Box Exec: AI, Machine Learning Present Significant Opportunity to Boost Value for Customers

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are presenting Box with a significant opportunity to add value to its customers, and we can expect to see the company continuing to invest in those technologies, according to Jeetu Patel, its chief product officer.

“It’s an interesting time in the market,” he said Dec. 5 at the Raymond James Technology Investors Conference in New York. Although there’s been spending of about $8 billion to $10 billion in the company’s sector, “there’s been very, very anemic levels of innovation outside of Box, so we feel like we’ve got this kind of unique opportunity of displacing a fair amount of spend that’s going on right now” in the industry.

Box estimates that it’s participating in about a $45 billion market that includes about $20 billion from storage, about $6-8 billion from enterprise content management and about $2.5-$3 billion from enterprise file synchronization, he said. There’s also a “platform opportunity where we white-label Box, which is another $5 billion or so,” he said.

Each one of those segments of the market has different “challenges and issues,” he told the conference. For example, in content management, “these technologies have not been refactored for the cloud and mobile in an effective-enough way, and so that’s an area where you see a tremendous amount of frustration from customers, where they want to have a single place where content can be managed [and] policies can be applied, but also be easy to collaborate with people, both inside and outside the organization,” he said. 
“I just think these legacy systems weren’t built with that in mind. I think the business assumptions were different when they built that technology. So, they just haven’t refactored for the modern era,” he told the conference.

The value of content, meanwhile, “typically drops off precipitously after like 30 or 45 days,” he said, noting that people don’t typically go back to use the same files after that period. But he explained: “When you actually go out and add services like machine learning and you understand what the patterns of content are and how people are using the content and what can be recommended to other people based on it, you can start to see the value for the customer continues to keep accreting over time.”

A decrease in churn is one of several additional benefits that’s added, he noted.

He pointed to Box Skills, one of the latest offerings from the company, as one new way that it’s taking advantage of AI and ML, which combined is “going to be an area that a huge amount of investment’s going to be made in” over the next decade,” he said, adding: “We will bring all of those innovations to the content in Box, so that if you happen to have an algorithm [for when] you want to go out and assess the sentiment of a conversation, or if you happen to have an algorithm … to detect automatically what objects are in an image” or use facial recognition “to know whose face is appearing” in the frames of a video, “those are now things that you can do in an automated way” instead of having to do them manually. Those are among the capabilities that are “extremely exciting for us,” he said.

Box Skills — one of the major announcements the company made at its BoxWorks customer conference in October in San Francisco — is a framework for applying ML tools such as computer vision, video indexing and sentiment analysis from the leading technology platforms to content stored in Box. At BoxWorks, the company showcased three initial skills: audio intelligence powered by IBM Watson, video intelligence powered by Microsoft Cognitive Services, and image intelligence powered by Google Cloud.