Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar is the Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he manages research operations, develops and manages...
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Irwin Lazar | September 08, 2016 |


The White Board: Last Relic of Bad Meetings

The White Board: Last Relic of Bad Meetings "Immersive group collaboration" brings interactive team meetings into the digital age.

"Immersive group collaboration" brings interactive team meetings into the digital age.

Maybe this sounds familiar: You walk into your spiffy new conference room. On one end are two large screens for video conferencing and content projection. If you are lucky, perhaps there's an automatic pan-tilt-zoom camera that can follow the active speaker. Audio is spectacular thanks to microphones that drop from the ceiling or are embedded into the table. Everything is controllable via a touch screen.

You think to yourself, ahhh, I'm lucky to have a state-of-the-art conference room for my meetings... then the meeting starts, and before long participants in your room, and maybe other rooms, are taking notes or sketching out ideas on a white board that nobody outside the room can see. Only those who have physical access to the white board do the primary meeting work. Despite all that investment in high-quality AV, remote participants do not feel as if they are a part of the meeting and end up tuning out or dropping off the call.

This scenario reflects the reality that the white board largely remains outside the domain of those responsible for collaboration; in most organizations, white boards are usually a facilities purchase installed by those who set up furniture. Thanks to a slew of new collaboration products and services, which Nemertes labels as "immersive group collaboration" (IGC), this paradigm is starting to change.

IGCs replace the white board with a touch-screen device that integrates into existing meeting applications to enable:

  • One-click launch
  • Storage of content created on the board into collaborative workspaces
  • Display and manipulation of content, including documents and presentations
  • Sharing of Web objects or rich-media content like streaming videos

Oblong's Mezzanine, an immersive group collaboration product, in use at telehealth center Mercy Virtual (see related story, "Mercy Virtual: No Beds, Lots of Video)

The white board of the future doesn't require pens snapped into clunky cradles. Rather, its user interface is touch-enabled or for use with electronic markers that resemble dry-erase markers. And, perhaps most importantly, the white board is a shared medium, providing a synchronized experience across multiple rooms, and to end-user computing devices.

So let's revisit our opening scenario, updating it to replace that archaic white board with an IGC system. As the meeting starts, the IGC comes to life, perhaps displaying a folder linked to the team space for the meeting. A participant clicks on the folder to pull up new marketing ad copy for review. Remote participants working on their laptops, tablets, or within another conference room with its own IGC can see the content and add their own annotations or manipulations. Perhaps one attendee at a remote office shares video content via the IGC.

At the end of the meeting, the team saves its work, and has it available for further access from a group workspace. The end result is that participants aren't just engaged via voice and video, they are engaged in the active process of developing or updating content as if they were all in the same room.

IGC solutions are rapidly coming onto the market from companies like Anoto (digital pen and paper solution), Bluescape (Bluescape visual collaboration workspace), DisplayNote Technologies (Montage), InFocus (Mondopad), Microsoft (Surface Hub), Nureva (Span Ideation System), Oblong Industries (Mezzanine), Polycom (RealPresence Whiteboard), Prysm (Prysm Visual Workplace), Smart Technologies (kapp iQ), and more. Products differ largely in their support for active content manipulation, remote synchronization of displays, and the ability to save work and resume at a later time. Many use a cloud back-end to synchronize displays and to store content. Prices range from less than $10,000 for a 55" Microsoft Surface Hub to more than $150,000 for higher-end systems from vendors like Oblong. Cloud-based providers like Bluescape and Nureva typically charge a per-user license fee on top of hardware.

Interest in IGCs is already strong. Approximately 23% of the companies interviewed for the upcoming Nemertes 2016-17 Unified Communications and Collaboration Benchmark said they are already using an IGC or are planning to deploy one by the end of this year. Another 47% are evaluating them for potential future deployment.

Primary use cases involve supporting distributed collaboration for content creation groups (e.g. marketing), product development, research and engineering, and software development. At this time, however, deployments tend to be for extremely limited pilots with no more than a few systems in use. Cost is the primary constraint, especially given limited budgets for new investments in collaboration, and the difficulty of tying a quantifiable business case to IGC use.

Another challenge noted by several research participants is the need to coordinate AV plans with facilities teams, which largely own responsibility for rooms. Additionally, IT leaders note concerns about network impact of widespread deployment of synchronized IGCs sharing content among multiple locations.

Collaboration leaders should take a hard look at IGCs as part of their collaboration portfolios. Look for the ability to manipulate a wide array of content types, and for integration with existing content repositories. And pay attention to the network impact, as well as to the potential need to work with facilities teams to determine deployment and support approaches.

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