Where does a file storage company go as it evolves into the next-next generation of growth? That’s the top of mind question for me, as I attended the Dropbox customer event and analyst summit in San Francisco last week.
It’s an undersell to call Dropbox a file sharing company. It has already moved past that simple designation and into more of a collaboration platform. At G2, Dropbox is currently listed in the Cloud Content Collaboration category, a fairly recent creation itself.
Before the conference I would have held the company out as one of the best examples in that category and of course as you can see, the category Leader. But perhaps this is not sufficient to capture where Dropbox is moving today.
The integrated workspace
Dropbox has expanded its platform to include a work collaboration tool Paper, added intelligence into its platform (DBXi), integrations with various work systems and purchased an e-signature company, Hellosign (a G2 Leader in its own right). Taken individually these are significant events, but viewed together they start to point to something different and well, more. The clear articulation of the next-next strategy made that perfectly clear, an evolution of the shared folder to integrated workspace.
So where is Dropbox going? The term that Dropbox CEO Drew Houston used in his opening keynote is “smart workspace.” The concept that immediately came to mind when I first heard the description of smart workspace is something I’ve asked for (and complained about) for a long time, one inbox to rule them all (pardon my LOTR-ization of the phrase). The use case in that context is pretty simple: Put everything that communicates with me in a single UI. At least it sounds simple, but as far as I’ve ever been able to tell, nearly impossible (or at least no one has done it so far). What Dropbox is describing is considerably more complex and useful than that specific use case, but would help conquer the proliferation of inboxes in the modern workplace in the process.
Dropbox and the evolution of work
According to a McKinsey study (quoted by Dropbox) “work about work” consumes about 60% of workers' time. That’s things like answering emails, responding to Slacks and Chatters, searching for stuff, etc.
If you could regain even a part of that 60%, what would you accomplish, or how much more could you accomplish?
I don’t know about you, but just regaining some of the time I spend searching for stuff would be an incredible productivity boost. So that’s the concept: Move the Dropbox platform past its current capabilities to become the single “place” where work gets done. This requires a few things:
- Lots of deep integrations to productivity tools like Google and Office365; communication tools like Slack, MS Exchange, Gmail; project management tools like Asana and Trello; tools from Atlassian; Hellosign; and the list goes on.
- People and presence in the workspace.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) that predicts what you’re working on based on context, role, history, etc., and provides access to whatever supports that activity (people, files, communications, project plans, etc.).
- Search that works across all the connected apps (including image search.)
- An enterprise administration console.
I admit if I had just read the press release I would be very skeptical that the experience would be integrated enough to make me want to use it (or at least try it). Dropbox demonstrated a few things at the conference that make me think that there’s something there. For example, Eric Yuan (CEO of Zoom) joined Drew on stage to show the deep integration of Zoom for kicking off or adhoc starting a meeting inside a Google calendar, inside the smart workspace. A key point here, and for all the integration they showed, this is not a lightweight “portal” approach where you are really just using one application to navigate to another. In the Dropbox Smarter Workspace, the work is actually drawn together in the app, what they term deep integration.
Sound too good to be true? Well, I did witness several demonstrations and based on that alone I’m game to try it. Creating a focused work environment on my desktop/mobile device would have enormous benefits. One shortcoming (or maybe a future opportunity) is that today there are no plans for the Workspace to include deep integration to enterprise business apps like ERP or CRM. Being able to include enterprise app functions that serve even casual system users would be a very attractive concept.
That aside, I am starting to investigate what is probably a new software category, intelligent workspace. We have to find some competitors, which might be difficult at present, but I have to believe there are other companies that are working on similar concepts. I’d think this is likely to be a hot category so look for us to launch a new G2 software category shortly.