A columnist at VentureBeat recently wrote about the supposed Dropbox Effect and whether it is real or not. I think it is, but not the way most people seem to be using the term. I see three aspects the supposed Dropbox effect:
- What the people saying it think it means
- What it really means
- What is important about it
What the people saying “Dropbox Effect” seem to think it means
As reported in the article, consumerization is sweeping the tech word in the sense that consumer products that are compelling and useful enough will inevitably work their way into the workplace. Startups don’t need to worry about enterprise acceptance; if people use it, IT departments will allow it.
Certainly, consumerization is an important trend that has been around for awhile. But this simplistic view of the term ceased to be valid or even important years ago. There is nothing inevitable about a consumer product, even a really good one, gaining acceptance in the enterprise. Some will, if they are well-designed and manage to meet the needs of both IT departments and individual users. Many more won’t. Most of the companies I talk to don’t adopt Dropbox officially because so many people use it; they go looking for an enterprise tool which can fill the need identified by the many Dropbox users.
Many of the entrepreneurs in the VB article seem to think that the Dropbox effect removes the need to develop good products for the enterprise, a shortcut past the hard slog of building manageable, secure, attractive products. I don’t think so.
What it really means
The most prevalent “Dropbox effect” I see is the “OMG! Look at all the people using Dropbox! We have to stop that and provide something better!” reaction from IT managers. That is what is driving interest in products like Box, Egnyte, Yousendit, Sharefile, Syncplicity, Accellion and many, many others. It often means an enterprise fire drill to stamp out usage of a product they don’t trust and replace it with something the users like and that they will use. Certainly, it has nothing to do with widespread enterprise embrace of Dropbox, which I do not see happening.
What is important about it
The importance of the “Dropbox effect” is that individuals are exercising more influence over the technology choices of the companies they work for, even taking direct responsibility to take those choices in some cases. Those individual choices will force IT departments to make allowances for individual preferences faster than they might have done otherwise. Apple has done a particularly good job of selling business tools without selling to the business. Apple’s most important distribution channel to sell to businesses is through individuals who carry the devices in with them each morning, not the central purchasing department.
However, there are limits to how far IT can and should go. Apple has done enough to make their products supportable and manageable to get past IT obstructions. You still don’t see many IT departments embracing DIY Linux machines or XBOXes on the corporate network. The Dropbox Effect does not mean that IT must acquiesce to the inevitability of accepting any IT product that users find themselves; quite the opposite in fact. It means that IT departments must be better at discerning which consumer products contain unacceptable risks, analyzing what individuals use and how to determine what they really need, and nudging users towards tools that make sense.
There really is a Dropbox effect, but it doesn’t provide an excuse for shoddy, poorly designed products. It does provide challenges and opportunities for enterprise IT departments, though.