Today, IBM and Box announced a partnership and integration strategy to “transform work in the cloud." This is an interesting move that further validates Forrester’s view that the ECM market is transforming — largely due to new, often customer-activated, use cases. We also see that the current horizontal collaboration market is shifting to better target specific work output, as opposed to more general-purpose knowledge-dissemination use cases.


What does this partnership mean for IBM, Box, and their partners and customers?


For Box, the company gets important access to the extensive IBM ecosystem: Global Services, developer communities via IBM’s Bluemix platform, and the IBM-Apple MobileFirst relationship, as well as engineering acceleration to fill gaps in its content collaboration offering in areas such as capture, case management, governance, and analytics, including Watson.


For IBM, Box becomes an important content tenant for its Softlayer cloud infrastructure and fills some important gaps in IBM’s offerings as it shifts to a cloud-first road map for its ECM portfolio. Box’s growing list of enterprise clients provides a rich cross-sell opportunity for IBM’s extended portfolio. And IBM gains user-friendly content services for its IBM Verse email offering, as well as the IBM Connections enterprise social platform.


This partnership has the potential to address some very real pain points for enterprise customers. Forrester has heard from several large IBM clients that struggle to serve the ECM needs of their own end customers. Licensing models weren’t designed for the extended enterprise, where customers are participants in ECM systems. As customer engagement becomes more digital, content and communication between enterprises and their clients needs to be managed, but also shared and made accessible. These new use cases are well suited to the capabilities of ECM, but usability, flexibility, and licensing have emerged as inhibitors to action.


For example, large insurance companies want to build secure content repositories to allow their policyholders to access their own documents, agreements, correspondence, claims, etc. Current ECM pricing models make it cost-prohibitive to include these thousands, if not millions, of users. The Box partnership has the potential to fill this gap with secure but easy-to-use content management services designed for B2C scenarios. (This dilemma is not unique to IBM; several major ECM vendors struggle to serve these use cases for external parties due to licensing models).


This partnership should serve as an interesting wake-up call to the broader ECM market. “Born-cloud” content services with the inherent elasticity, scalability, and data-driven road maps have a firm foothold in the enterprise market. Dragging 1990s-architected suites into a vendor-run data center for managed services will not be a viable road map for long.


I invite Forrester clients to discuss this announcement by setting up an inquiry call with either myself or my colleague Craig Le Clair. Also, watch for upcoming research, including a market overview on document-centric collaboration, and for Forrester Waves™ for both Transactional Content Services and Business Content Services.