Both Box and Dropbox Business are cloud-based file sharing solutions intended to give their customers the freedom to view, edit and collaborate on documents whenever and wherever they need to.
They both offer different tiers of business solution - covering basic, advanced and enterprise requirements, which are intended to cater to all parts of the corporate marketplace with different needs and budgets.
However, whilst these document management systems are now popular and ubiquitous, many companies have found them inadequate as tools for more formal project management and document control processes.
In fact, there are plenty of instances of companies being forced to abandon these solutions ‘midstream’ to find software that can actually deliver the rigorous document management and governance features required by ISO 9001 and other standards.
Background to Box and Dropbox for Business solutions
Dropbox has, traditionally, seen everyone as their customer - something that founder Drew Houston has frequently suggested is his USP:
“Our users are trapeze artists, high school football coaches - I even got cornered by a couple of theoretical physicists who said Dropbox lets them collaborate across the world and share their experiments' results.”
It’s worth noting, then, that Dropbox developed its business offerings as a response to people increasingly using personal accounts for work purposes.
This has meant that the company has always had the edge in terms of take-up among the population at large. This has potentially made its enterprise offering, more of a ‘shoe in’ for SMEs looking for a no cost or low-cost file sharing solution that they could integrate into their business processes with the minimum of fuss and with a minimal amount of training.
On the other hand, Box was developed from the ground up as an enterprise solution and so might be thought of as a more sophisticated and targeted answer to specific business problems. As Aaron Levie, CEO of Box says:
“We’re a 100% enterprise-focused company. All the technology we’re building goes toward asking how do we make it easier, or more scalable, or simpler, and just a better way for businesses to share and manage and access this data.”
But the truth is, as it stands now, Box and Dropbox for Business seem fairly evenly matched in terms of the features they offer their enterprise customers.
They both now offer high levels of flexibility around file sharing and collaboration in a way that can streamline many business functions.
Comparing the Document Management features of Dropbox and Box
Indeed, the real selling point for both these solutions are the myriad and seamless ways they make the lives of teams working together (and at distance) on documents and projects easier.
This includes slick and highly designed, user-centric interfaces across devices, as well as integrations with popular comms and productivity programmes such as Word, Google Docs and Slack.
- Both products offer a suite of apps that support collaboration across a range of devices
- Both Box and Dropbox Business support link sharing, invite only and external file sharing
- Both support the ability for administrators to grant and withhold permissions for individuals to share within and outside their business
- Users can request comment on files and receive alerts when others comment on their work
- Both solutions have built-in versioning and file recovery features to prevent users from losing their work - although, as we note later neither may satisfy certain regulatory requirements for auditing and trackability.
- Both have integration solutions with popular apps that makes file sharing and editing easier. User reviews suggest that Box has the edge when it comes to the integration with the latest and most used Project Management, CRM and Marketing apps.
What do you really need from a Document Management System?
But are the Project Management and Product Development capabilities of these two solutions really able to support processes with multiple dependencies, proliferating documentation and an enhanced need for security and risk management? Could they really help you deliver the kind of quality controls within your processes required by ISO 9001 or ISO 13485?
With this in mind, it’s always worth considering the ‘pyramid of information management maturity’, in order to assess whether the tools you are proposing to use are equal to the standards you are hoping or are required to meet.
Fig 1: Pyramid of information management maturity
There are some types of business, for example, that need to attain the ‘apex’ capabilities of document and process control in a way that others will not.
For those companies who are developing products in highly regulated areas, there is a need to be able to guarantee their processes will always be undertaken in specific ways and the risk of making errors in handling documentation can be reduced through a systematic approach to review and continual optimisation. Such provisions might be overkill for those making products where the risk of harm to an end user is low, or the cost of the slightest deviation from a stipulated process is negligible.
Workflow capabilities to match your business needs
We have analysed the built-in workflow capabilities of Box elsewhere and concluded that, while they are sufficient for automating simple and repetitive tasks such as triggering and tracking standard contract releases or fulfilling similar businesses needs, they are inadequate for others.
More complex workflow processes might include managing multiple projects in stages in a rigorous and efficient way, automatically publishing ‘approved’ sets of documentation to specific locations and creating a fully auditable trail of actions and approvals that will live forever in your chosen system. In these cases, we see companies constantly struggling to use both Dropbox Business and Box without resorting to a range of manual workarounds.
And, of course, once manual workarounds are in place to compensate for an absence of automation, the opportunity for human error creeps in, simple mistakes can be amplified and the integrity of an entire process can be corrupted.
Document Management and Document Control
When it comes to document management, both Box and Dropbox have great collaborative features to help multiple people work on drafts remotely and together.
But our analysis of Dropbox Business against the documentation demands of Quality Standards such as ISO 9001, throws up some problems with versioning that would not really meet ISO's robust requirements for auditing and trackability.
Files can certainly be locked down for editing, but neither system makes automatic distinctions between ‘drafts’ and ‘issues’ of documentation. Users who are attempting to build out compliant quality systems will, therefore, have to manually oversee the management of naming conventions and the discreet storage of definitive files.
These shortcomings have seen companies using these solutions going to considerable and convoluted lengths to ensure that important pieces of Quality Documentation are protected from being overwritten and can never be stored in the wrong place.
Which is the best value DMS software?
Neither Dropbox or Box are no cost solutions, and at the enterprise end of the scale businesses can quickly see costs mounting up, as they add more features (such as Box Relay) to properly fulfil their business needs.
And to make matters worse, the companies we work with often realise the limitations of Box and Dropbox only after they have started using them.
Others have been working within their limitations so long that they don’t realise how much time and resource is wasted compensating for their inadequacies.
For these reasons we would recommend companies who are looking to invest in a long term DMS solution to consider all their requirements in a systematic way before committing themselves. It may also be a useful exercise to trial various solutions before deciding which one is best for you.
While some storage and collaboration issues can be solved by using Box or Dropbox, you should also consider how they could be deployed to meet quality objectives imposed by regulators or future clients - and whether they could do so efficiently and at a reasonable cost.