For many years, consumer cloud services have lead the way in convenience, usability and minimal systems administration. These services have very rarely lived up to the challenges of a team environment though. The resulting gap has caused frustrations and a disconnect between executives and IT who are getting quite used to “IT that just works” at home and don’t understand the subtle differences of an enterprise environment that still requires much more expensive infrastructure, maintenance and support. Sure, some services (such as CRM) have worked very well in a cloud environment, but most infrastructure (as opposed to applications) hasn’t. That is now starting to change.
We’ve been happy with Dropbox for a while (and Dropbox for Business), but only to a point. Typically that point has been around 5 staff. We’re using it internally at 9 staff, but that’s purely because most of our team spend their time in task-specific applications, not documents. It all comes down to several key factors:
- How often multiple people will be working on the same document at the same time (inside CoreMind, almost never).
Whilst Dropbox will notify you, it only does so as a document is saved and only if you’re paying attention to system notifications. Yes, there is version history (in Business, or if you add it on to the personal product)
- Permissions are not as fine-tuned as with a file-server
- Once your total Dropbox size exceeds the free space on the smallest computer you are accessing it from, you start worrying about selectively syncing information
- Initial copies take forever to download (even with LAN sync enabled and even though Dropbox is much better at competitors with this)
- You can’t run file-based databases (such as Access or FileMaker or many Line-of-Business applications) off Dropbox due to these needing to guarantee file locking
- You can easily chew up bandwidth with limited quota internet (such as mobile tethering or 4G dongles, or in hotels)
- Dropbox can also be a challenge within corporate environments – it’s not multi-user aware, it stores a lot of data in roaming profiles by default (which will increase login times in many environments)
All of these factors start taking more and more of a toll the more people you have collaborating and the more control your IT Department wants in order to meet security, administration & data management policies. And until now, Dropbox for Business hasn’t changed any of that – it’s only made centralised account management and initial sharing setup slightly more convenient (and given you a lot more storage).
What’s changing today with this release is primarily the first point above and it’s a huge one. Most organisations live in Microsoft Office. Even if they deal with a lot of other file types, the collaborative work is most likely to take place in Word and Excel. Until now, doing this on a file server was the only viable way of guaranteeing people weren’t overwriting each other’s changes, wasting hours and potentially days of work and causing incredible frustration. Thus, at best, people could split their data between Dropbox (or similar) and a file server – introducing yet new problems. Most of our clients use something like Dropbox for their fantastic external sharing features, but end up copying information in here – creating an information management problem.
The new Dropbox for Business features include:
- a filesystem icon that will indicate whether someone else is working on that document
- notifications within Microsoft Office itself to help you collaborate with other people via Dropbox
In essence, a simple indicator and a simple in-app notification system. But that’s what makes it brilliant. Other solutions are very techy (distributed file locking, check in/check out, forced use of a document management app, risk of simply overriding changes etc) and involve major workflow compromises and expose staff to needing to understand the system model.
You can read more about how it all works at this excellent VentureBeat article. We’re testing it out now: