Cloud CXO

Box CEO Aaron Levie: Clear skies ahead for the cloud this year

Cloud infrastructure has become more important than ever, as Box CEO Aaron Levie discussed during a session at the Collision tech conference.

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Box makes no bones about the fact that 2020 was a good time to be a cloud content management company, and 2021 is shaping up to continue an upward trajectory, said Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO, speaking at the Collision tech conference Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Box announced a $500 million investment from global investment firm KKR, Levie said during the session.

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This secures Box's goal of becoming a larger company, Levie said. At the same time, "the vision remains to make it easy to secure information … for enterprises."

Although Box is a 15-year-old company, Levie noted that cloud is a $55 billion market and it's still early days for the potential of this space. "It's really the early times of cloud and how people will work in the cloud and where the whole space is going,'' he said.

Box "had a bunch of irons in fire going into 2020,'' and the suddenness of the pandemic caused the company to "step back and get rid of the nice-to-haves and focus our efforts on what we have to execute to help people work in a remote and hybrid environment," Levie said.

That continues this year. The change in how people are going to work post-pandemic is even more important in terms of the information and content they generate, Levie said. "What will happen as we move from being on video conferences and some people moving back to offices and working in a much more distributed environment, is you're going to care much more about managing the information that will be created and turning it into [something of value]."

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For Box, that value might come from protecting data on a new clinical drug trial, getting a new film script to market, or a new consumer product out, he said. "The beginning of all those new products and services is your data, and how you make sense of it and collaborate and share in an environment that's much more distributed than before. It comes down to your cloud infrastructure."

Not surprisingly, Box saw certain verticals such as hospitality, travel and entertainment experience "some pressure," last year, but they began rebounding in the fourth quarter, he said. In 2021 "we're seeing robust growth in most market segments, and it's very exciting because of the economic improvement in the U.S."

Levie said Box is "seeing optimism in Europe" and in other parts of the world as well.

"Some work will be in the office, some will be remote and [companies] will need digital technology to stitch all of that together."

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In terms of its own future plans, Box is still figuring out what its post pandemic work model will look like, Levie said. "As we've tried throughout the entire pandemic, [our approach] is to not make major decisions tilting one way or another."

Rather, the company has been focused on flexible work arrangements and employee safety, he said.

As Box's offices reopen in the company's major regions, "we'll do so obviously with major health practices,'' Levie said. Company leadership has a "bias toward office hubs" but they will remain flexible about people continuing to work remotely, he said. Hybrid, Levie added, "will create more questions about how we work together, and we haven't seen it in practice."

When asked during the session whether Box's main hub will remain in Silicon Valley, Levie said he believes that talent and innovation can be found all around the world. While Levie said "California is a great place to live in general,'' he acknowledged the high cost of living "is absolutely insane" and said that there are some local governmental policies preventing the scaling of Silicon Valley.

Box is building offices globally and hiring people remotely right now, and "we're going to see if we can get the best of both worlds but remain in Silicon Valley and get as much value from the amazing global talent workforce."

Levie also discussed the growing demand for cloud services and the increasing competition in the space.

Levie said the proliferation of cloud services is a good thing, and the growth means there are more places people can work from, which is an added opportunity for Box to manage a company's information from anywhere.

"It's a very busy and dynamic landscape, and it further reinforces [the need for] having a neutral platform,'' he said. "You want to know your data is stored in one place and will be able to work across your entire tech stack."

Because there is so much innovation happening, Levie said it behooves CIOs to have infrastructure that allows for openness.

He noted that Microsoft Teams didn't exist five years ago. "Who knows what will come along?"

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