Cisco Pushes Into Immersive Group Collaboration

Cisco this morning launched Spark Board, its foray into the world of immersive group collaboration (IGC), aka "interactive virtual whiteboards" and "visual collaboration systems." You can read more of the details around the launch here, but in short, Cisco is pitching two use cases for Spark Board. The first is for small rooms in which Spark Board can serve as both a room video conferencing system as well as a touch-screen for group collaboration (e.g. presenting and annotating content, capturing notes, ideation, etc.). The second is simply to augment rooms where video conferencing systems are already deployed.

Companies can deploy a single Spark Board within a room, or multiple boards in the same room, or across multiple locations. Cisco is integrating Spark Board into its Spark collaboration software, taking work done on the board and bringing it into Spark meeting and team spaces. By delivering Spark Board, Cisco not only offers an alternative to Microsoft Surface Hub, but also one to the growing cadre of IGC purveyors.

The IGC market continues to expand. Since I wrote about this space this past September (see, "The White Board: The Last Relic of Bad Meetings") several other new entrants have joined the market. These include Google's Jamboard, Ricoh's D2200 Interactive Whiteboard and Touchjet's WAVE device that touch-enables any monitor. I'm currently tracking 17 different vendors in this space, and more are likely to come as video conferencing vendors expand their portfolios to include IGC offerings.

IGC products solve a fundamental problem of virtual collaboration: enabling remote participants to actively create and manipulate text, video, and graphics. IGCs eliminate the disconnect that remote meeting participants feel when someone in a meeting room begins to write on a white board, or hang post-it notes on a wall. They enable participants, regardless of location, to take and view notes, add to ideation efforts, and share annotations. Furthermore, IGCs typically enable teams to share their work and return to it at a later time.

Cisco's entrance puts some competitive pressure on Microsoft, who is pushing its Surface Hub IGC into its customer base. Cisco's price point comes in slightly lower, though that's offset somewhat by a monthly recurring license cost. Cisco edges out Microsoft in support for proximity pairing of mobile devices and laptops as well as support for synchronized annotation across multiple IGC devices (achieving that kind of capability in Surface Hub requires adding a third-party app like Stormboard .) Cisco's distributed synchronous whiteboarding capabilities within Spark works similarly to Stormboard; it can be used by those just using the Spark app, even if they don't have access to a Spark Board. Both Cisco's and Microsoft's products are tightly integrated into their respective collaboration software (Spark and Skype for Business, respectively) and probably aren't a good fit for organizations not using either of those platforms.

As noted earlier, the IGC space is increasingly competitive, and growing in terms of number of entrants. Those who have aligned their UC strategy with Cisco should take a careful look at Spark Board for its ability to improve collaboration among distributed and virtual teams while Microsoft customers should do the same for Surface Hub. Those not aligned with either vendor, or who are looking at immersive group collaboration as a stand-alone collaboration tool should investigate the myriad of offerings from vendors, including Bluescape, DisplayNote, Google, iObeya, InFocus, Newline, Nureva, Oblong, Prysm, Smart, Touchjet, and Zoom, to name a few.

Expect more new products to transpire in the coming year, as well as likely partnerships and acquisitions as video and collaboration vendors lacking an IGC product determine a strategy to enter this space. Additionally, expect further opportunities to integrate IGCs into video conferencing and team collaboration platforms.

Learn more about next-generation messaging and team collaboration trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Next-Gen Messaging & Team Collaboration track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.