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Smart Boards Should Now Be A Core UC Component
Earlier this week I spoke at Westcon's UC Connections Event, a regional event for a number of the company's resellers. There were numerous sponsors there, including many of the companies one would expect to see at a UC event: Avaya, Polycom, AudioCodes and Microsoft's Lync. One of the more interesting presentations that made me think a bit about the evolution of UC was from Rob Spicer, Global Distribution Manager of Enterprise Solutions from SMART Technologies, maker of "smart boards."
Smart boards certainly aren't new by any measure. I remember using a smart board back in the '90s when I worked for a university in Canada. While I found value then, the usage of smart boards was limited primarily to the educational sector and had never been all that appealing to mainstream businesses. So why do I now think they should be a core technology?
Well, I think the smart board was one of those technologies that debuted well ahead of the need for it, and was definitely a solution in search of a problem. However, the way we work today is significantly different than the way we worked even a few years ago. Real-time collaboration is the basis of competitive advantage, and project teams are being assembled from geographically dispersed individuals. In a way, the problem has now come to the smart board solution.
The biggest change in this technology is that the smart boards aren't actually boards any more. Prior to this generation of smart boards, they were actually white boards. Now these are big, flat-screen TVs that allow people to share a document but then grab a marker and start writing on it, circling items, highlighting points, adding bullets and all the other stuff you might do on a white board, except you're doing it on top of a live document.
Smart boards address a piece of collaboration that other technologies don't. Audio conferencing allows users to talk to one another. Video conferencing enables us to see each other, and Web conferencing allows workers to share information such as slides and Word documents. However, there isn't really a medium that allows virtual teams to interact with one another the way people do when they're using a physical white board.
Much of the reason for deploying UC&C technology is to create an environment that's "as good as being there," and some of the technologies do that. For example, telepresence allows us to talk to one another like we're sitting across the table from each other. However, none of these technologies allow us to roll up the sleeves and brainstorm with each other, like we would if we were all in the same room with a white board in front of us.
The smart board enables us to collaborate and share a virtual, digital workspace to draw, write and spontaneously create something new--even over the top of existing documents. True, I could use some kind of shared editor but that's not as free-flowing as this. Spicer described this as the "4th dimension" in collaboration. When I first heard it, I thought it was just marketing-speak, but when I thought about it, that concept makes some sense--hear, see, share and interact. I'm not sure I would have used "4th dimension," but the concept does make sense.
The smart board is one of the core components of the Lync Room Systems as well, and I expect this to be one of the contributing factors in making the technology a core part of UC. As has been well documented on this site, Lync is hotter than the Bruins going into the NHL playoffs (take that Krapf, you Blackhawks fan!) and more and more customers are looking at LRS to complement their existing Lync deployments.
Education and LRS aren't the only places where smart boards make sense. Any kind of virtual meeting room where ad hoc collaboration is done could benefit from one. Think of environments like manufacturing, medical rooms or even waiting rooms. During Spicer's presentation, he actually indicated there was a mobile client coming as well which will expand the "smart boarding" capabilities to workers who aren't in physical offices. This could change the dynamics of how field service personnel interact with one another. Imagine a repair person being able to draw, write and share information with someone at HQ to help troubleshoot a problem.
The concept of a smart board may not be new, but the ways they operate and the impact they can have on businesses certainly are. If you haven't taken a look at one in a while, it's probably worth looking again.