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The Future of ECM: Looking Less and Less Like SharePoint?

4 minute read
Chelsi Nakano avatar

The explosion of content, media and cloud computing has had an irreversible impact on consumer behavior and expectations. In an Enterprise CMS context, the resulting shifts in shape and structure are the beginnings of a new environment for managing data. Unfortunately for traditional systems -- cough, SharePoint, cough -- this territory comes with a set of rules that may be a bit difficult to adjust to.

The Problem with Traditional Systems

In order to recognize where the change is taking place it helps to look at things from a young company’s point of view, so we spoke a bit with Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of Box.net (news, site).

Originally created as a college business project, Box.net was launched from a dorm room in 2005 with aim to help users access their information from any location. Today the startup is used by 5 million people.

According to Levie, the magic is in recognizing and addressing new problems. “If we look at how people are now using their business information, they're sharing with people in and outside their firewalls, connecting with dozens or hundreds of partners on any given project, and accessing data from tablets and other devices.[Traditional] ECM solutions weren't designed to handle these types of problems in an easy and intuitive way," he explained. 

Over the past few years, the Box.net team has been particularly dismissive of SharePoint, referring to it on occasion as “Sharepoo" and even going as far as to publicly call the platform out as a means of marketing:  

box_billboard_2.jpg

We won't go as far as to show you the toilets at the team's headquarters in Palo alto (they're adorned with SharePoint logos) but you can check them out on ZDNet here.

Why Box.net?

Box.net has made several major product enhancements over the past year including integrated content viewing and Box Sync, which enables businesses to sync their desktops with their cloud deployments. The company also increased storage allocations across all sales plans, starting with 5GB for individual users (free), a total of 500GB for businesses, and unlimited storage for enterprise customers.

Learning Opportunities

Tack on the release of its mobile portfolio, which includes customized applications for iPad, iPhone and Android devices, and it's not difficult to understand how the company landed US$ 48 million in series D funding last month. Currently only 15% of the company's customer base is outside of the US, but they are expected to start building data centers in Europe and Asia to increase market share. Accordingly, Box.net says the new money will be spent on doubling its 140+ staff. 

New Solutions Are for Everyone

Popular file sharingsolutions with DNA similar to Box.net -- YouSendit, DropBox --  havefound success in combining traditional business practices with popularconsumer behavior: "In every single way, using Facebook, Twitter, orYoutube is a much more enjoyable and intuitive experience than thesoftware we have in our enterprise," explained Levie. "...vendors arebeginning to learn from the tools we're using in our personal lives andbuild experiences from the ground up to support this new behavior." 

Whilethese tools are certainly useful, it is common belief that their valuehas yet to be fully realized. A number of organizations, for example,remain wary of what becoming more open, connected and social means forsecurity. On the other hand, cloud computing and cloud-delivered contentmanagement significantly reduce financial expenditures, making suchtools available to companies of all sizes. 

"We think this isgoing to be an amazing change, whereby a small enterprise can now getmuch more strategic value out of their information -- something that wasnever before realistic for the average," continued Levie. "We're seeingmore and more services catch on to this, and I think the whole industryof cloud content management solutions is going to expanddramatically."

The ECM Horizon

All of that said, Box.net is no SharePoint, and, depending on how you choose to define it, often not an ECM. But the company has some definite pull and it would be wise to keep track of the direction simple services are moving in. Let us know in the comments below where you think the future of ECM lies, and in your opinion, what SharePoint could do to kick it up a notch.

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