What Can We Learn From Google Drive and DropBox?

Maribel Lopez is the CEO and mobile market strategist for Lopez Research, a market research and strategy consulting firm that specializes in communications technologies with a heavy emphasis on the disruptive nature of mobile technologies. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

Google’s announcement of its Drive service created a huge debate on the differences in consumer cloud storage. We’ve seen a plethora of cloud offerings hit the market in including Amazon.com’s Cloud drive, Apple’s iCloud, DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive.

While we could debate the merits of each solution for hours, this isn’t the point. The point is there has been a significant shift in thinking by leading consumer and enterprise vendors that cloud storage is now considered a critical part of any solution. The shift in consumer services is really an indication of the shift in business services to come.

The cloud storage concept originated years ago in telecom domain, but came to fruition with companies like Box.com and DropBox. The telecom industry discussed replicating the PC’s contents in the cloud and later created the concept of digital lockers. It was an idea that was before its time.

The cost of storage was too high. Broadband wired and wireless networks weren’t in place and a majority of the population was using a feature phone.

Today, each of those dynamics has changed and millions of consumers are using cloud storage. However, it’s important to recognize what is different about today’s cloud services that have helped drive adoption.  First, today’s cloud services assume that the user will decide what content to replicate versus replicating your entire desktop.

Second, it assumes two-way synchronization where changes can be synced instantaneously to the same files on your other devices.  Third, it assumes a multi-device landscape that offers apps to support smartphones and tablets. Fourth, it assumes content sharing across users. This is probably the greatest difference since original systems weren’t conceived as platforms to share content across various users and companies.

Our employees are growing accustomed to personal clouds that provide easy access to information over multiple devices. Our employees are accustomed to sharing documents and collaborating in a new way.  This sharing isn’t just Facebook or Twitter. It’s a new way of storing and distributing documents, video and music.

Our challenge is to find ways to enable the same ease of sharing with security in our next generation collaboration tools. Anyone that is evaluating the next generation of enterprise collaboration tools should take note of the differences between those solutions and the personal cloud solutions.

Why?  If the shiny new collaboration solution you’ve bought isn’t delivering functionality that is similar to products like DropBox, you’ll have invested significant financial resources in a solution with limited adoption. Even if you force your employees to adopt the corporate solution, you’ll likely find that these employees will use the consumer-grade solutions when they feel it’s easier.

In many cases, cloud storage solutions are lacking some features IT would consider critical. However, we’ve learned that cloud ease of use trumps features for end users. What should you do?

First, find out what your employees are using today. Next, accept that it will be difficult to stop the use of these services. You need to manage the risk of this activity by educating your employees on what content can and can’t be shared and stored in consumer grade services.

For example, certain industries have regulatory and compliance requirements for data storage and your employees may not be familiar with this. Third, evaluate collaboration offerings with an eye toward ease of use and mobile readiness.

The market will continue to evolve rapidly and even products that started as consumer-grade, such as Box.com, are becoming more enterprise-ready. You’ll need to evaluate the progress of the entire cloud storage landscape every three to six months to keep abreast of the latest trends. Happy hunting!

What solutions are you using that were considering “only consumer grade” previously? What has been your experience? We look forward to your comments.
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