There were a lot of disagreements on my view that Box or Dropbox will be a leader in Content Management in five years. Some were willing to concede that in the Small and Medium Business (SMB) market it might be the case but not in larger Enterprises. To anyone relying on that argument, I suggest refreshing yourself on how disruptive technologies attack a market.
I want to take a moment to explain why one of them WILL be a player in the market. It all comes down to one simple point, they capture content.
The Adoption Principle
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of successful and not-so-successful projects. The key differentiator was adoption. Many people just didn’t use the system if it got in the way of getting the job done. This leads to the Adoption Principle:
No system where people actively store Content is ever considered a failure.
Sure, it may not be a glittering success if people are not using it as designed or categorizing information correctly, but if the information is being place in a known, searchable, and shareable place, that is a win. In this industry, we have to celebrate those wins.
What characteristics do these systems typically share? They make life easier for the people using them. That usually takes one of three forms.
- Case Management: Workflow tends to just be another inbox. A true process engine that attacks business issues like a case tend to work very well. Unfortunately, not everything fits the case paradigm. You might be able to rationalize it but if the people using the system don’t see it that way, then rationalization will not help.
- File Share: Love it or hate it, but advanced file sharing applications are adopted. They are upgraded file shares. While there may be great chaos, it serves as a starting point for more organization of information.
- Collaborative Workspaces: Whether they are old-school solutions like eRoom or newer social software packages like Jive and Yammer, collaborative workspaces tend to get adopted in environments where people like to work together. Their Content Management is often severely limited but it beats extracting Content from email any day.
None of these solve all the problems and they have struggled to grow to address their gaps.
So why do I think Box/Dropbox can do any differently?
Cloud as the Innovation Engine
The beauty of the cloud is that when a Software as a Service (SaaS) application is well designed, it can evolve and experiment. New features can be slowly rolled out and tested without added strain on the testing organization.
Traditionally with on-prem applications, testing new features this meant upgrading to cutting edge versions or forcing people to use a test environment to try things out. This rarely works as the testing was just one more thing to do during the day and the results relied upon reports from the testers.
In the cloud, the feature can be rolled out to a limited customer set and the new behaviors can be tracked and recorded instantly by the vendor. Feedback is still gathered, but it is easier to measure and track the incremental improvements.
Did I mention that testing occurs without requiring the testers to do any additional work?
Think of it this way, if IT doesn’t have to patch a system for every micro-improvement, getting those improvements to the people is much simpler. Smaller steps are feasible.
Box and Dropbox are both working to expand into the Enterprise. Are they ready to completely replace the traditional applications today? Not really. At least not the ones that are working well.
If they can get a strong foothold, show consistent high adoption, and while gradually increasing value organizations derive from using them, they are going to be major players. Simple as that.
After all, who is going to stop them? The traditional vendors that have been trying for two decades to get this problem solved? What evidence is out there that we should place our bets there?
My money is on the companies that are innovating and trying new things while not losing sight of the fact that every organization is staffed by Consumers.