Inside Dropbox's plans for enterprise domination

The online storage vendor's deal with Dell shows how it wants to leverage users as a gateway to businesses.

Last week, Dropbox announced a deal calling for Dell's global sales team to sell its Dropbox for Business cloud-based storage and file-sharing services, with or without Dell Data Protection encryption, and for Dell to pre-install Dropbox on all its PC and tablets.

It's a big deal for Dropbox, but only the latest step in the company's master plan to move from plucky storage startup to ubiquitous storage and file sharing option for consumers and enterprises

Dropbox everywhere

Marc Leibowitz, global vice president of partnerships at Dropbox, told Dell World attendees last week that the company plans to make its service available in as many different products and services as possible, fitting it seamlessly into people’s regular home and work habits.

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I've long been impressed with Dropbox, and I wanted to know more about what that the was planning, so I was happy to get the chance to sit down with Ross Piper, the company's vice president of enterprise strategy.

According to Piper, "On the consumer side, we want to be everywhere. On the enterprise side, we want to be strategic on who we go to market with. "The fact that Dell is interested in us will open a lot of eyes of potential customers."

He said Dropbox's enterprise partners are asking the company to engage with more strategic partners, like Dell and Salesforce, with whom Dropbox hooked up last month, as well as consumer-oriented deals with handset makers like Samsung and HTC.

Users come first

Even though Piper is in charge of "enterprise strategy," he made it clear that Dropbox priortizes users ahead of IT. The company's focus is on:

  1. Users
  2. Developers
  3. IT admins

Very much in that order. "We focus on user experience," Piper said. "It has to just work...Once you have that, you can layer in management and controls without lowering the bar for users. If you come from the other side, it's hard to even know what that bar is." Piper said that creating a great user experience to typical business software is harder than adding management and controls to consumer services, and while it may sound counterintuitive, I've heard this before from companies that make business, and consumer software, most notably Autodesk.

"Focus on end-user experience is becoming a key for business," Piper continued. "That's a really good thing for business...That’s the natural evolution of end-user tools and services, making people more productive."

Overcoming resistance

Maybe so, but Dropbox knows it still has to overcome entrenched resistance from many IT professionals. "I think we're in an education phase, driving awareness of how far we've come," by adding services like single sign on and sharing its enterprise market roadmap, Piper said.

Citing Dropbox customers like women's apparel retailer BCBG, travel site Kayak, National Geographic, Rockstar Energy, Sur la table and USA Gymnastics, Piper claimed that "we can make IT admins love using the service as much as end users do."

That's a worthy goal. The big question is whether Dropbox can succeed before enterprise competitors find ways to make end users love their products as much as corporate IT does. And when you look at it that way, I'd put my money on Dropbox's bottom-up approach.

Disclosure: I attended Dell World as an invited guest of Dell, and they paid my travel expenses.

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