Dropbox for Business launched in the middle of last year, rebranding its "Teams" product to appeal more to the larger enterprise customers. Since then uptake has been steady, with Dropbox claiming 4 million business users worldwide. But in an increasingly crowded marketplace how does Dropbox stand out?
An Increasingly Competitive Market
Dropbox’s main competitor is Box, which has dedicated itself to the enterprise space and boasts 200,000 business customers (both Box and Dropbox are a bit vague about releasing usage figures, so they should all be treated as estimates). The Box feature set is very similar to Dropbox, with a solid online experience and a raft of mobile and tablet clients. Box made a big play about their developer ecosystem, and they do offer a large number of companion applications -- things like document watermarking and integration with other platforms like SharePoint and Salesforce.com.
SugarSync for Business offers a comparable feature set, though it is a smaller operation (enterprise customers tend to feel safer with bigger solution providers, even if any perceived added security is just an illusion). It is winning lots of fans, though a few basic things like file previews are missing which might put some off.
Other players take a slightly different approach to cloud file storage. Google Drive has morphed out of Google Documents and as a result is very much in the document management/creation category, rather than pure play storage and sync. Similarly, SharePoint and Office 365 offer OneDrive for Business (formally SkyDrive Pro). This offers offline sync of documents, but is very much steeped in the SharePoint way of doing things (this is good and bad depending on your view and usage of SharePoint).
NB: Microsoft has just announced a standalone version of OneDrive for Business, available separately from SharePoint and Office 365.
Dropbox’s Secret Weapon
We could write this article several times over -- comparing feature sets, price plans and security certifications of the various products. But there is something much more interesting in Dropbox attempting to add an enterprise product to complement its consumer product. Let me explain.
Enterprise software is a funny world -- a bit sensible, a bit staid, practical and dependable. This is a good thing. Who wants unpredictable software on our work laptops, or bleeding edge and thus probably buggy code on our desktops? We definitely don’t want company data being put in the hands of anything other than the most reliable of software. Traditionally we have been happy with safe -- SAP, SharePoint, Oracle and Windows XP -- tried and tested software, a few versions behind the curve, patched and reliable.
But this also meant that user adoption of enterprise systems was a bit ... slow. Good interface design and usability was never top of the agenda.
Users generally need convincing to use SharePoint. They need pushing toward SAP. We talk about user engagement, adoption strategies and deploying features to make these systems "must use." Because we have to. Because users need convincing. Enterprise software has always been a necessity that users, at best, put up with (and at worst avoid).
Dropbox is different. Users love Dropbox. They install it on every machine they can. True, they install the consumer version and the free apps and as a result companies the world over have a problem with this file system sneaking into their networks. But the point stands. So even if Dropbox for Business had nothing else going for it, its users already know and use the core product. This is Dropbox's secret weapon.
Work still needs to be done to convert consumer accounts to business accounts, but this is a surmountable challenge. Dropbox's worldwide partner network will help with this, and it offers a one click migration from personal to business accounts for end users. Once migrated, businesses can take advantage of features like single sign on, remote wipe and the ability to reassign accounts of users who leave -- useful enterprise grade features. Dropbox is also out to convince the world it has the security, backup and governance needed to be trusted with customer's business documents.
But end users generally don’t care about data center resiliency or audit reports. They just see Dropbox, the tool they know and want to use. And that simple fact might be enough for Dropbox to see off its rivals. This will be an interesting story to watch unfold.