Dropbox wants to be the cloud solution enterprises turn to for online file sharing, but there’s a problem. At many companies, workers are prohibited from accessing the service. “It’s blocked,” were the two words we heard most often this morning when we asked a few dozen people to enter the site from their offices.
This is both a problem and an opportunity for Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox. And if reports are correct, he has a big pile of cash to throw at it.
Solving a Problem
Last Friday the Wall Street Journal and re/code both claimed Houston’s firm had raised $250 million from Blackrock and other investors. Each news source independently speculated that much of the money was earmarked for growing its business in the lucrative enterprise space.
It’s worth mentioning that less than a week earlier Dropbox users (most of who use it for personal file storage) were unable to access their files for what some claim to be almost 48 hours.
And while being separated from your collaborative family grocery list or the vacation photos your clan keeps on the cloud may not be that big a deal, not being able to access the price lists, contracts or design documents you need to show a client at a given moment may be embarrassing, disruptive and even costly.
But not nearly as costly as having cloud-residing corporate documents jam-packed with customer information, trade secrets, or business strategies exposed by hackers. That could cost millions, billions, even take down a business. That’s a risk most companies won’t take on, even if everyone loves a service like Dropbox.
Plenty of Uses
Secure file storage, access, and sharing are hardly the only reasons online file sync and share solutions are becoming “must have’s” in the enterprise — they’re also used for collaboration, mobile content management, document management, workflow, data exchange and so on …
And in many industries this means that regulatory, compliance and other rules must also be adhered to.
Needless to say, “Dropbox for Business,” almost by definition, has to be very different than Dropbox for consumers. Houston and his team seem to have recognized this, it’s why they’ve spent the past year building a new product which offers a handful of the same features as industry leaders (as defined by Forrester) like Box, EMC Syncplicity and IBM.
How Good is it?
News reports seem to indicate that Houston’s happy with his Dropbox for Business play. He has apparently kept the interface that everyone loves and put enterprise must-have’s, like permissions and security controls, under the hood. What he needs to do next is to get it out into the world, to see if end-users can be as happy with it as their personal Dropbox accounts in situations that test its Enterprise worthiness.
That’s where Houston (no pun intended) could have a problem because Dropbox for Business isn’t free (though there is a 14-day free trial). Though some (we’d even say many) rogue employees are probably thrilled using the consumer version at work, it will be difficult for them to recognize the benefits of Dropbox for Business without getting their coworkers on board or their employers’ consent (after all, someone has to pay the bill for the latter.)
And there’s not just that. It’s yet to be seen if Houston’s new product is truly enterprise-grade. We asked Jeetu Patel, General Manager of the Syncplicity unit at EMC, what the term “enterprise-grade” implies:
Enterprise-grade file sync and share requires three things. First, a consumer-grade experience that offers breakthrough innovations specifically for the business user. Second, it requires automated policy controls, security integration, and administration features so IT can deploy at scale. And last but not least, in this era of privacy and compliance concerns, it requires a SaaS deployment model that offers policy-driven control over where files are stored — both on premise and off premise in a hybrid cloud — without any impact on user experience."
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