WWDC: Box CEO says enterprise tech must ‘think like consumer'

At this week's WWDC, Box CEO Aaron Levie talked digital transformation and the future of work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apple, Box, WWDC, Mac, Mobile, cloud services, enterprise, enterprise IT

Box CEO Aaron Levie talked about digital transformation and the future of work with Apple’s vice president for cloud services, Mike Abbott, at the Mac maker’s online WWDC event.

COVID-19 accelerated change

The big point Levie made was that the impact of COVID-19 has been to accelerate many company digital transformation strategies. The sudden need to enable remote work was a big challenge at the start of the pandemic, but now that those systems are in place, it seems likely many businesses will continue to permit employees to stay home.

It’s of little surprise that Levie views this as an opportunity for cloud services and sees enterprises working to improve their existing digital processes.

Box is now working on reducing latency all across its online storage service to less than a second.

The digital workplace

What’s interesting about the digital transformation projects Levie has seen taking place is the way that collaboration has changed: rather than having people working together in a cramped office, larger teams have become international, remote and collaborate using off-the-shelf tools such as Slack.

What’s also interesting is that this new form of remote asynchronous team collaboration is giving enterprises the opportunity to break down departmental siloes in order to get contributions from people across different parts of the company.

This move toward open collaboration helps drive digital efficiency, and it’s widely believed that traditional ‘silo-based’ management cultures slow digital change, reduce agility and erode capacity.

We all think work will normalize a little more in future, but it won’t necessarily remain the same. Work will take place where workers are, so while offices will remain important (though some of their purposes may change), location will become a flexible feast.

Levie expects there to be “more flexibility, more agility introduced to the ways that we work that give people more choice and allow them to be more productive from anywhere.”

Switched-on consumer-focused devices, like Macs and iPads, are already becoming the mobile tools for the digital workplace. These already provide unified productivity and collaboration environments.

The importance of deployment

Of course, even when teams work remotely and asynchronously and office space becomes decentralized, enterprises will still need to equip their employees. That’s why the zero-touch deployment tools offered by Apple and partners such as Jamf are becoming more essential. These enable employees to set up their devices with a single password, with device management, applications and other features handled remotely by IT.

Three of the world’s biggest enterprise deployments – IBM, SAP and Oracle – all use tools like these to accelerate employee onboarding and equipment replacement.

The other supporting technology for this new world of work is seen in cloud service provision. Think about the tools provided by the big SaaS, IaaS, DaaS providers, the network-based business solutions you’ll find being made available by enterprise networks such as Orange Business, or the cloud-based productivity tools from platform developers and smaller software providers across the board.

Cloud services drive the hybrid enterprise software environment. These pillar technologies empower flexible digital workplaces that bridge location, physical and virtual environments.

The challenge is to ensure that the tools \ provided actually make sense to those expected to use them.

Jetsons versus Flintstones

That’s a challenge for enterprise IT, which must think like consumers in order to deliver solutions that match the ease-of-use most people expect at home when rolling out new enterprise solutions.

As IBM CIO Fletcher Previn once told me, today’s employees already live like the Jetsons at home. And so they do not want to live like the Flintstones at work. “If people are rejecting something because they think it’s too complicated, they’re telling us something,” he said at that time.

Box is in use across 70% of Fortune 500 firms and Levie feels the same way. “How do we bring consumer-grade experiences into the enterprise so people, no matter where they're working from, don't have to worry about all the complexity and all the support and all the challenges that you might have to have in a normal IT environment?” he asks.

The point being that enterprises need to focus on simplicty and ease of use when developing their own technologies. He also cited the need to support multiple devices and platforms, catering to the flexible needs of flexible workforces.

Levie seems optimistic, noting that his company’s clients are working to digitize numerous business processes in multiple projects that will enable the digital transformation of the workplace.

Real business needs in a changing environment

These new workplaces have multiple requirements, but tend to coalesce around a few core goals:

  • The need for employee choice.
  • A demand for secure, modern networks.
  • Identity, privacy and security protection.
  • Real-time and asynchronous collaboration.
  • Cloud-based storage, sharing and distribution of content.
  • Digital business processes.
  • Ease-of-use from deployment and beyond.
  • Data management, privacy and control.
  • Remote access.

The idea is that the digital natives who comprise the modern workforce can hop onto a new device, be it a Mac, iPad or smartphone, and then quickly access the data they need to collaborate and get work done securely.

Usability is critical, Levie believes.c“When you're developing software for the enterprise, think consumer first,” he says.

As many would agree, he thinks enterprise tools should be no more complex to use than those we use at home.

What next?

The acceleration of digital transformation unleashed by the pandemic has also created fresh opportunities for technologists. With the pandemic unlikely to go away anytime soon, and with reputable entities such as the World Health Organization warning that the current pandemic will not be the last, it seems inevitable that we have hit a moment of both grave danger and deep cultural change.

This raises dozens of questions, such as:

  • What will work look like in the future?
  • How can it be supported?
  • What tools, software and hardware will be required?
  • What challenges need to be solved?
  • How can cloud-based services enable support a multi-device, multi-location, multi-network future?
  • How can both synchronous and asynchronous remote collaboration be optimized?

Enterprises have taken dramatic leaps in exploring responses to these needs across the last few months as they accelerated their digital transformation efforts. This means the near future is likely to see the emergence of new applications and services designed to meet the needs of the new workplace.

My take

Given everything I’ve learned concerning the changing world of enterprise IT, the future of work relies on an erosion of hierarchy, an evolution toward goal-based management, and business processes and technologies that coalesce around the humans doing the work.

Whether that’s digital twins, AI augmentation, or RPA solutions designed to eliminate  the daily grind, tomorrow’s knowledge workers will be equipped to be productive where they are in the time zone they choose to be.

This is, of course, a logical representation of the decentralized node-based communication unleashed by the Internet, which continues to transform every part of life – including enterprise IT.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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