Box Relay and the workflow Goldilocks Zone
With Box Relay, Box and IBM have pitched a product into the Goldilocks Zone of ‘just enough’ content collaboration workflow – not too simplistic as to be little better than email and spreadsheets; not too over-engineered as to put people off for relatively small content processes.
This year’s BoxWorks conference gave us a slew of announcements. There are re-designed UIs for mobile, desktop, and web (the “All New Box” of CEO Aaron Levie’s keynote); and enhancements to Box Notes (including now Notes in a desktop application). But two announcements really give the best indicator of where Box is going: first, enhancements for developers on Box as a platform; and second, a new Box / IBM co-developed workflow product called Box Relay.
Taking platform announcements first: Box developers now have an updated console, ‘service accounts’ (which allow applications to perform server-side operations with Box); access to Box Zones (just like Box product users) to specify where files are stored; and there are new APIs that bring greater Box product-like functionality (such as control over watermarking, retention, legal holds).
Box Zones is still only for files, not their metadata, though. And although this may be fine for pragmatic customers with data residency concerns (especially when coupled with other Box add-ons, like Box KeySafe for customer-managed encryption keys and the Box Governance package)… this does mean that Box Notes content, stored as data not files, remains tied to Box’s North American data centres – you can’t be region-specific about where Notes content goes, despite the product’s new bells and whistles.
Now for Box Relay.
Box Relay is designed to strengthen Box’s position in document workflow use cases where spreadsheets and task management software just don’t cut it, but a full-blown BPM platform would be overkill… i.e. in the ‘lightweight workflow’ middle-ground. This is an area where we see a lot of demand – not only in small and medium-sized organisations, but also within teams and departments of large multi-nationals not wanting to depend on central IT provision to enable workflow capabilities.
Box already had Box Automations, but that product only went so far. Here, Box has worked extensively with IBM’s developers to create something that’s easy enough for businesspeople to get to grips with, especially when building from templates (with task steps neatly categorised under headings for uploading, approving, feedback, editing, etc.); but sophisticated enough to suggest reference files, set up conditional branching, and hand off to other workflow engines through addressable URLs where content workflow needs to be more deeply enmeshed within wider business processes.
Where Box is aiming with Relay puts it up against other lightweight workflow tools (hello Microsoft Flow) and content solutions tightly integrated with their own workflow engines (hello Alfresco Activiti) – as well as the ‘lightweight’ tools now being rolled out by established BPM technology platform vendors like Appian, IBM, Software AG and so on. How well it fares against the competition will depend on how quickly it can build out its template applicability and build on its easy-to-use initial capabilities; and also how well its price point appeals once it becomes generally available (the product is currently in beta). We look forward to seeing how customers use it, and which footprint of the content collaboration workflow landscape it ends up staking a claim for in practice.