly fragmented and nascent at the moment, but we don't see many vendors doing exactly what we're doing," Levie says. "SharePoint is the most widely used and known solution in the space, now moving to the cloud, but most customers are limited by SharePoint's complexity and lack of mobility offerings. We believe this is a multi-billion dollar market, and we're just in the early stages of it right now."

Box is mastering mobile and consolidating different content management solutions, letting users gain access to and manage their content from a browser, however they choose to get there -- while sitting at a desk, working on an iPad or via an iPhone or Blackberry. And it plays well with others, which it recently demonstrated with its new integration with Yammer. But if Levie has his way, Microsoft will embrace the cloud and unlock Office 365.

Box already connects with Salesforce, Google Docs, Jive, EMC, Netsuite and others. When it comes to connecting with Microsoft, Levie says, "We’d love to connect Box to their online office suite just as we have with Google Docs. Because at the end of the day, we want customers to have the opportunity to choose the solutions that work best for them. And we’re betting that those solutions will be open, mobile and fundamentally simpler than ever before."

Being Small Has Its Advantages

Levie has good news for startups: Being the new, little guy can actually work in your favor. He says that we instinctively expect big companies to take over the market, but their size can render them nearly defenseless against more agile competitors. And he should know. Box has come a long way since Levie and his partner, Dylan Smith, founded the company in a dorm room in 2005.

With US$ 81M in the coffers, Box is focusing on new server infrastructure, expanding its staff and increasing R&D. In Box's case, being the new guy means it's faster and more mobile, in more ways than one. The company is embracing the mobile market, with native apps for Android smart phones, iPhone, iPad and Blackberry, and a redesigned mobile site using the HTML5 standard.

And Box is not actively targeting the enterprise developers with its new Developer Network. The plan is to host developer communities and platform partners under one roof, all with the ultimate goal of showing Microsoft how it's really done. Of course, Box has a long way to go if it's going to seriously take on the SharePoint partner/developer ecosystem.

Box.net masters mobile

Box.net masters mobile

Keeping It Simple, Maybe Too Simple

Levie notes that not all companies succumb to complexity, but they do generate large weaknesses and gaps. He says for every customer that feels they’re paying too much, dealing with too much complexity or not solving their problems with existing solutions, there's opportunity for startups to compete in the market.

He points to SharePoint as suffering from its own success. He says that the size of a company and its speed are inversely related. "By comparison, in a startup, the distance from data to decision may be hours. But to take advantage of this," Levie explains, "You need to be incessantly focused on changes in the market, emerging technologies that drive cost performance, or new disruptions that can be leveraged that set you apart."

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, an analyst with the Real Story Group had this to say about Box:

But is Box.net really a SharePoint killer? If not, what does its rise tell us about how enterprises are (and are not) utilizing SharePoint? I am a cheerleader for no one, but cloud-based simple file sharing services such as Box.Net will likely play an increasingly important role in major enterprises."

While Box has a very useful service, and many do use it, it does need a few things to make it completely enterprise ready and truly comparable with SharePoint (assuming you are implementing SharePoint properly). Laurence Hart, points to metadata as the critical enterprise requirement that Box is still missing:

Custom METADATA!!! This is a entry level feature. I’m not talking 50 fields with integrated business rules, but 5-7 fields with a simple default would be nice. Dates, text, and lookups would be a nice, simple, start. Tags are great for personal use, but it fails for the larger organization."

Simplicity, the Cloud & Box

In a blog post, Levie writes, "In Box’s case, the math has been extremely simple: Enterprises across the world are experiencing a formidable and fundamental transition by moving their applications and data to the cloud. Box is uniquely positioned to help with this shift, but we need get a number of things right, all at once: Build the best technology possible, provide unmatched support and repeatedly out-innovate the competition."

Innovation is where Box shines. Setting up an account takes just a minute. Then drag and drop your files from your system into the Box cloud, where you can gain access to them, share them, sync them and control who shares them with you. Sound simple? It is. But maybe, just maybe, it's a little too simple.