Cloud content vendors Dropbox and Box each introduced new features this week to help support businesses and individuals as they adapt to remote work. Dropbox launched several important new features including a password manager, a cloud backup service, a document vault and an app center. Meanwhile Box added workflow templates to help kickstart process automation. The announcements came during a busy week in digital teamwork, with Webex introducing new features during the annual Cisco Live event and Asana revealing a tie-up with Microsoft Teams yesterday.
The avalanche of new features comes as cloud collaboration vendors anticipate a permanent shift to remote working in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown. As Dropbox CEO Drew Houston told Forbes this week:
This is going to be a permanent shift. Many of us are excited to go back to the office. Many of us are excited to maybe not have to. That’s going to be the dynamic that continues; that’s going to be a permanent shift. [W]e’ve gone through a one-way door.
The Dropbox password manager comes from technology acquired in the acquisition of password management startup Valt last year. This works in a similar way to standalone password managers such as Dashlane, LastPass and 1Password. SVP and GM of the core Dropbox product, Tim Young, told The Verge that password management is already "one of the dominant use cases for Dropbox today," whether by syncing an existing password manager with Dropbox or simply saving passwords to a Dropbox folder. Now safely storing passwords that autofill when you sign in to websites and apps becomes a secure, native function available to paying users, initially in beta.
Features with a family theme
The new backup capability, also now in beta, is available to all users, including those on the free-of-charge Basic plan, subject to storage limits. This automatically syncs any folders from a user's Mac or PC to a Dropbox cloud backup, so they can be retrieved if the computer fails or is lost. This is a significant departure from Dropbox's standard behavior, in that it's the first time the company has synced local files to the cloud from outside of the designated Dropbox folder.
Another new Plus function is Dropbox Vault. This is a special Dropbox storage area for important digital copies of documents such as passports, insurance policies and deeds. It is additionally secured by a 6-digit pin and there is an option to make it available for emergency access by named family members or friends.
Continuing the family theme, Dropbox also unveiled a new Family plan that will provide for a shared space to keep photos, videos, documents and other family-related content. Up to 6 members will also have their own private space with all the usual Dropbox Plus features, subject to a 2TB limit for the whole plan, which is billed as a single account. The family plan is currently in beta with selected users and will be rolled out more widely in coming months.
Two new features from Dropbox target distributed teams in the business market. The integration of e-signature tool HelloSign, acquired at the beginning of last year, continues. Generally available from next month, e-signature now becomes a native feature in the core Dropbox app, bringing all of the workflow to send, sign and store a document within Dropbox.
The new App Center provides a user-friendly hub for exploring and connecting third-party tools from the likes of Zoom, Slack, and Google. This is currently being rolled out to a subset of customers in beta, with an initial roster of around 40 partners. Broader availability and a wider list of partners will follow later in the year.
Box's announcement is aimed squarely at business users, with the goal of making it easier to set up automated workflows using its Box Relay tool. A new library of pre-built templates for content-centric processes in functions such as sales, marketing, HR, legal and finance aims to make it easier for end users to create workflows without IT support. The templates are slated for general availability by the end of next month. All of the new features are included in Box Relay at no extra charge.
Relay gains two new features that are used in several of the templates. Integration with the recently introduced file request functionality means that workflows can now start automatically in response to external submission of content, such as a customer uploading a file. The file request capability is a configurable form that collects information from the user at the same as the file upload. The integration with Relay means that the upload can now trigger an automated workflow to deal with the content of the file request, for example loading the file to a specific folder and assigning tasks to individuals or teams, with deadlines to review and approve. The workflow can be made conditional based on what information has been submitted along with the file.
The second new feature is multi-file support, which enables users to package multiple pieces of content together that then move through a workflow as a single entity. This is useful in processes as varied as membership applications, expense reports or benefit claims.
The dislocation of lockdown and everyone having to rapidly learn how to work from home has had a silver lining for digital teamwork vendors — their products have become more valued. Therefore it's no surprise to see them rushing out capabilities that help their customers be more productive during these times. They want these new habits to stick — and many share Drew Houston's belief that this is a permanent shift, which means new behaviors adopted now may last a long time. These new ways of working could even reshape the future of business.
It's natural therefore for Box to want to accelerate take-up of its workflow automation tool, and for Dropbox to drive more of its user base to embed e-signature processes and connected apps into their day-to-day use. Remote working is about a lot more than video meetings — digitally connected workflows are the key to making today's distributed teams even more efficient and productive than their office-based predecessors.
But what I find particularly interesting about the new features announced by Dropbox this week is that most of them have very little to do with work. While work-at-home security will be enhanced by users adopting more secure password practices and having a cloud-based backup of their machines in place, these features are aimed at individual consumers — even if many of them are prosumers, ie they also have a professional reason for using Dropbox. The document vault and family edition are entirely consumer plays. These features are all about increasing the appeal of the paid-for Dropbox Plus plan and thereby maximizing upsell from free to paid. And I've not seen such a squarely consumer-focused announcement from Dropbox in the more than three years since it first sought to reposition itself as an enterprise SaaS vendor.
What this suggests to me is that there's been a subtle rebalancing of Dropbox's go-to-market plan to re-emphasize the consumer market rather than going all-out for the business market. I don't think that means any lessening in the company's enterprise ambitions, but I suspect it has found it harder than it expected — that is, as tough as I predicted — to gain traction for its business teamwork app launched last year. If it's going to take longer to get established in the enterprise market, then Dropbox needs to increase its revenues from the consumer market in the meantime, and that's what this week's announcements look set to do.
I also think this re-balancing has been in the works since late last year, rather than being a direct response to the COVID-19 lockdown. It was back in October when Quentin Clark stepped down from the CTO role after a two-year stint when he led the development of the teamwork app. His role then divided, with Bharat Mediratta coming in as CTO and SVP Platform, while Tim Young joined in the role of SVP and GM Core Dropbox. Young was the founder of enterprise collaboration platform Socialcast and subsequently became VP of Product and Engineering at VMware after it acquired his company. It's not unusual for Dropbox to have a CTO change once a significant project has been completed, as you can see from Clark's two-year tenure. He replaced Aditya Agarwal, who had put in place the technology foundations of Dropbox's business offering. And Young's background suggests there's still plenty more appetite for making progress in the enterprise market.
Look at this week's announcements therefore as a reaffirmation of Dropbox's commitment to the consumer market, rather than any dilution in its enterprise aspirations. Speaking personally as someone who in March started my second decade as a Dropbox user, for all that time has de-facto operated a family account, and is highly conscious of my need for both a reliable password manager and a secure digital document store, these new features suddenly feel long overdue.