Real estate firm feels at home using Dropbox

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When you have a consumerization discussion, Dropbox is often held up as an example of the kind of insecure consumer tool employees use when IT doesn't provide an enterprise alternative. But that's changing as Dropbox makes headway in the enterprise.

Avison Young, Canada's biggest commercial real estate company, turned to the cloud when it began expand to the US in 2009 as a way to cut back on IT costs. When it opened its Boston office in 2010, it started a pilot project using Dropbox and it hasn't looked back.

Lyndal Hanna, vice president of IT at Avison Young, came on board in 2009 and began transitioning the company to some cloud services. She started with moving to a hosted Exchange setup to reduce her administrative overhead and reduce costs.

When the company began expanding to the US, where there weren't the legacy systems in place, she began to look more closely at cloud services.

"We wanted to keep corporate overhead low and stay nimble. We were opening offices rapidly and hiring people and with hosting in the cloud could do that quickly. We didn't have to worry about running out of disk space," she said.

She says she started looking at Dropbox because she used it for her personal files. "I chose Dropbox as I was familiar with the product and had used it personally. They were just starting to come out with Dropbox for Teams and we were opening a relatively small office in Boston." She said after debating about whether to put in their own servers, they decided to go with Dropbox.

She says she's aware of the security issues, but so far she hasn't had any reason for concern.

"With any sort of cloud-based file sharing solution, that's a concern by its nature. That's always a concern with any of them. Frankly, it's something I keep a close eye on. So far they have not given us any reason to be concerned," she said.

Most of the company's approximately 1,200 employees have company-issued laptops, but people are free to choose their own phone. She reports seeing more tablet use lately, but it's still mostly laptops.  So most people are accessing Dropbox from a laptop, rather than the phone, where she says it's more difficult to view files on the smaller screen.

The offices using Dropbox each have individual employee folders and an Office folder for shared content. She said this approach has worked well and it mirrors the way employees were used to accessing and saving files on the file server.

She admits there are lots of choices, but so far it's been working for her. "I can't say I've done a recent exhaustive study of everything out there. We've been happy with it and it's been a good partnership for us," she said. 

And employees have been happy with it. She says in the old days if a client asked a questions and the broker wasn't prepared, they would have to get back to them. With Dropbox, they can pull up the file right away and have a look.

And Hanna said word is spreading. In fact, in some of the older offices that are still operating on file servers, employees have requested Dropbox, which shows it's proving to be popular with users.

The company does run Microsoft Office, but she says there are no plans to go to Office 365 or another cloud-based alternative for now.

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