2021 Collision Conference Takeaway (Part One): What’s in the Box?

By W.B. King


While not a common stomping ground for credit union executives, the 2021 Collision Conference brought together a disparate group of professionals discussing a wide range of topics. Over the course of three days (April 20 to 22), sessions featured senior executives from Twitter, Amazon Prime, Mint Mobile, Facebook, TikTok, PayPal, IBM, Google, Bank of America, and the Blockchain Research Institute, among many others.


Finopotamus, along with 38,000 attendees from more than 140 countries, virtually attended the event to better understand how influential players outside of the credit union space are viewing technology trends. This article is the first installment in a three-part series.


Managing Cloud Data


Due to the pandemic, the need for data sharing, cloud infrastructure services grew exponentially. And with a number of reputable companies offering these all-important services, competition has been heightened.


“When we started the company we had this simple vision, which was to make it easy and secure to access and share data from anywhere and 15 years later that actually remains our vision,” said Box CEO, Aaron Levie during the “Tech in 2021 and Beyond” session. Jessica Lessin, founder and editor-in-chief of the technology website The Information, served as the moderator.


Box, headquartered in Redwood City, Calif., focuses on cloud content management and file sharing services and calls 97,000 companies and 68% of the Fortune 500 customers.


While retail, hospitality and entertainment industries were unfortunately crushed by the pandemic, Levie said Box saw “healthy growth” across its enterprise segment and “significant growth” in financial services, life sciences, health care and the federal government.


And while Box had many tech-forward initiatives scheduled for 2020, the company also had to adjust to a changing market place. To this end, Levie said the pandemic was a “clarifying” moment, which turned the company’s focus toward action items that could be executed to help people work in a hybrid and remote environment.


“As we went into Q4 of last year and now into 2021, we are seeing robust growth across most market segments and it is very exciting because it means the economy is improving—the jobs numbers are getting a lot better,” said Levie. “This is a U.S.-centric message but we are starting to see it throughout Europe and around the world. As we move to this new way of working where some of it will be in an office and some of it will be remote, we are optimistic because you will need digital technologies to stitch that all together.”


Competition and Neutral Networks


During their 20-plus minute conversation, Lessin asked Levie a number of questions, including why “pure vertical integration” doesn’t seem to work in this cloud data category.


“The customer has to decide which things they want to vertically integrate and which things they want to have as horizontal platforms that they integrate,” Levie responded. “If you’re an organization where you don’t see your content as a strategic asset—you’re not in life sciences, financial services, media, technology or the government—where you really don’t care about the power or value of your content then it might make sense to vertically integrate.”


When Lessie noted that competition in Box's space has significantly increased in recent years, Levie said he views the proliferation of cloud data services, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and Salesforce as a “good thing.” He conceded, however, that this isn’t the case for all software silos.


“We want to be the best place to manage your most important information and content and we want you to be able to access that from any device, region and location,” he said. “Ultimately the fragmentation or growth of lots of different technologies means you need to have a neutral back-end where you’re managing your most important content.”


Calling the data cloud category a “dynamic landscape,” Levie said that this dynamism actually helps Box’s strategy, while further reinforcing the need for customers to have a neutral platform to manage content.


“Five years ago Microsoft Teams didn’t exist. You want to know that when your data is stored in one place that it will work with any new innovation that emerges on the market place because we can’t predict the next thing,” said Levie. “By having something that is independent and is neutral that works across your entire technology stack, we think that ends up giving our customers a very strategic platform for managing their data.”


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