Hand with oil pastel draws the heart
Dropbox has to win the hearts of IT admins. PHOTO: kaboompics

Dropbox executives like to boast they own the enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) market. They don’t go right out and say it, but they'll not so subtly point to their numbers — 500 million users and 200,000 business customers.

The business customers all pay for their seats.

While you're left to believe that competitors can't claim stats like these, the story isn't that simple. Forrester, for example, rates Box highly for "market traction." Gartner positions both Box and Citrix higher than Dropbox in its latest Magic Quadrant for File Synchronization and Sharing.

It wasn't until I interviewed Dropbox's new CTO, Aditya Agarwal, that I came away with the idea that someone at the company might truly understand reality. Dropbox has some catching-up to do, even if many at the company want to deny it.

Enticing IT Admins

If Dropbox is to live up to its $10 billion valuation, many more CIOs, CTOs and CISOs will need to start paying for its services rather than block access to it. EFSS vendors need to do more than provide great user experiences for the masses to win this marketplace.

"Selection of enterprise file sharing platforms are rarely made based on end-user facing features," Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky told CMSWire. "Instead, companies base their decisions on security, scalability, compliance and other administration features."

Dropbox seems to understand this now. Last month Agarwal told CMSWire the company was slow to recognize IT administrators were its customers, too. He acknowledged that they need to provide them with great user-centric solutions as well. 

Now Dropbox is working at a furious pace to catch-up with competitors who did this from the start.

Better Late Than ...

If anyone is set up for success even though they are late to the game, it is Dropbox.

After all, almost everyone knows what the product is, believes it works well and is willing to use it. The one thing IT has not had to worry about, thus far, when it comes to Dropbox, is that end users will embrace it. This is not the case for some of Dropbox's competitors, whose software often becomes enterprise shelf-ware because employees are unwilling to use it.

Dropbox's big challenge is to win the trust of IT managers. That is precisely what the company has been working to accomplish over the last few years, at times leveraging the efforts of as many as 100 of its developers according to Tanay Mehta, a product manager at the nine-year-old startup.

Aimed to Win Admins Hearts

Dropbox made several announcements yesterday that serve as further proof of accomplishment in that regard, among them the general availability of its re-imagined IT-facing solution, AdminX, which we wrote about in July.

Some of the new features, like allowing administrators to control how many devices users can download files to, providing IT with iterative controls that allow for filtering of over 350 different user activities by member, file name, date and type, admins can easily investigate and resolve incidents, and an upcoming feature that will enable admins to selectively deploy Dropbox to specific groups, and easily fold existing accounts into the corporate domain, will go a long way to win the hearts of IT.

Control Issues

But there is at least one new feature that could ruffle the feathers of renegade workers. Dropbox will provide IT admins with the ability to prevent access to personal accounts from domains within the corporate firewall.

Lepofsky did not seem bothered by the idea, but the Dropbox team, who briefed CMSWire on the news, might have been troubled with our lack of delight. To be fair, control comes at a cost, the question is whether workers will feel it and, if they do, whether they will be willing to pay the price.

Dropbox also announced an enhanced partnership with Symantec for data loss prevention (DLP) and protection. The idea here is to make it easy to take the policies that are applied to content on-premises and extend them to the (Dropbox) cloud. Mehta championed the robust network of security partners Dropbox has relationships including Barracuda Networks, Netskope, Skyhigh Networks among many others.

Mehta also highlighted some new features that are coming to (still in beta) interactive collaboration canvas, Dropbox Paper. They include a "team only" sharing feature (meaning IT gets to control with whom you share your Paper notes with, a new capability that gives IT visibility to what happened while you were using Paper via Paper events now being added to the Dropbox audit log, and giving admins an ability to sign in as a user, delete or suspend users transfer accounts and such.

So, if Paper is supposed to be like taking notes in the workplace on real paper and storing them in a cardboard folder that you can decide who can and can't access, the new controls that come with Paper will bring IT into the picture. They get visibility and, in the rare instances that it is needed) a voice.

To be fair, your company owns the notes you take at work, it has the right to decide whom you can share them with and such and, at least theoretically, your boss can take the paper you are holding in your hand and destroy it because legally it belongs to the company, not to you.

Improved Dropbox Infrastructure

This is a blatant new reality that some of us may still need to adjust to because technology brings issues to the surface that we might not have thought that much about in the past.

Either way, Dropbox has gone a long way to make CIOs, CTOs and CISOs happy. The question is whether it has done enough to win IT's confidence and trust.

It's worth noting too that Dropbox also announced major improvements to its network infrastructure, which is expected to result in three times faster performance. Another good move, no doubt. “I'm looking forward to seeing if the speed increase is really noticeable,” Lepofsky said.