Keep calm, it’s not another whiteboard

Image Source: Cisco Systems

It makes perfect sense to market the Cisco Spark Board as a competitively priced whiteboard and content display. If you accept the value of Spark Board as an interactive flat panel there is no need to sell you on the value of Spark, the platform, but this is where the true value of the Spark Board comes into play.

I don’t classify Spark Board as a whiteboard for the following reasons:

Context vs Content

Whiteboards provide a drawing surface for transient content; Spark Board’s focus is context: an associated history of interaction between, individuals, teams and content. I expect we will continue to see an evolution of greater contextualisation with the Spark Board and the Spark platform with the acquisition of Worklife and future development.

It’s Personal

Whiteboards are intended to be a common resource and as such be impersonal, they have no awareness of the individuals that use them. Spark Board identifies and interacts with the users in the room and seamlessly becomes their work space the moment they choose to connect. Every Spark Board is my Spark Board.

Remote collaboration is not an afterthought

It is often overlooked that collaboration is as much about who is not in the room as it is about who is. Video conferencing is a key part of remote collaboration. We design video conferencing spaces for the people that we hope will never want to be physically present in that space.  (If they feel the need to be there due to a poor experience we have failed).  The video and especially the audio experience must be of the highest quality to ensure that remote participants are engaged and included and never feel the need to be physically present to be an active participant. Cisco understands this and it’s clear to see in the Spark Board.

I see the Spark Board as an on demand personal collaboration device not a whiteboard.

Would I buy a Spark Board?

I see two target markets for the Spark Board:

Small and Medium Business

The price has democratised collaboration  for the small and medium business who may not traditionally have invested in Cisco collaboration. Those late to invest in collaboration may be some of the first to truly capitalise on the Spark Board. I would caution SMB customers who would focus on price, while the cost of entry is relatively low the decision to invest in anything must always be based on value. A focus on price is just a lower cost of failure.

Traditional Cisco Enterprise customers

It stands to reason that customer that have invested in collaboration understand its value and would have a keen interest in understanding where Spark Board and Spark can be leveraged in their organisation. A key considerations is integration. Cisco is not blind to this fact and the progressive updates to Spark  since it’s launch is testament to this.

Back to the question of would I buy a Spark Board. If you ever hear a consultant say the words “I would buy one”, don’t buy it, do some research first. If you here a consultant say “if I were you I would buy one”, then ask them why ? and give their responses due consideration.

The key to technology adoption from a users perspective is familiarity and consistency. Very often we go to meeting spaces to do the same thing we do at our desks or on our mobile devices,  just with more people. In the past the increased audience necessitated different technologies, user interfaces and workflows.  With Cisco Spark and the Spark Board this is no longer the case and that can only be a positive step in achieving a return on your investment in collaboration technologies.


The Definition of the ‘Averagely Perfect’ Meeting Room

Does the ‘averagely perfect’ meeting room exist, and if so what defines it?

My definition of the averagely perfect meeting room or space is a space that has been designed with the minimal number of compromises to achieve the best experience for the intended use cases.

The reality, is that most meeting spaces contain some level of compromise, which may be due to architectural, technology or budget constraints. When we add video conferencing to these spaces, we introduce an additional level of complexity and – in many cases – compromises.

We design meeting rooms for the local participants. We design video conferencing spaces for the best possible experience for the people who will most likely never see the room (if we get it right). The reality is that most organisations build meeting rooms, and not dedicated video conferencing rooms. Video conferencing vendors provide video conferencing solutions – not meeting room solutions. In many cases, all-in-one video conferencing solutions will meet the use case requirements for smaller meeting rooms, but not for larger and multi-purpose spaces. Placing an all-in-one system in these type of spaces is ALWAYS a compromise.

In practice, knowledge is often gained about one second after you needed it when it comes to real life experience. We learn from our mistakes, but wouldn’t it be so much better – and cost effective – to ‘head those mistakes off at the pass?

Here are some of the things I have learned that have influenced how I approach integrating video into meeting rooms:

It’s easier to move walls and pull cables on paper

If at all possible audio visual and video conferencing requirements should be designed into the space at the earliest phase of development. Having an understanding of the use cases and their required technology should inform and – where possible – be accommodated in the design of the space. Room aesthetics, architectural finishes, and engineering requirements may still result in compromise, but the earlier this is addressed and understood the better.

Try these on for size:

Try and adopt the mindset of the intended users of the room, and also the remote participants if including video conferencing.

Where would you prefer to sit, why? Where is your least preferable seating position and why? What can I do to improve the experience from this position? It may be as easy as increasing the size (of) or raising the screen, or changing the shape of the table or room orientation.

When you add video conferencing you need to also consider the remote participants experience: can they see and hear everyone clearly? Is it a worthwhile experience from their perspective?

Could your grandparents use it?

We sometimes forget that employers don’t ever advertise for ‘users of technology’ as a key component of every job description – unless, of course, it’s a role in IT! It’s our job to make the role people were hired for easier – not harder. The use of technology must be intuitive and our language on control systems and labeling must be common place. Over the years I have walked in to many meeting rooms and have been presented with multiple cables on the desk (none of which were labelled!), or a control panel with ‘techno speak’. If I myself, as someone who does this for a living, struggled to use them, what hope does an infrequent user have?

The “how long is a cable” question?

This is something I see more and more these days with the advent of the all-in-one off the shelf packages. The length of the supplied cable should not dictate the seating position. The preferred seating position should dictate the length of the cable. A straightforward fix, but often overlooked, and results in a compromised user experience.

‘Easy’ takes up space

It doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands to add ‘easy’ to an AV enabled meeting space, but it does take additional ‘magic boxes’ that need to be accommodated in that space. It’s best not to have these items on show as it can intimidate some users and attract unwanted attention from others.

“The magic doesn’t work anymore, do something!”

So you created the easiest and most popular room in your organisation. As is the case with technology, it fails sometimes. How quickly can the ‘magic’ be restored? This is the key to maintaining adoption. Most of us remember the extended wait for the coffee – no matter how good the coffee was once we got it – and in most cases would prefer not to have to go back to that coffee shop again. You must design serviceability into your meeting spaces to maintain adoption. Yes, you can fit a lot of technology behind a 65” screen, but how easy is it to replace?

Much of what I have outlined is common sense, but experience has shown me that common sense in many cases gets blinded by technology. If I were to distill my experience down to one statement it would be: “Is the space inviting and fit for purpose?”

A space that is fit for purpose that people want to use is perfection!

Create meeting spaces people use because they want to, not because they have to!