Though it offers a business-tier plan, Dropbox has historically lacked a full-blown business platform on the order of Box and its APIs. That's about to change with the introduction of the Dropbox for Business API.
The API is an attempt by Dropbox to leverage the massive user base it's built up both inside and outside of enterprises. The company is gambling that a sufficient number of companies haven't already made a commitment to a competitor.
Dropbox's existing APIs allow the development of apps that connect to Dropbox. The new Business API set connects Dropbox to more than 20 third-party services in seven categories: e-discovery and legal hold, data loss prevention, event analytics (for events generated by Dropbox activity logs), DRM and encryption, single sign-on, backup and migration, and custom workflow creation.
Many of the services Dropbox singled out as API partners are already in wide use within enterprises. With single sign-on, for instance, Microsoft Azure Active Directory or a local AD repository are both supported, along with third-party providers like the creative up-and-comers Okta and Ping Identity. Connectors to analytics systems like Splunk and Domo are provided for scrutinizing Dropbox activity logs.
Dropbox plans to differentiate itself the most not merely in terms of who it'll connect to or what API services it'll provide. Rather, it wants its existing appeal as a well-known and widely used product to help sell it to enterprises.
Ross Piper, VP of enterprise, noted this has already happened in Dropbox's purview, with 100,000 businesses (Dropbox's number) of various sizes and in various industries already using the service's business plan in its first 18 months. The way Dropbox sees it, it's better to first build a product people wanted to use, then add enterprise functionality, rather than build the API set first and layer a user-friendly interface over it.
"Layering [new enterprise features] on top of a world-class user experience," Piper said, "on top of a product and an app that users already love, is a much better outcome. And now that we continue to invest in security and management and controls for IP, we're doing that with something that users are already jumping to adopt."
Both Piper and George O'Brien, product manager of Dropbox for Business, disputed the idea that this user-experience-first approach comes at the expense of security. "When you build a really good foundation," Piper said, citing the block-level sync engine used by Dropbox, "layering in management and transparency is not actually 'bolting on,' it's exposing the underlying services to the customers and the partners that allows you to add these things."
Dropbox's push to be more appealing to businesses has come on multiple fronts. Aside from the Business API and its business-tier plans, Dropbox recently set up a strategic partnership with Microsoft, adding direct Dropbox connectivity to the mobile edition of Office 365.
By contrast, Dropbox's biggest enterprise competitor, Box, is looking to drum up business from vertical industries as an escape from the spiral of price-cutting and feature-matching that plagues cloud storage. That doesn't guarantee Dropbox will be able to pick up any enterprise-side slack from Box, though, even as Dropbox hurries to eclipse its competitor from the bottom up.
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