Dropbox Looks To Shed “Dropbox Problem” Image

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With 300M users, there is no denying Dropbox’s popularity, but driven by BYOD and easy procurement, the product has become emblematic of employees bringing their own services into companies to such an extent, the term “Dropbox problem” has entered the lexicon. Ilya Fushman, head of product, business and mobile at Dropbox, says the company is working hard to change that perception.

Just yesterday, it bought stealth messaging startup, Droptalk, a small company that hasn’t produced much in terms of product yet beyond a Chrome plug-in, but the messaging functionality it provides could prove useful to Dropbox as it tries to establish its business product.

When you combine that with its purchase of Mailbox last year, you are suddenly building a much more business-friendly picture, especially when as Fushman told me, the Mailbox team is working to make it compatible with Exchange, the popular enterprise mail server –and is also working on desktop and Android versions of the program, as well as increased integration in Dropbox.

In April, Dropbox also released an enhanced version of Dropbox for Business, one which they hope will begin to give IT and concerned CIOs the control they need at the back end. Dropbox decided to separate the content into two buckets, one for personal use and one for business. They sit side by side and you can see both or concentrate on just one depending on your needs.

The April release also provided an audit trail, so IT could follow how documents were shared should a problem arise. Finally, they made it possible to transfer the content from one business Dropbox to another, so if an employee leaves the company, he or she can share the business content store, and IT can wipe the employee account.

As for what’s coming, Fushman told me that they are working on more granular sharing and data retention policies. He also brought up Project Harmony, which was first introduced at the Dropbox for Business announcement in April. He said while it is still in development, it will enable developers to embed Dropbox into apps where people are working. So you could collaborate with workers in real time inside Office documents then save updates to Dropbox. I’m betting this is where the Droptalk purchase comes into play and it makes even more sense in the context of this feature.

Fushman says all of this is meant to demonstrate to enterprise customers, that Dropbox is a serious business tool, but doubts still persists. When Alan Pelz-Sharpe, an analyst with 451 Research, was speaking at the AIIM Conference in April, he told the audience he gets calls regularly from clients asking how to deal with the “Dropbox problem.” And he noted that his clients are really struggling to come to grips with this world where users can procure software like Dropbox themselves.

Pelz-Sharpe says it’s going to be tricky to make the transition to a business tool because up until now Dropbox has been loved by users with little to offer IT. “Dropbox has been so successful to date by being end user friendly and largely ignoring IT,” Pelz-Sharpe told me. But moving forward, it’s going to have to find a way to balance the needs of both, and in his view that will be much easier in SMBs than large enterprises where he believes other companies such as Box and traditional vendors including IBM, Oracle and Citrix are much better positioned to serve those needs.

“In the much bigger small and mid-sized business market, its much easier to meet their administrative and security requirements without compromising ease of use – these buyers don’t typically have the complex integration, process or compliance requirements that Fortune 1000 firms do.” And while Pelz-Sharpe acknowledges not all SMBs have the same requirements,  he believes by focusing most of its efforts on these smaller firms, Dropbox will be able to keep both users and IT happy.

In an article in April on TechCrunch, Dropbox Makes Another Nod Toward Business, But It Might Not Be Enough Yet, R Ray Wang, co-founder at Constellation Research told me the business update was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t enough yet to really appeal to large business customers.

Regardless, Fushman says it’s a big space with lots of players including Box, Google, Microsoft, Egnyte, Citrix and many others; but as he says, Dropbox has numbers on its side. If a CIO is looking for a tool, and Dropbox is a tool many of the employees are using anyway, it could seem like a no-brainer to make it official –so long as it’s got those key business features.

Fushman says they are trying to shed the perception they aren’t business-friendly by talking to business and giving them what they need. “Ultimately, most CIOs I talk to, the response isn’t ‘I’m scared of Dropbox.’ It’s, ‘People like Dropbox, I want to give it to them. You need to build this and this and this to make it more comfortable for us.'”

What they have might not be enough for every business just yet, but they are working at making a clear line between corporate and business data, and starting down the path toward more sophisticated back-end control, steps Dropbox hopes will make those CIOs more comfortable and end the “Dropbox problem” once and for all.