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Smart Conversations with SMART

SMART works to make collaboration and decisions surrounding collaborative technologies just that … smart.

If you're an avid No Jitter follower – and I know all of you are – around the time of year when many were singing carols and playing in the snow (or shivering inside while trying to keep the ice out of your home if you were in Chicago like myself), you most likely read a post, "Our Top Posts of 2013 – And Where They Are Now."

Our No. 2 most popular post was an article originally written by Brian Riggs in March, 2013 about Lync Room Systems, which covered the early developments from Lifesize, Crestron, SMART Technologies and Polycom. Of these four companies, Crestron and SMART Technologies were the two that had brought a product to market when I did my recap back in December. Since the ball was just getting rolling in March 2013, I recently sat down with the good people at SMART Technologies to hear about what has been happening with them in the interim.

A Year's Difference
Jeff Lowe, VP of Sales and Marketing for Enterprise at SMART Technologies, kicked off our discussion by describing where SMART was in March 2013 versus March 2014. In the course of a year, SMART made some significant improvements to its Lync Room System offering. To start, the company made a series of enhancements and cumulative updates to its LRS v1. It also fleshed out its offerings to include room systems in multiple screen sizes to meet varying business needs. While it started with three beta customers, this grew to a worldwide customer base of 50 to 100 rooms deployed.

SMART also began focusing on channel partners with audio-visual expertise, and has since expanded to an important partnership was with Westcon Group, which added a breadth of Lync expertise on top of AV.

The company has also been hard at work ramping up its services, growing from offering mainly maintenance and basic user training to a full array of robust installation, support, user training, reporting and analytics, and consulting services for deployment/adoption. Another key partnership to enhance its managed services offerings was its teaming up with UC Point, provider of Lync services, monitoring and maintenance support. Lowe explained that analytics and reporting on usage is one service that SMART is seeing significant demand for, attributed largely to the need for tools that enable a more in-depth understanding of how the deployment of new technologies is impacting business operations and productivity.

In addition to enhancements to its Lync Room System product, SMART has recently announced a new product that is making waves, kapp. In fact, SMART kapp was voted the best overall new product at InfoComm 2014, where it made its launch. While it is not shipping yet, SMART is taking pre-orders for this product, which really does seem to transcend a variety of verticals.

SMART kapp is basically a lower-cost replacement for a dry erase board, meant to assist in huddle rooms and informal collaboration. While this smart board doesn't have the communication abilities of Lync Room Systems, the company says it is truly a plug-and-play product, with no need to involve IT for set up. It uses Bluetooth to connect mobile devices.

After experiencing a demo of SMART's LRS, I have to say that some of the more compelling features in the company's portfolio of products include the built in technologies like the ability to convert written notes – scribbles in my case - to text, flawlessly.

Collaboration: The Survey Says...
One particularly interesting thing that SMART has been engaged in for years now is an ongoing research project on collaboration in general. There have been numerous notable findings resulting from this research, and one of our own contributors, Marty Parker, wrote a recent white paper for SMART based on this research, which found that effective collaboration multiples business results. Which results? Well, that depends.

According to Parker, collaboration can be treated as a recurring business process, which can then be built upon to produce a return for the company. He explains that individual enterprises will choose to use collaboration solutions to either increase output, enrich results or reduce costs, as is demonstrated in the graphic below.


Taken from Effective Collaboration Multiples Results, Marty Parker

This basically breaks down to the idea that businesses need to better understand collaboration habits, collaborative technologies, and the role they play in their individual business in order to assess how the company is faring and what sort of impact new technologies truly have. This need is essentially what spurred SMART to engage in this ongoing research project as well as to offer a tool meant to assess the state of "collaboration maturity."

From the July 2012 report titled, "Visual Collaboration Solutions Best Practices," collaboration maturity is described as a continuum; companies with the highest level of collaboration maturity are as much as five times more likely to realize a positive impact on a range of business outcomes than those at the lowest maturity level. The five stages include unsupported, not integrated, integrated, collaborative and optimized. The report in its entirety is available on SMART's Next Level Blog, along with numerous resources that provide insight into collaboration as a whole.

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