I hope Aaron Levie is wrong, but I am worried he is right!

Enterprise End Users deserve both Security/Compliance and Beautiful Simple to use Apps.


For those of it who missed it Drew Houston of Dropbox and Aaron Levie of Box got into a little war of words this past week. Competition is good for the market and I admire both these companies, but some of things Aaron Levie said worried me a little.

Here is what he said.

“I don’t think it( meaning Dropbox) will work at scale in the enterprise.  There are a lot more security, compliance and legal measures that need to be ironed out.”

We then went on to suggest that Google Apps is not enterprise ready

“Google Apps has millions of small businesses, but Microsoft is what is becoming the standard in the Fortune 500 and larger enterprises. That’s just because the DNA of the companies are just very different.”

Here is the problem I have with these statements. Aaron is suggesting that there are two kinds of enterprise companies with two different kinds of DNA. He is suggesting that companies like Microsoft and Box understand the enterprise security, compliance and legal issues and then there are consumer or user focused companies like Google and Dropbox who do not.

There is certainly ample evidence that this divide has existing for some time. Enterprise applications have long erred on the side of security/compliance. Up until recently applications were procured by the CIO’s office and enterprise software companies treated the needs of IT ahead of users. Users have hated Enterprise applications for a long time. If you have ever used SAP,  or Siebiel, you know what I am talking about. If you have ever walked up to the counter of an airline to change your flight and watched the person make about 500 keystrokes  to get you an option, you know how bad enterprise software has been. That SAP or reservation system is secure and compliant, but users hate it.

There is also evidence that application companies that focus on end users have been dismissive of enterprise needs. Up until recently, Apple was the poster child for this unfortunate approach. Steve Jobs did not like designing products for CIOs or corporate middlemen. Users loved Macs, but Microsoft won this segment handily. End user focused companies have had difficulty valuing enterprise requirements. Their engineering teams don’t like working on the boring plumbing issues that large enterprises need. They want to focus on design and end user features, but they don’t want to hear about developing an API to interface with multiple Single Sign On solutions.

Aaron Levie was saying that Box and Microsoft get the Enterprise, while Google and Dropbox do not. He is saying that the features that users love about Google and Dropbox cannot be used by enterprise.

BUT, I personally hope that enterprise end users won’t have to face this false choice between – compliant, secure apps OR user oriented apps. The users of Fortune 500 companies should get both a beautiful user experience and a secure/compliant environment.

When Aaron says companies have a certain DNA, he seems to be implying that these companies cannot change and that Enterprise users will forever be faced with a choice between applications that security and compliance professionals love and applications that end users love.  We simply can’t allow that to happen. We are in the process of a huge application shift that is seeing enterprises trade in their old on premise apps for cloud/mobile apps. We should aspire to the consumer grade usability standards as we make this shift. If we don’t, we will have failed our enterprise end users.

I think we have made some progress in this area. Traditional enterprise companies are improving their design teams. Take a look at Microsoft’s mobile Outlook app. It is arguably the best mobile email client. Great design. And despite what Aaron says Google and Dropbox have made great strides in building scalable enterprise IT feature sets. When I was at Google, we bought Postini for $625M to add granular policy control and archiving feature sets that IT needed. Facebook and LinkedIn have recently launched programs that enable enterprise users to utilize their technology for corporate use. Look for them to add these enterprise IT features. And even Apple has seen the light. The iPhone has added enterprise features and Apple created a partnership with IBM to help them with Enterprise requirements

So, I call on all cloud based B2B tech companies to ponder this question and achieve excellence in both areas.

If you have end user design DNA. then you need to acquire the enterprise skills. You need to learn about Directory integrations, Single Sign On Systems and Mobile Device Management solutions.  You need to learn about Granular Policy Control and Archiving capabilities. And you need to learn about compliance rules of different countries and industries and help your customers meet those compliance requirements. You can’t just rely on your outstanding design and tell the CIO/CSO/CCO that their requirements are secondary.

If you have a lot of enterprise DNA, you must get out from selling and servicing the IT department predominantly. Ultimately your customers are your end users, not the CIO.  Do not rely on the CIO or compliance office to select your apps and then foist them on end users. Hire some designers, especially mobile designers and value and prioritize end user simplicity and beautiful design.
Come on people. Its 2015! I am getting same day delivery at my house. I press a button on my mobile phone and a driver shows up. We have robots, drones, wearable computers and pretty soon my car is going to drive itself. Please don’t tell me we can’t build beautiful enterprise apps that are secure and compliant!