In part one of this two-part CIO interview, "Box CIO talks IT innovation and pressures in 'all-cloud' environment," Paul Chapman talked about running IT in a born-in-the-cloud company and made an impassioned case for using "best-of-breed" products and services for operations that don't confer a competitive advantage.
Here he lays out his IT priorities for 2018, a to-do list mindful of millennials' technology expectations and laser-focused on AI and machine learning use cases.
What are some of your IT priorities?
Paul Chapman: Box has a heavy millennial workforce, so something that's very important is the employee workplace. For this new style of workers, we have a new style of workplace; it's very open and collaborative. And you need modern technology that is going to enable our employees to be the most productive and to attract and also retain employees.
Today, employees don't want to work for companies with yesterday's technology. So, we think about how we provide digital experiences for our employees. We do that in a number of different ways. One of the things we're starting to see is a shift to a much more touch-text-talk interface. A lot of emerging technologies are focused on disintermediated interfaces.
Can you provide an example?
Chapman: We have voice-enabled conference rooms. We use Alexa combined with other software to interact with the conference room via voice. We thought this was a very good, innovative way of modernizing the conference room experience. You walk in and say, 'Check me into the meeting,' or, 'End my meeting.' We piloted it in one floor of the building. We found that everything worked, but there was an apprehension about having a listening device in the same room as you were having a meeting. So, our biggest challenge is how to build trust in having this technology in the work environment.
So, how did you resolve this challenge?
Chapman: We're still in the pilot rollout. What we're trying to do now is to figure out how would we overcome this. Some of this is timing; at some point, people get comfortable with the technology.
What other emerging technologies are you watching?
Chapman: The thing I'm watching the most is machine learning [and asking] how do we introduce more machine learning use cases and capabilities. We're doing that heavily on the Box product side, focusing on machine learning and AI. The machine learning use cases are almost boundless there. But we're doing it on the employee level, too.
We're also doing some work around disintermediating the interfaces. I think some of the interfaces from cloud services 10 years ago are legacy. There are companies that are emerging that aren't replacing those services but placing on top of them a more modern intuitive interface that features touch-text-talk. It's sort of the emergence of the dialogue interface. And it's creating these efficiency wins for our people. The mundane work we have to do is being replaced with digital labor. That's the area we're keeping the closest eye on. Any time we can replace mundane tasks that's an opportunity for us to give back time to our employees so they can focus on higher value work.
So, machine learning uses cases, 'dialogue interfaces' -- what else is on your priority list?
Chapman: We're still a growing business … we've more than doubled in size since I've joined. And if you look at the growth forecast for the next few years, it's also significant, so we have to invest in scaling. Where the innovative things are happening are much more in the areas I've mentioned. It's in workplace productivity and how do we focus on taking work out of work.
We're doing some things around digital assistants, as [the technology] continues to evolve. We're looking at enabling our sales organization to actually have a digital assistant for how they interact with their Salesforce.com environment. I would say that interface, the Salesforce screen, it's an older experience. So, we're replacing that experience with a user experience that's built much more for speed and efficiency, through a single pane of glass built on text and dialogue.
How do you ensure you and your team stay on top of all the developments as the pace of technology innovation increases?
Chapman: I think the reality is that the slowest rate of change we'll experience is right now. It will only get faster. There will be more data created in 2018 than in the previous 5,000 years combined. But you have to distill what's important your company. In Silicon Valley, we're surrounded by startups and venture capitalists investing in these startups, so we get to see the trends. And, at some point, we identify things that could be applicable to us, and when we do, we can do proofs of concept and pilots, and that's how we stay relevant.
What technologies are on the horizon that you think will be transformative?
Chapman: It goes back to AI and machine learning [use cases]. They're becoming real, and I think the amount of information and intelligence gathered over the past X-amount of years is coming to fruition. We're at a point where the intelligence we're able to get back is better and faster than what humans can apply. It's somewhat enlightening and frightening. I think people will have to get comfortable with that because the more you contribute, the more value you get back.
People are concerned about the idea of big brother or big sister watching. But I truly believe we're starting to see the breakthroughs occur. We're able to do that at Box; the amount of intelligence we can add to unstructured data is boundless. We're able to do things like vision services, add intelligence to images and things like that, and when you think about how you digitalize processes, the AI and machine learning use cases are almost boundless.