What Dropbox tells you about your IT department

Tools

Remember when you rolled out an ERP system 10 years ago?

Remember working to identify Super Users, the blessed few eager adopters who would champion the system within their own departments?

Remember 'training the trainers'? Remember all those rollout meetings and change management initiatives?

I love how the process in those dusty memories has been inverted. Now end users enthusiastically embrace new technologies and try to get *you* to adopt them.

Last week,  I spoke with Ross Piper, VP of Enterprise Strategy at Dropbox. Dropbox was founded in 2007, and by the end of 2012 they claimed more than 100 million users. Taking a page from the playbook of companies like Google and Apple (and, lest we forget, Microsoft before them), Dropbox is piggybacking on its consumer uptake and turning into an enterprise product.

[Also read The CIO/CMO challenge: What does it mean for your team and your job? | Management silos, 'stack ranking' and the need for speed]

You know all about the demands of enterprise IT. Iron-clad security. Integration with legacy systems. Help desk processes. Long budget cycles. The aforementioned user training. Simple consumer products like Dropbox have a lot to figure out to fit into an enterprise portfolio, right?

Actually, it's the other way around. Enterprise IT--all of it--needs to become more like Dropbox.

I asked Piper the obvious question, given his title: "So what *is* the enterprise strategy?" And his answer, really, boils down to one word:

Simplicity.

"We want to make it great for three groups. First, users. Second, developers who will keep improving the user experience. And third, IT administrators--who are a proxy for the CIO."

There's complexity under the hood. That's a given. Syncing files across multiple devices in a reliable and efficient manner, handling network disruptions and errors, etc--that's not trivial. And there's security work to be done on almost any product that starts in the consumer space. Integrating with single sign-on providers? Providing granular file access controls and good security reports? Not trivial.

But the complexity *stays* under the hood. Here's what users see:

 

Dropbox's simple user interface

Piper says the administrator console aims for the same level of simplicity and clarity. And that Dropbox takes a very API-centric view of the world. The company's internal developers work with the same APIs that external partners use. Their latest Datastore API lets other programs use Dropbox to store and sync application data (think "app state, settings, bookmarks, saved games", per the company blog).

Okay. You might argue that a Dropbox doesn't face the same level of challenge as those multi-process ERP systems of old. But the overall trend toward smaller apps and more discrete functionality and simple integration hooks is crystal clear.

What about the systems you are rolling out? Has your department genuinely upped its game in delivering simple, clear user interfaces and experiences? Can employees easily mix and match your offerings to get exactly what they need, and not a lot more?

Actually, we shouldn't ask you these questions--we should ask your users. - Derek

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