Box and the UK channel: the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Abstract image showing figures sat on light bulbs surrounded by clouds

UK channel partners have reacted with excitement to the latest products released from cloud-based file sharing and collaboration firm, Box.

The US vendor this week hosted its annual BoxWorks conference in San Francisco, where it lifted the lid on a number of enhancements to its platform. Most significant was the launch of Box Notes, which allows users to capture and share ideas across an organisation in real-time, and the addition metadata to the Box web application and Content API, to make it easier to add, edit and view additional types of information around a file from within a custom app or on Box.

In his keynote, founder and CEO Aaron Levie (pictured) maintained that while the first phase of the cloud was focused on deployment, the technology itself is set to move into the background: “The technology itself isn’t the interesting part – it’s what can we do with the information, and how can we get the most out of our information. That’s what the next phase is all about; it’s about connecting the right people with the right information at the right time.”

Warm welcome

The announcements garnered a surprisingly enthusiastic response from partners, who are known to be sometimes cynical when it comes to vendor relationships.

Adam Thornton, divisional sales director at Bytes Software, is excited about how the firm can integrate Box into its own cloud platform, built on Microsoft Azure. “The other vendors in the marketplace are a little behind that curve in terms of their technology USPs,” he comments. “The stuff that Box is talking about [around metadata] is nothing short of unbelievable in terms of what they can do. The innovation is second to none.”

Thornton says Bytes plans to “almost OEM Box; re-brand it and put our own front-end on it in our Azure platform.”

He explains: “One of the limitations of Azure is that unless you’re building a Citrix on top of it, it’s very difficult to access the system remotely. Box will allow us to have a front-end, all Bytes-branded…and then we’ll customise our own app to sit on iOS or Android so to all intents and purposes, everyone thinks it’s a Bytes solution.

“It gives us the ability to go to clients and talk about accessing their information and files anytime, anywhere and on any device…There’s no other solution like that which I’m aware of, with the features and functionality that Box can give us.”

Further, Thornton revealed plans to promote Box to a tier two vendor in the Insight portfolio, and says he’ll be surprised if it “doesn’t very quickly become a tier one vendor” alongside the likes of HP, Symantec, Oracle, IBM, Citrix and VMware. “The market opportunity is absolutely there,” he says.

“It’s just really interesting stuff,” agrees Clive Longbottom, founder and analysts at Quocirca. “[Box] are in that really nice area at the moment that they ahead of Dropbox, they’re well ahead of Microsoft and EMC and Citrix.”

The channel likes Box, says Longbottom, “because they can use the engine and not have to come up with their own object store…also customers love for the API: full function, flexible, you can do what you want with it but it’s still secure.”

CEO Levie is adamant, though, that the firm isn’t chasing Microsoft Office’s market share: “We’re not going after the typical word processing space that was defined ten or twenty years ago…The way of working has changed and incumbents like Microsoft haven’t responded to that. We’re building products for the new way that people work.”

He is keen for Box to set out its stall in the middle ground between the current simple consumer tools or the deep enterprise technology on offer to customers. “The biggest opportunities are often in the space between two existing product categories that no one has bothered to find,” he tweeted.

“Microsoft Word and PowerPoint are great tools but they were designed and engineered at a time when mobile isn’t where it is now,” says Thornton. “From an on-premise perspective they do a fantastic job, but now we’re in a new age; [Box is] bridging that gap.”

Insight is another partner equally enthusiastic about Box’s potential. “We said we’d try it for six months and it’s been absolutely phenomenal,” says Ash Patel, EMEA cloud business development & product manager at Insight UK.

“They’ve broken all of the records to date for the number of opportunities raised in a single day, and that is because their messaging is clear, concise and simple – which means the account reps and more importantly the customers understand how they can utilise it,” he says. “It’s really refreshing to see.”

The VAR plans to integrate Box with its Insight Cloud platform, which integrates different vendors’ technologies behind a single user interface. “It allows partners like Insight to keep the single pane experience, and make sure that as far as the customer’s concerned, they still have one throat to choke, and they can go to Insight for everything they need,” says Patel.

“What we’ve seen now is that they have the ability to develop the collaboration tools to be richer, such as multi-user access to the same document, and workflows,” he adds. “It’s no longer just a document storage platform. Once we get a customer to the table to talk about Box, we now have so much more to talk about.”

Channel growth

Privately-backed Box – the brainchild of 28 year old Levie and CFO Dylan Smith – hit the UK just last year, touting ambitious plans for international expansion, including building a European channel sales force. Since then it has recruited 150 partners in EMEA – 100 since June – with 55 in the UK, including big players such as Softcat, Insight UK and Bytes Software.

The company currently boasts 180,000 businesses as customers, and 97 percent of the Fortune 500 including GSK, Schneider Electric, Red Bull, Amazon and McAfee.

The week the firm announced it has “transitioned” its distribution agreements in Europe from SDG over to Tech Data. Box’s vice president of channel & alliances in EMEA, Wayne Cook explains: “SDG is in the process of being broken up between the Azlan companies at the moment. Tech Data obviously own SDG – so we will supply to Tech Data.

“It gives us access to value through Azlan, but also there’s also a big Tech Data mobile group, selling mobile stack products to resellers, so there’s two different market segments we can go after.”

Among all the excitement generated by the announcements, however, Insight’s Patel did raise one potential concern: “Box are doing so much development, you can get carried away, and it turns into a complex monster very quickly. I just hope they keep that simplicity, because for me that the success factor.”

“I see some problems with maintaining the speed they have to, to keep differentiated,” adds Longbottom. “The problem is that for Box to keep ahead of everybody else, they’re going to have to keep nibbling away at a lot of the channel space. So the channel has to increase the value that it adds. So they’ve got to be just as fast.

However, in line with the overwhelming number of attendees in San Francisco this week, he comments: “I’m cynical, and I’m excited about it.”

With plans to increase the percentage of Box’s indirect sales from 20 to 60 percent over the next couple of years, Box will be relying on excited partners to continue to spread the word.

Christine Horton

Christine has been a tech journalist for over 20 years, 10 of which she spent exclusively covering the IT Channel. From 2006-2009 she worked as the editor of Channel Business, before moving on to ChannelPro where she was editor and, latterly, senior editor.

Since 2016, she has been a freelance writer, editor, and copywriter and continues to cover the channel in addition to broader IT themes. Additionally, she provides media training explaining what the channel is and why it’s important to businesses.