Cloud

Box 'Skills' will use AI to turn your files into workflows and drive automation

The cloud storage vendor is using algorithms from IBM, Microsoft, and Google to add intelligence and functionality to static data.

Cloud storage companies like Box have made it a lot faster and easier to move files around the enterprise and make sure everyone is looking at the same version of data. Now, Box is taking that data and adding intelligence to make it easier to find, sort, and connect with other files to streamline business processes.

On Wednesday, the company announced "Box Skills" as well as the "Box Skills Kit" for developers, both of which will arrive in public beta in "early 2018," according to Jeetu Patel, Chief Strategy Office at Box.

SEE: Big data policy (Tech Pro Research)

Fundamentally, Skills takes advantage of the massive amount of work being done in artificial intelligence and machine learning by IBM Watson, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform and puts their APIs to work on enterprise data.

"What we've done is we've built this Box Skills framework that takes those algorithms and applies them to the content in Box," said Patel.

That's significant since Box is used by 56% of the Fortune 500 and has over 55 million users, over 75,000 business customers, and over 100,000 developers in its community.

SEE: How to Automate the Enterprise (a ZDNet and TechRepublic special report)

Using existing APIs, some of the functionality that Skills will enable include:

  • Image intelligence
  • Video intelligence
  • Audio intelligence
  • Topic extraction
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Handwriting detection
  • Intelligent security
  • Entity analysis
  • Image labels
  • Concept detection

For example, see the image below where the Image Intelligence skill has extracted metadata on the image (Tags) and made the text in the image searchable (Image Text). This is powered by the Google Vision API (see ZDNet story).

box-skills-tennis.jpg
Image: Box

Another example is the MP3 file below from a customer service call. This one "chains" two skills together for a higher level of business process automation. It uses the IBM Watson Audio Transcription skill to turn the contents of the audio file into text and provide metadata on the subject of the call. And, it also uses the IBM Watson Sentiment Analysis skill to analyze and visualize the emotional state of the caller (happy, excited, agreeable, frustrated) at various points during the conversation.

box-skills-chains.jpg
Image: Box

SEE: How Aaron Levie and his childhood friends built Box into a $2 billion business, without stabbing each other in the back

Box Skills can also use other APIs beyond just those from IBM, Microsoft, and Google. Patel gave the example of third party machine learning tools such as form extraction. This could be used to take a document in Box and automate the process of employee onboarding or a loan application—to eliminate manual data entry and drive a digital transformation project.

According to Patel, it's these kinds of workflows that Box customers are automating. Others include:

  • Background checks
  • Customer service
  • Meeting transcription
  • Contact management
  • Expense reports
  • Claims management
  • Inventory management
  • Marketing collateral
  • Team collaboration
  • Creative processes

However, Patel said that the choice of whether or not to activate these Skills on files in Box—and which files—will always remain in the control of the Box customer, in order to protect the customer's security and privacy models.

"We want to make sure that the customer has a choice of when they can go out and choose an algorithm that can be applied to a certain set of content that they might have within their instance of Box," said Patel.

On Wednesday, Box didn't reveal how much Box Skills will cost, but it won't be free.

"There will be an extra charge for Skills," Patel said. "Exactly how that will come into effect, we'll do that when we get closer to the launch date. We're learning what the patterns of use are before we come out with a definitive guide on pricing. But this will be a paid service."

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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