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The Whiteboard Goes Digital


Image: Pixel-Shot -
As workplace collaboration continues to shift from email and audio conferences to team applications and video-enabled meetings, there’s one holdout in the drive to digitize the meeting experience – the venerable whiteboard is still ubiquitous in most meeting rooms, and even in many home offices. The continued reliance on plain old dry-erase whiteboards as a staple of the modern meeting means that remote meeting participants are often unable to see notes, images, or workflows that in-room meeting participants can jointly develop and modify. Typically, the capturing and saving of whiteboard content happen by taking a photo, or scribbling “DO NOT ERASE,” on the board to ensure the content is available for revisiting at future meetings.
Vendors have long sought to transform the plain old dry-erase whiteboard into a digital canvas that meeting participants can use to exchange ideas, manage workflows, create images, and mark-up documents and presentations. Today, the market is full of physical-digital whiteboards that tightly integrate into team and meeting applications. These include the Cisco Webex Board, DTEN D7 or ON, Google Jamboard, Microsoft Surface Hub, and those that solely provide a touchscreen environment that can run native or third-party apps. Examples of the latter include products such as InFocus Mondopad, Newline’s Trutouch, Ricoh D-series, Samsung Interactive Whiteboard, and Smart KappIQ.
In addition to touchscreen-based devices, there are immersive full-wall or large display systems from Cyviz, Hoylu, Nuerva, Oblong, and Prysm that replace the whiteboard with large digital canvases suitable for ideation or operations management. Alternatively, some vendors offer solutions for sharing content on dry-erase whiteboards with virtual meeting participants. Examples include Kaptivo, as well as Microsoft Teams Content Room cameras such as the Logitech Brio and 930e (see a list of Teams-certified content cameras here). Also, video conference room solutions from vendors like Dolby include a side camera capable of capturing and sharing dry erase whiteboard content from within a meeting room. These approaches enable all meeting participants to see what’s being shared on the whiteboard but don’t provide a common platform for content creation and sharing.
Nemertes has tracked the adoption of physical-digital whiteboards for the last four years, finding that adoption continues to be limited. We recently published "Visual Communications and Collaboration: 2020-21," a global research study of more than 525 end-user organizations that shows that 27.7% of participants are now using digital whiteboards, up from 17.6% in 2018. Digital whiteboards are extensively being deployed to large (>10 participants) and midsize (5-10 participant) meeting spaces, and often in limited numbers. Participants say they still struggle to establish user demand, use cases, and return-on-investment (ROI) for investors.
An emerging alternative to these physical platforms is virtual whiteboard applications from vendors such as Bluescape, CollaBoard, ConceptBoard, iObeya, Miro, Mural, and Stormboard. Each of these applications enables customers to create virtual whiteboards that can be shared, modified, and accessed by any member of a workgroup. Virtual whiteboard apps are especially well suited to remote work teams who are no longer able to meet in person for ideation or workflow management sessions.
Most virtual meeting apps include a variety of templates for common activities. These include software updates, projects, journey mapping, and other repeatable ideation tasks that make them more powerful than basic drawing apps available in most meeting platforms today.
Use cases for virtual whiteboard apps include:
  • Ideation – providing a canvas that multiple people can draw on, annotate, paste content (e.g., images, files, etc.) and so on
  • Workflow management – defining processes and integrating content from external applications
  • Agile process management – providing templates for establishing and managing agile workflows such as Kanban and swimlane diagrams
  • Meeting complement – providing a virtual canvas for note-taking, action item capture, or holding places for ideas or topics for further discussion during meetings
  • Virtual sticky notes – providing a place to capture, organize, and store sticky notes generated during meetings or activities
  • Presentation development – enabling export of whiteboards into apps like PowerPoint

Additionally, many apps integrate with content stores such as Box, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive for inserting content into a virtual whiteboard or storing it in a file share or team space (Microsoft’s own whiteboard app integrates natively with Teams). Most apps also allow the insertion of content from a variety of other external sources (e.g., videos, images, web sites, etc.) as well as integration with project management applications.

IT and business leaders should actively investigate virtual whiteboard apps as a means to improve collaboration among virtual teams. The ability of virtual whiteboard apps to create a sharable workspace without requiring investments in hardware is especially attractive for supporting the collaboration needs of home workers.