SAN FRANCISCO -- The Box-IBM partnership has spawned the first custom AI applications for the Box Skills Kit platform, codeveloped by IBM and the content management software vendor.
Box has been refining its Salesforce-style developer ecosystem by pursuing two tiers of partners: strategic partners with big market reach, like IBM, and application integrations with leading app vendors, like Salesforce, Facebook and Slack.
As for the strategic partnerships, which also include companies like Google and AT&T, "we work with like-minded companies that have the ability to bring us into their customer conversations," Niall Wall, senior vice president for business development and partners at Box, said in interview at the BoxWorks 2018 user conference.
Box, IBM go to market together
In the Box-IBM partnership, the companies have formal go-to-market contracts in which IBM resells Box into its customer base, and the companies share about 400 customers.
Wall said a key differentiator for Box in these partnerships is that Box brings a distinct emphasis on cybersecurity and partners and customers can feel that their content is safe inside Box.
"We take all that complexity out," Wall said. "We say to our customers, 'We will guarantee that your data will remain secure as you are enhancing it with these third-party AI services.'"
In the latest development in the Box-IBM relationship, on Dec. 18, 2018, Box plans to commercially release three custom AI and machine learning-based Box Skills based on Watson technology and developed in conjunction with IBM.
Box Skills Kit and basic Box Skills also work with AI services from AWS, Google and Microsoft, though those vendors have not yet released custom applications.
Users field-tested AI skills
IBM Watson tested the Box content applications over the last year with Canadian bank ATB Financial and H&R Block Canada.
The AI skills are used to categorize, organize and search Box content using AI algorithms embedded in the Box Skills framework.
H&R Block is using the custom document insights skill, which uses natural language processing to parse text and process basic tax forms.
The tax preparation form uploads large tax documents. Then, Watson learns the language of the forms, identifies key metadata and information, and pulls it out.
"The tax specialist can now say, 'Here's all the information and what I need to do,' versus a human being going in there and entering all this information," said Rashida Hodge, vice president for embed and strategic relationships at IBM Watson.
Meanwhile, the Canadian bank is using the same document insights skill to analyze and extract information from home loan applications to make it easier for loan officers to handle instead of manually going through application forms.
The content layer in both of these Box-IBM use cases is the Box platform.
IBM talks Box
Rashida HodgeIBM Watson
"What I think is fantastic about Box is that, to start any AI project, what do you need? Data. So, now, we have a foundation where data is living in Box, and we're taking the complexity and obscurity of AI," Hodge said. "So, customers are saying, 'We can get these kinds of insights and intelligence from our data in Box, and all we have to do is turn a switch on.'"
Another IBM-Box skill is the custom image insights skill, which uses optical character recognition to capture images and then tag and classify their metadata. A third skill automates document transcription translation into dozens of languages.
"Now, it's more searchable and more consumable," Hodge said. "When you talk about AI for the enterprise, the reason Box picked us for their launch partner for customization is it's not about general tagging or general information about a document."
"It's about the specifics of a particular domain, and we can drive that metadata," she said.
AI business outlook promising
Hodge said IBM was seeing robust sales lead activity at the conference, where David Kenny, IBM Watson senior vice president, joined Box CEO Aaron Levie on stage before thousands of Box users and where the IBM booth was getting heavy walk-up traffic.
Software engineers and salespeople at the booth on the busy partner exhibit floor handled a steady flow of inquisitive prospective buyers and other conference attendees.
One of these curious potential customers was Aali Hashmi, senior software architect at Box customer Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage lender.
Hashmi watched a demo and then engaged in a long, technical conversation with the IBM engineer, who then photographed with his smartphone Hashmi's conference tag information to follow up after the conference.
In an interview, Hashmi said he can envision using the Box-IBM AI tools to digitize and auto classify content, like home mortgage forms and also HR documents.
"It looks promising," he said.