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Immersive group collaboration breaks down conference room walls

Meeting rooms are getting a makeover as visual workspace systems aim to enhance collaboration among distributed teams. But enterprises need to 'try before you buy.'

Collaboration technologies for supporting distributed group meetings have come a long way in the last few years....

Video conferencing, for example, now joins desktops, mobile devices and room systems inside and outside the company domain so meeting participants from multiple locations can see and hear each other. Web conferencing platforms, too, let users share their screens, and co-authoring lets groups edit documents in real time.

Still, for many companies, one part of the meeting experience has remained outside the virtual group collaboration realm: the conference room wall.

Walk into any modern meeting room and you'll still see whiteboards or walls made for markup. You might even see easels with large pads of paper so participants can capture ideas and hang them on walls for future use. Some companies may have electronic whiteboards, enabling remote participants to see what is being written.

These approaches have four primary limitations:

If immersive group collaboration isn't yet on your radar, it should be.

1. Remote participants, in some cases, can't see what's being written. It's not unusual to be in a meeting and have someone move a video camera to show remote participants the contents of the whiteboard. But, in this case, remote users can't engage visually with others in the meeting.

2. Participants outside the room can't manipulate, add to or change content on the walls, easel or whiteboard.

3. Whiteboards limit users in what can be hand-drawn or written. There's no way, for example, to post a document, schematic or other piece of content for group collaboration or annotation.

4. Content created during work sessions can't easily be saved or restored so that teams can pick up where they left off when they reconvene. Participants might use their phones to take pictures of whiteboards for future reference.

But an emerging set of group collaboration products aims to solve these communication challenges. Several vendors have introduced visual workspace products designed to enable teams to use wall space for immersive content and group collaboration across distributed offices.

Visual workspace vendors, Prysm and Oblong, demonstrate their products in this video

Some of the vendors and products include Anoto, Bluescape, DisplayNote, Microsoft's Surface Hub, Oblong's Mezzanine, Prysm, InFocus's Mondopad, Polycom's RealPresence Whiteboard, and SMART's kapp iQ and Room System for Skype for Business.

These visual workspace products vary in size, scope, capabilities and integration with existing collaboration platforms. Most products leverage a touchscreen as the foundation and allow content control and interaction through desktop and mobile clients.

Some products enable capture and playback of content shared on boards for later use and the ability to save content in a file storage or team workspace. By integrating content with team spaces, workgroups can provide a unified repository for projects or team materials.

Take immersive collaboration systems for a test drive

The primary challenge for the emerging immersive group collaboration market is justifying the expense and allocating the cost. In our experience at Nemertes Research, while working with clients who are using these types of systems, we find that a "try before you buy" approach works best.

Work with vendors to obtain a couple demo systems and provision them out to distributed teams who frequently participate in scheduled meetings. Gain informal feedback from users. Develop formal metrics that can measure the benefits, such as shorter product development times. And look to develop budgets as part of conference room capital expense plans.

If immersive group collaboration isn't yet on your radar, it should be. Have a look at the increasing array of options to improve meeting productivity regardless of participant location, and plan for a future where group collaboration truly breaks down walls.

Next Steps

Immersive visual workspaces make their mark on the enterprise

How to use an online whiteboard for group collaboration

Is the next era of collaboration on the way?

This was last published in June 2016

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