IT — 9 March 2017

Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal: how to improve business productivity

When Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal stopped by for a coffee last month, he was in good spirits following a successful roundtable with the Government Digital Service (GDS), and other stakeholders from UK Government bodies. In fact, he got straight to the point as he sat down to chat to us about Dropbox’s commitment to building for openness and interoperability.

“We’re on the brink of a new social revolution,” he predicts, “how we work has been changing for an incredibly long time – but finally, it feels like we’re getting somewhere.” And, according to the ex-Facebook engineer, “it’s being facilitated by companies like Dropbox that build products to work with other products, and build ecosystems that help other businesses grow.”

Aditya, fresh from a Q&A session with UK government technology leaders on the subject of interoperability – enabling different devices and software to work together – was keen to elaborate.

Choosing to grow through openness and supporting every file type, device and operating system isn’t easy, he explained, but it’s better for customers – including small businesses.  “Technology is transforming our lives, at work and home, yet the way we do business is still inefficient. Most studies show that for the highly skilled, modern knowledge worker, 61% of their time is spent managing work, and just 39% doing work (McKinsey).”

Tools like Dropbox that are built around openness help companies drive productivity because they enable people to work with whoever they want, using the tools they choose.

As Aditya explained, “what we’re seeing now is those same workers finally waking up and saying, ‘why can I do all this cool stuff in my private life, but not at work?’ Why is it I can search through the entire inventory of human knowledge in less than a second on my phone, but if you ask me to search through the knowledge bank of my company for the last week, then I don’t know how?’ People are questioning this crazy disparity; they understand what technology can help them achieve in the workplace – but only if companies embrace openness and give people the power to choose how they work.”

That, according to Aditya, is why we should care: “Just go look at what’s happening with people like Ugly Drinks, or Garsington Opera, or on a bigger scale, the broadcast journalists finding new ways to tell stories, stories the world wouldn’t have been able to hear about just a few years ago.”

Let’s say you have a sales force of 50,000 signing deals on the road. Do you want them to mail you a paper contract, or do you want them to sign with DocuSign, and have it save instantly in Dropbox at Head Office?

By building for interoperability, Dropbox and the companies that share the same ethos enable people, teams and companies to achieve more, by saving them more time.

“The question I ask myself,” Aditya continued, “is if you could take those three days – that 60% of time spent on managing work – and put them back into your job, the job you’re supposed to be doing, what more could we achieve? What more could we achieve as individuals, a team, a company, as a part of the government, or even a country? And it blows my mind to put a value to that, I mean our economy could be twice as big.”

It’s certainly a compelling argument, but if there’s so much demand for interoperability, why is it taking so long to change?

“Human nature,” Aditya replied. “Human beings unfortunately care less about the benefits of change and more about not ‘messing up’. And, it’s this type of risk averse behaviour that has led many organisations to slow down and stagnate when it comes to digital innovation.”

We’ll be following this story of ‘interoperability’ over the next few months, talking to different organisations about their efforts to make work simpler. For now though, what advice does Aditya have for businesses considering change?

“Just do it, if you want to improve productivity, and retain a loyal employee base, just do it. Digital, and interoperability, is key to future success”.


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