Mapping the Information Economy: A Tale of Five Industries

At Box, we constantly measure customers’ engagement with our product to understand how to enhance user experience and help businesses be more productive and collaborative. With 25 million users at 225,000 businesses interacting with content 2.5 billion times quarterly, we have a unique vantage point on how enterprises in nearly every sector leverage the cloud.

But what, if anything, can the patterns in how businesses share information tell us about how they operate more generally? Zooming out, what might these patterns signal about entire industries and their relative preparedness for adapting to an increasingly information-driven economy? We’re entering an era where a company’s competitiveness is determined by its return on information – how democratized its access is, how fast it moves, and how quickly it can be updated and leveraged to generate value.

For our first Information Economy Report, we started by visually mapping the flow of information within customer organizations. Every red node represents an employee, every blue node an external collaborator, and every line a transfer of content, with thicker lines indicating more frequent sharing. The results were beautiful, and also telling.

Companies within the same industry typically produced visually similar collaboration graphs. But the graphs for companies in different industries told different information-sharing stories – in some cases, the disparities are striking. (For instance, compare below the jellyfish-type shape in construction, with connections to workers at various building sites, to the hub-and-spoke shape in financial services, with a highly centralized core.) The following are three representative maps for anonymous, similarly-sized companies in software, financial services, and construction. The companies whose graphs are featured were kind enough to approve their creation and inclusion in this report.

We then turned to data to help explain and augment these visuals. We looked at more than 300 firms in our chosen five industries (software, media and entertainment, construction, manufacturing, and financial services), anonymized all data to respect customer privacy, and measured them using six custom metrics: information decentralization, mobility, collaboration, content creation, content consumption, and external collaboration.

Our findings for each industry can be found in the report. Some insights are what you’d expect, given knowledge and assumptions about how different industries operate. Others are surprising. Here are a few we found noteworthy:

The software industry may be building apps for mobile devices, but its employees are the least mobile. While software companies create and consume significantly more content than companies in the other four industries we studied, they’re not doing so from mobile devices. In fact, employees at construction firms are 40 percent more likely to use smartphones and tablets to access and share information.

The flow of information in financial services is strikingly centralized. This pattern is most visible in a collaboration graph depicting the work pattern among workers at a financial services firm. The map shows a highly centralized organizational structure with little cross-organizational interaction when working with content. Underscoring the depth of contrast, employees at media and entertainment firms are twice as likely as those in financial services to be sources of information for their colleagues and partners.

Construction firms are the most collaborative in working with people outside their business. Predictably, our study revealed a wide spectrum in how often companies in different verticals collaborate with external parties. However, we were surprised to discover that construction firms leverage the cloud to collaborate with outside partners roughly twice as much as companies from any other sector. Combined with this sector’s high degree of mobility (as construction ranks first for mobile access), it’s likely that this industry’s lack of technology use in prior eras enabled it to leapfrog its formerly more tech-savvy peers, which are still making the transition from legacy tools.

Every company and every industry is experiencing information-driven transformation differently, thanks to cultural, structural, and regulatory norms. We hope this report provides a useful glimpse into how these industries operate today within the emerging information economy. Of course, the real test will be how they change and adapt.