Box.net v. SharePoint: The Cloud as a Disruptive Technology

Previously, I wrote a blog post disagreeing with the marketing premise of Box.net, which is that Box.net provides an alternative to SharePoint. At the time, I was thinking about enterprise customers, who value the rich features of SharePoint and are willing to deal with complexities of its deployment and configuration.

And in regards this basic fact, I’ve not changed my mind. However, after reading Clayton M. Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, I realized that Box.net does pose a threat to Microsoft’s SharePoint.

Christensen distinguishes between sustaining and disruptive technologies. Sustaining technologies are those that improve upon existing products and add value to current customers. Dominant firms have an advantage in implementing sustaining technologies because of their strong operational processes, brand loyalty, and customer base. In contrast, disruptive technologies are at first inferior to existing products and do not add value to current customers. Dominant firms disregard these technologies. Upstarts, however, find a way to exploit and eventually perfect these disruptive technologies, until eventually the disruptive technology becomes the dominant technology and the upstart overthrows the dominant players.

As an example, RCA dismissed transistors because transistors did not initially produce the sound quality that its customers had come to expect with tubes. Smaller competitors worked to perfect the transistor technology and eventually overtook RCA.

The Box.net model of offering basic content management for free, or at a low price, exclusively through the cloud gives it a disruptive edge. End users, small businesses, and even departments within enterprises (acting without the blessing of IT) are signing up for Box.net in droves. Users view Box.net as they view Facebook or Twitter, as a social media site available to all. With my free Box.net account I could collaborate with anybody.

In contrast, SharePoint, though available through a SaaS model, generally falls under the purview of IT, which has its needs for strict processes and controls. Despite the technical capabilities of the product to enable sharing with external parties, SharePoint sites tend to start and end within the walls of the corporation.

Box.net has cloud at its core; SharePoint has cloud on its periphery. Box.net just makes the user experience of signing up so much simpler. Could it be that Box.net will grow its feature set, attract an overwhelming base of users, and eventually render SharePoint obsolete even for enterprise customers?

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I’m a solution engineer for Shape Security, an awesome web security startup in Mountain View that defends some of the worlds largest web sites from bot attacks. I see this blog as a learning tool. It gives me a chance to collect my thoughts on topics of interest and to share with others. If you see a mistake or think I’m on the wrong track, please let me know. I appreciate comments. See my LinkedIn profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesdowney and follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/james_downey.

Posted in Cloud Computing

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