Innovation

Peek at the smart tech inside Box's new headquarters

Beacons, access points, and a mobile app help Box employees navigate its massive new headquarters. Find out what's next in smart building technology for the Redwood City, Calif.-based company.

box-hq-interior.jpg

Inside Box's new headquarters in Redwood City, Calif.

Image: Box


When employees walk into Box's new headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., the building, which fills 334,212 square feet across seven floors, might be intimidating. But a mobile app, combined with a plethora of beacons and access points, helps the 730-plus employees navigate their way to meetings and conference rooms, with more smart building features on the way.

The building, which includes proximity center location awareness beacons from Aruba Networks, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise, incorporates some of the features Aruba uses in new stadiums, such as at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., which is an Aruba-wired network. A mobile wayfinding app includes turn-by-turn blue dot navigation to help employees get from one place to the next. It's particularly convenient for visitors or out-of-town employees, said Paul Chapman, CIO for Box, an enterprise cloud company with more than 48 million individual users, used by more than 66,000 businesses, and 60% of the Fortune 500 have Box users.

The headquarters was designed from the ground up, which made it easier to plan out the new smart technology aspects and make it dense with Aruba's wireless access points to support a Wi-Fi first facility. Because there were so many access points, fewer beacons were needed, Chapman said.

"Our goal was to be able to provide maximum bandwidth to every laptop and device that we possibly could and for large congregation areas such as conference rooms," he said.

SEE: How smart offices of the future can make companies more intelligent (TechRepublic)

If it sounds similar to the smart campus that VMware recently opened in Palo Alto, Calif., that's because Chapman was on the team that helped design that build, before he joined Box in July 2015. Chapman was previously the CIO of HP Software and prior to HP, he was a vice president at VMware.

The way the mobile app at Box works, "if I want to book a conference room, I bring it up on my app, I see the conference rooms that are available, I choose the room I want, I get turn-by-turn directions to that room and as I step into that room it automatically checks me into the room. Within 10 minutes if a room isn't claimed it's freed up. That works from an efficiency standpoint as well. A percentage of our rooms are reclaimed every day as people don't show up," he said.

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Image: Box

If there's an incident, such as a security gate problem on a stairwell, or a spill, employees receive a push notification on their mobile device if they're close to the proximity of the problem, so that they can choose an alternate route, he explained.

Other features are in the works. "We're also looking at how, once I step into the room, how can I automatically start my web conference when I enter the room? The proximity and location would allow me to find a room, check in a room, and check into my video conference," he said.

"Another thing that we have started to look at now as well is restrooms. We often see people head to the restrooms only to find it has cleaning in progress. We want to be able to push people that are moving to a restroom that has cleaning in progress and notify them. We haven't worked that one out, yet but we are looking at it," Chapman said.

Printers are another item that they're working on. "People will print something to the printer, and a big print queue builds up. The printer runs out of paper, somebody prints, there's a paper jam, or someone prints something that is sensitive and they need to get to the printer. With location awareness, we can have your printout that you sent to the printer not start to print until you actually get to the printer," he said.

"Another one is potentially using your location awareness and your authenticated device as your credential for entering the building. As an example, a badge that you clip onto your pants leg is less secure than an authenticated device. Anybody can pick up anybody's badge to open doors, but if your device needs to be authenticated through a PIN, and you have that device, we can set it up so that doors will automatically open without swiping a badge," he said.

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

The smart building features are intended to both improve productivity, and make the workplace friendlier for employees, which many have come to expect.

"We have this grown up digital workforce that is educated by Apple or Amazon or Google, and we have a lot more digital natives that are entering the workforce. We have this new style of employees, especially at a company like Box. We have a millennial-heavy workforce that is much more open, much more social, much more collaborative, and I think in turn drives a new style of IT and how we think of IT, especially where everyone is connected and mobile devices are very pervasive," Chapman said.

Recognizing the importance of productivity was a crucial element. "We wanted to make sure that as we moved forward as an organization we didn't lose sight of how valuable it was to invest in employee productivity. I find that a lot of organizations over time are trading off internal productivity investment with other areas. I know when we're dealing with budgetary constraints it's about trade-offs, but it's easy to convince yourself to live another day with internal productivity pain rather than invest somewhere else," Chapman said.

When an office building hurts productivity rather than enhances, it damages morale, and the IT department often bears the brunt of that negativity, Chapman said.

"From usage statistics we can deem that people are certainly getting efficiency gains. It's anything we can do to give back time to the employee to be more productive. Any time somebody has to stop to do something, it's a point of friction, it's a point of slow down. Our whole goal is to remove points of slowdown and points of friction and take the work out of work," Chapman said.

For now, Box is limiting most of these smart office features to its new headquarters, because it doesn't make sense for the San Francisco office, which only occupies one floor. "Maybe we'll do security or printing, but typically it's when there's enough density of people where you start to get the value in these types of investments. As we grow and look to expand in other regions and our facilities get bigger and larger we will make a point to decide whether to roll this out in other regions," Chapman said.

"We're always looking for new use cases. Now that we're sort of wired, we'll look to continue to look for additional use cases. As we think about new styles of work, we think about the new collaboration experience and the conference room experience like a digitized white board. Outside of beacons looking at how do we do facial recognition in meetings and expression recognition and working with companies like Zoom on things like that?" Chapman said.

"We're continuing to look at many, many things that will over time improve the conference room experience, the in-office experience," he said.

The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Box's new headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. includes smart office and smart building technology such as beacons and access points for employee wayfinding to improve productivity.
  2. Box wants to add new features including location awareness and an authenticated device as a credential to enter the building, citing the device as an improved method of security over an employee badge.
  3. The future of the smart office at Box's headquarters could include facial and expression recognition using products from a company such as Zoom.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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