Box unveils new Relay workflow tool in partnership with IBM

It's aimed at helping to automate and streamline tasks like document approval

Companies that want to try simplifying the tangled mess of their internal workflows will be able to use a new tool from Box to help.

Box Relay is a new product the enterprise storage company announced on Tuesday that's aimed at giving employees a way to manage and track the process of doing  repetitive work, like submitting expense reports and getting agreements approved.

Using Relay, power users will be able to design workflows that they can then share with co-workers inside an organization and people from other companies who work with them. According to Chris Yeh, Box's senior vice president of product, Relay is aimed at making Box the system that people use to get work done together, in addition to storing files.

Expanding beyond simple storage has been a major emphasis for Box over the past several years, as the company started providing content services like document commenting, access control and data retention for e-discovery.

Companies that use those features on top of basic file storage may be more likely to stay with Box, since it would be less straightforward for them to switch over to services offered by one of the company's many competitors, like Microsoft, Google or Dropbox.

Relay is supposed to help everyday employees set up workflows to manage processes, and then let those people track the progress of workflows as they run, so they can see who's holding up their work.

The service is a result of the storage company's partnership with tech titan IBM. Yeh said that he thought Relay was similar to another IBM-owned product: Lotus Notes.

"This product is a very similar product [to Notes] in its intent. [Its] goal is to get to every single employee and put something in place where maybe before it was email or spreadsheets or something like that."

There are still several hurdles in front of Relay. First and foremost, the service isn't expected out in beta until the fourth quarter of this year. After that, its full release will wait until sometime in the first half of next year.

When it officially launches, businesses using Box Relay will have to pay an additional fee on top of what they already spend on subscriptions to the storage and enterprise content service.

Then there's the issue of companies actually adopting Relay and making it a part of their regular workflow. In some cases, businesses will need to take existing workflows and adapt them to use Relay, which might be too much to ask for some employees and business units.

In the future, Yeh said that he sees a lot of potential for the product to expand. One of the major features that he wants to see added to the system is support for event-driven workflows that can react to users doing things like saving a document to Box.

Box's announcement of Relay is an interesting appetizer for the company's upcoming BoxWorks conference, which takes place on Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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