Wyn Elder, managing director of Global and U.S. Public Sector at Box, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding the company’s latest growth initiatives and provided a first hand look into the three pillars of developing capabilities for its public sector customers.
In addition, Elder also discussed the challenges of maintaining CMMC and compliance standards in the federal sector as well as the hurdles on the business side of innovation and the impact that recent acquisitions have had on Box’s portfolio during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
“The government still needs to expand and establish a more predictable amount of money over multiple years. The government does not like to take big risks because it’s all taxpayers’ dollars. That’s understandable, but innovation at its core involves an amount of risk to drive forward.”
You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Wyn Elder below:
ExecutiveBiz: During our last Executive Spotlight interview, we discussed a lot about cloud content management and utilizing Box’s newest capability – BoxSign. What can you tell us about your company’s growth initiatives and the development of your capabilities for your customers?
“Box has seen incredible growth across the globe over the past few years, especially in the public sector due to the value we’re creating for Federal customers. In simplest terms, we believe an agency’s content and data are at the heart of their mission.
And at Box, we’ve built the most secure cloud content platform on the planet that allows organizations to securely access that data – no matter where it resides – and integrate and collaborate with that data to improve the way agencies work and accomplish their missions.
An agency’s content, both structured and unstructured data, is at the core of how any federal agency functions. That data is at the heart of every workflow and mission. Unfortunately for most agencies, all that content is locked away in hundreds of different data silos. That makes it exceedingly difficult to do anything with the data.
As agencies use more software that is optimized for a particular issue, whether that’s CRM, storage, records management, EFSS, E-discovery, contract management, etc. Whatever individual pain points and use cases they have solved, it’s also created this Frankenstein nightmare from an architectural and usability standpoint.
We find many agencies have hundreds of software programs that are highly optimized for a single solution. But the problem is that the data is in no way accessible or shareable across those numerous applications. Employees can only solve problems that the individual software programs have pre-planned for.
But you and I both know that’s not how innovation happens. It’s not how efficiency and productivity happen. Employees need to be able to find, organize, share, and collaborate with all sorts of data no matter which software program it is stored in.
Box has taken a different approach and decided that in order to derive value from all that data across the entire enterprise, it needed to reside on a secure platform that hosts all the data and seamlessly integrates with all the software applications.
A single source of data for your organization. So rather than build just another siloed software program that exacerbates the problem, the Box Content platform allows agencies to get the best of both worlds – the value from a world class CRM software program that has structured data, but can also access the data for other workflows for analysis.
Additionally, agency employees and other authorized users can access that information from anywhere and on any device with any operating system. Box becomes the easiest and most secure way for federal customers to collaborate, especially with people external to the network and their organizations.
So that’s how we provide value to our public sector customers. Maybe an easier way to think about it is our 3 pillars.
Those three pillars are
- Protecting an agency’s content with frictionless security and compliance.
- Empowering your people with seamless collaboration and workflow integration.
- Connecting their agency with all that data whether it’s on custom built apps, Box’s applications or other apps from the commercial sector.
We’re establishing our footprint and our growth initiatives by strengthening these pillars. And you can see where this leads. When you have a single platform that integrates data across silos – it allows analysis to provide insight and automation.
You can apply artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to open up value for our customers and automate workflows and see patterns and opportunities that you aren’t able to see right now because of how they store data. So these 3 pillars will continue to drive our platform and our growth strategy going forward.”
ExecutiveBiz: With CMMC and other compliance standards changing to push the best business practices for federal contractors and companies, what can you tell us about the challenges of maintaining those standards and making changes to your own policies to remain compliant?
“For me, the focus is always on why those standards are changing. If it’s due to bureaucracy, politics, inertia or something else. That’s an obvious answer. It can be extremely frustrating for industry when the standards change, especially in something like cybersecurity.
The technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that I think every company is struggling with some aspects of digital transformation and certifications and compliance items.
From an outsider’s perspective, when I was helping set up the Defense Innovation Unit years ago, this was one of the two biggest issues we were trying to address. How do you get companies to do business with the federal government who aren’t currently willing to do so?
It’s a highly regulated market with huge upfront costs. And sometimes, the rules for ‘price of entry’ into the federal market change. Now, this can be very frustrating and expensive for the large systems integrators and defense contractors, but it’s not an existential threat to their business.
However, that’s not the case for the rest of industry. For small businesses, new companies, or commercial tech companies who are considering entering the public sector market, these compliance requirements can be ‘forks in the road’. They are showstoppers. They’re a specific reason to not do business with the government.
And that’s a problem for our nation. When the majority of businesses can’t afford (literally) to do business with the government, it hinders our government’s ability to effectively accomplish their agency missions because a lot of the best and most cost effective solutions reside in companies outside the Beltway.
At the pace technology is being developed, agencies need to expand the industrial base. But if there are barriers to entry due to compliance standards changing, that can be problematic because the smaller companies don’t have cash flow. And the larger ones that are on the fence are deterred because it reinforces their fears of doing business with the government.
As a result of all of this, the federal government has to be careful about when and why compliance standards are changed, which includes the details. In the past, sometimes the government took a ‘Take it or Leave it’ approach and that’s not how the government should be approaching this collaboration.
Everyone should be asking how to address the security concerns that underpin the compliance standards and do it in a way that doesn’t deter companies from entering the market. And I think the government has become much, much better at those conversations, but still room for improvement.
Simply put, the government needs as much competition and involvement from as many companies as possible. So having an open and frank discussion with industry about compliance and certification is a must.”
ExecutiveBiz: We often discuss innovation from the technical or capability side. What are some of the unique challenges that you’ve seen on the business side of innovation that haven’t been addressed or discussed enough?
“The two items that come to my mind immediately are ‘budgeting’ and ‘risk assessment’. With regards to budgeting, there are several barriers that federal agencies struggle with, which comes down to the government not thinking of budgeting as a mission in itself.
They acknowledge how important it is, but we still don’t budget and fund IT the same we do for military capabilities or salary or other ‘programs of record’. IT departments still fund so much of their requirements through a wide variety of budgetary processes that make it difficult to improve an agency’s technology.
End of year fallout money, exclusive use of single year contracting, separating procurement and sustainment pots of money, etc. These antiquated budgeting processes and methods to fund their needs makes the entire process exceedingly difficult to plan and execute a coherent strategy.
Software, especially when it directly supports mission accomplishment, needs to be treated as a program of record with more routine and predictable funding. There’s lots of room for innovation on how things are funded and we’ve seen some pockets of excellence in that regard.
But the government still needs to expand and establish a more predictable amount of money over multiple years. The government does not like to take big risks because it’s all taxpayers’ dollars. That’s understandable, but innovation at its core involves an amount of risk to drive forward.
The second area where I think there’s some room to innovate around ‘risk management & acceptance’. This is tricky because everyone who is involved in the federal process of procuring, assessing and deploying software are, to a large degree, risk-averse. And that has value at each step.
However, it’s the cumulative total of risk avoidance at each step that culminates in “no” or excessive delays. We routinely see agencies take years to grant ATOs. We need to innovate on how to look at risk acceptance overall.
Innovative technology exists out there. The ideas exist. The processes & solutions exist – but the culture of risk avoidance from inside the federal government blocks the majority of innovation from seeing the light of day or being adopted widespread. Risk Management just isn’t where it needs to be. This is a major shift in culture that is necessary.
I believe that innovating and risk assessment are ripe for some innovative efforts. There are models and frameworks in a commercial industry that are applicable if federal agencies would think through it and collaborate more with commercial industry.”
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the implementation of recent acquisitions you’ve made and how they’ve benefited your portfolio, technical capabilities and driven value for your company and customers?
“We’re still in the process of establishing Box Sign in the E signature market. The more that we deploy it, it becomes a transformational capability for the marketplace. The E signature market is so fundamental to the future of our government.
Just think of all the functions of government that require a signature. HR workflows or recruiting, payroll or retention to hundreds of types of citizen applications and submissions for services or benefits, etc. The list is endless.
Until now, it’s been a cumbersome process and the user experience is not great for signing forms electronically. You’re constantly leaving one software program to go to another one. It’s very problematic and even if you’re lucky to get through it all, you probably have to email the document back and forth, which is a major security risk for the federal government.
It’s also quite expensive. It’s cumbersome and frankly not that secure. As BoxSign has become completely integrated into our core Box platform with no additional cost. Federal agencies are able to transform their workflows and save money.
BoxSign has allowed us to expand our capabilities to handle all aspects of a lifecycle of content from creation to collaborative to governance and e-signatures to disposition. BoxSign filled a major gap in the lifecycle of content.
We feel that creates enormous value for customers because the data is no longer stored in those different software silos. The data itself lives on the platform, which saves the government manpower hours and money. The two things no one likes to waste.
For Box, this has allowed us to establish one of the final pieces to construct the best possible cloud content platform.”