Building Partnerships That Enrich the Customer Experience

Best-of-breed applications are great for people who want to choose the tools they like, the ones that help them work as they prefer. Everyone likes to get what they want, exactly the way they want it.

SAP has launched its new thought leadership journal Horizons by SAP, which brings together global tech leaders from various companies to share their perspective on the future of IT. In the coming weeks, one article from the journal will appear on the SAP News Center per week. Here, Niall Wall, senior vice president of Business and Corporate Development at Box, explains why modularity is fundamental to the corporate identity and the products Box offers.

Whenever it comes to content-generating applications, however, the rising number of solutions does not always create a great user experience. Think of all the content produced by different applications in your enterprise: email, instant messaging and collaboration, digital signatures, performance reviews, and customer relationship management, to name just a few.

Each of these applications generates unstructured data that must be stored and shared. And workers expect to use a wide variety of mobile and desktop devices to access this content.

A few years ago, many of these applications might have been part of an on-premise software suite that centralized the data and associated metadata in one database. Such enterprise software allowed the data to interoperate with different business processes across discrete applications.

No more. With most companies using cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, content is fragmented by application and distributed across the virtual enterprise. Data from one software module cannot be shared with another or accessed by another module. And the information is typically siloed, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the business.

Some vendors sell content management systems that reach across software applications – but only those within the same product line or from the same vendor. That’s not going to cut it in today’s heterogeneous world, especially with companies that use SaaS solutions. Although the increasing modularity of applications improves user choice, it significantly adds complexity, reduces transparency, and complicates data access.

Focus on the user experience and the real utility of the application to the user.
Then work from there. If the application doesn’t result in a better user experience
or a better outcome for your customer, don’t bother.

Developing a Modern Approach to Content Management

These challenges require a different approach – a new model for horizontal software development. Years ago, the founders of my company started with a simple idea: that people are more productive when they can access their company’s unstructured data. We wanted to make it easy to access and share data and files anywhere, from any device.

Today, our mission is to help people work together. We developed a cloud-based content platform that supports file synchronization and sharing across the enterprise – without propagating content fragmentation. This platform deeply integrates with a variety of applications, allowing users secure, intuitive access to corporate data. People can continue using their preferred best-of-breed tools, and they can create and access content from different applications without changing the way they work.

But this approach required us to develop a different model for software development and new ways to manage partnerships with other software vendors. From the start, we decided to extend the functionality of Box solutions to other applications using application programming interfaces (APIs).

Customers that want to enable secure sharing of documents can use Box in concert with any of our partners. Let’s say a company wants to use Slack for collaboration but they want to maintain control over corporate data. Slack uses APIs to integrate with Box, which allows companies to support employee collaboration while meeting their security goals.

Now Available: Horizons by SAP

Horizons by SAP is a future-focused IT journal. Thought leaders from the global tech ecosystem share their thinking about how new technologies and major business trends will impact our customers’ landscapes in the fast-arriving future. The first issue, available at, revolves around the implications and opportunities of modular IT.

Today we work with more than 1,400 companies in our partner ecosystem to serve more than 92,000 client companies. Well-defined APIs make integration seamless and easy, allowing each vendor to use Box as the content layer for its applications.

Managing our relationships with these 1,400 partners takes effort. For approximately 20 of our strategic partners, our relationship includes a dedicated partner manager and coordinated plans to support deep integrations and a successful collaboration between our companies. We refer to these partners as our best-of-breed ecosystem. They are the top SaaS and security applications that our customers use all the time.

With another set of partners, we rely on a programmatic engagement model. This includes standard contracts, API integration methodologies, and go-to-market motions for co-sell, enablement, and developer support activities.

Partnering with these companies gives us an advantage over vendors who are not designed – or inclined – to integrate with others. Through our partnerships and our API-first strategy, we are able to be vendor neutral, which is an important principle of modern SaaS software development. Instead of a tightly coupled software architecture such as those used by legacy on-premise enterprise systems, our solutions are designed with modularity that supports downstream flexibility for IT buyers. Our neutrality allows customers to easily integrate a variety of applications, eliminating the threat of vendor lock-in.

To be clear, Box is not unique in this regard. The whole premise of SaaS is to enable a modularized, open architecture so that companies can use the applications that make sense for each business process. By enabling this openness, we help companies quickly leverage the rapid pace of innovation and solve their business challenges.

Partnering for Customer Success

To address our customers’ needs, we look for several key characteristics in our application partners.

In larger enterprises, we like to work with companies that have demonstrated a realization that a need to have control of everything in their own ecosystem or the cloud is not a winning strategy. Companies that commit to adopting approaches that benefit their end customers – knowing that those choices ultimately will be beneficial to their business as well – tend to be good partners in an environment of modularization. And vendors that prioritize openness are usually more willing to design their software to support interoperability.

For smaller vendors, we prefer companies that work with open APIs at the core. These firms create conditions that make it easy for customers, other businesses, and service companies to enable integration.

Using open APIs is an important prerequisite to enable interoperability between applications. We also engage in deeper joint engineering projects with our top 20 best-of-breed partners – including operating system players, mobile platforms, and public cloud platforms.

It’s important to mention, however, that even in partnerships where we deploy joint committed engineering teams, we never modify the Box API-first strategy. Nor do we “fork” our APIs to specific custom integrations. Instead, we continue evolving our APIs to ensure that integrations with these applications and platforms are executed in a consistent, open way. That’s what’s best for our customers.

And in the end, everything comes back to the customer. People are happy when they can get what they want, just the way they like it. For Box, a best-of-breed approach is not just cool or trendy. Because it’s right for our customers, modularity is fundamental to our corporate identity and the products we offer.

Niall Wall is senior vice president of Business and Corporate Development at Box.