I’ve been pondering a while about who the real challengers to SharePoint are.

SharePoint now plays in so many spaces, the landscape of challenge has evolved immensely over the last decade.

The traditional challengers to SharePoint (intranet, document management and CMS products) – are decreasingly relevant, with other, newer technology concepts (social, BYOD, microblogging, etc.) causing new challengers to emerge almost daily squaring up to Microsoft’s on-premises and online SharePoint variants offered stand-alone or as part of Office 365.

With so much discussion around the future of SharePoint and the whole “will it only be in the Cloud or will on-premises still be around?” question dangling in the air, it seems like a good time for SharePoint people to be really considering what else is out there nibbling at SharePoint’s heels.

The new challenges faced by SharePoint (Online) has brought a number of products and companies to the fore in each of the functional areas that SharePoint delivers against, in this series I will take a look at a number that I find interesting.

It’s not a series about all of the options out there (there are thousands after all) it’s more about the technologies, products and offerings that I find interesting for one reason or another.

Today’s challenger is Box.

What is it?

Box is a device agnostic, Cloud based file sharing and collaboration platform with support for online document preview, creation and editing (the creation and editing is a recent addition to the feature set) and that’s that.

This new feature (create and edit) is revolutionary in the online store/sync market and really brings Box into the space that Microsoft is trying to fill (with the SharePoint Online features of Office 365) making it a clear and present threat to the future of Office 365.

The service is known for its attention to detail in areas such as security and resilience which has built a compelling story for business and Enterprise customers to adopt the service readily by messaging and selling against these strengths which is winning them larger accounts on an almost daily basis.

Penetration & Revenue

Box (they used to be Box.net and are a different company to Dropbox, despite the continual confusion between them) is a $100 million company that initially released product in 2005 and has about 20 million users.

If you compare that to SharePoint ($2 billion with 125 million licenses sold) Box has had seriously impressive growth. Microsoft has effectively sold its 125 million SharePoint licenses to existing customers whereas Box has gone from zero to 20 million seats solely in a switch sell mode.

Box and their investors are rightly very happy about their sales success to date. Doubling of revenues year-on-year since initial release is impressive (although not ultimately sustainable) and if Microsoft had achieved this for 8 years, SharePoint would have been a $5 billion product or more by the 2010 release!

The Company

The business is driven hard by its co-Founder and CEO Aaron Levie.

Named this year as INC’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Levie is one driven cookie. The typical tech entrepreneur. Levie is young, ambitious and quirky with an innate ability to imagineer sound bites that will live on and on.

By way of example (and a reason he impresses me so much) in the recent INC article introducing him as the EotY a quote taken from a new employee welcome speech he made hits the sweetspot of why Box is being successful:

“There are phases in technology,” Levie announces, midway through a presentation that sounds more like a TED talk than a welcome speech. “Mainframe to PC, PC to cloud, to cloud and mobile. These things come around every 10 to 15 years, and we’re in one right now.”

This understanding of the Cloud and the cyclic nature of IT paradigms means that Box will be making decisions based in a timeframe they understand and can bookend, something that Microsoft cannot do as it maintains a viewpoint of “Microsoft in perpetua” regardless of whether Microsoft living forever is likely or even feasible.

Conclusion

Box challenges SharePoint on its home turf. Document storage and collaboration is at the very heart of SharePoint and should be something that SharePoint Online / Office 365 does really, really well in the Cloud.

I’m not suggesting that document storage and collaboration with Microsoft sucks. It definitely does not. But at the speed that a sub 1000 head company like Box can innovate, evolve and (if necessary) revolve, Microsoft really need to keep an eye out for Box to ensure that their offering does not begin to lag too far behind.

On a final note, Box is planning an IPO in the next year or so (their current investors currently value the business at $1.2 billion) and I, for one, will be onboard.

more to follow…