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Digital whiteboards' remote collaboration underused by organizations

When using interactive whiteboards, businesses need to get remote workers involved in the collaboration process through video calls, screen sharing and digital annotation.

Many digital whiteboards are chock-full of unified communications and collaboration features, including video conferencing, screen sharing, digital annotation and wireless presentations. According to one industry analyst, however, organizations are not taking advantage of one key feature: remote collaboration.

The real benefit of digital whiteboards is allowing remote users to do video calls, see content and digitally annotate it for two-way, real-time collaboration. These devices build on the venerable unified communications (UC) features of video conferencing and screen sharing. Oddly, though, not enough organizations are using digital whiteboards to empower remote collaboration, said Robin Gareiss, president and founder of Nemertes Research, a tech advisory firm based in Mokena, Ill. 

"Unfortunately, I don't see enough attention placed on the remote workers," Gareiss said. "I think that's something that slips through the cracks. You have to look at everywhere people are."

Many organizations still perceive meetings as a physical place where people meet to collaborate. Users, it seems, need to be in the room to contribute their ideas. However, digital interactive whiteboards can help to get remote workers more involved in the collaboration process.    

Digital whiteboard adoption and planning see uptick

Despite this newfangled way of collaborating, speakerphones and dry-erase boards are still the norm in many conference rooms. But as organizations consider conference rooms of the future, digital whiteboards are one of the key enabling technologies.

With a digital whiteboard, users can mark up content that remote workers can also see and annotate on their laptops or mobile devices. Work can be saved to the cloud and revisited later. Digital whiteboards simply offer a more interactive and engaging meeting experience, Gareiss said. 

Digital whiteboard adoption has increased slightly over the last year, according to a global Nemertes study of approximately 650 IT leaders. In 2017, 17.6% of organizations were using digital whiteboards. In 2018, that number crept up to 19.2%. More companies are planning to use digital whiteboards, with 14.5% of organizations planning to use them in 2018 and 15.5% planning to use them in 2019, according to Nemertes.

In general, Nemertes found businesses are adopting more endpoints. But digital whiteboards are expected to see the largest increase in the number of units purchased from 2018 to 2019. Other endpoints include handset phones, headsets and UC mobile clients.

Midsize companies are adopting digital whiteboards the most, according to Nemertes data, and 55% of organizations with 250 to 2,500 employees are already using digital whiteboards. Industries using the boards the most include publishing and media, healthcare, education, professional services, aerospace and defense. As for whiteboard prices, most organizations are willing to pay between $501 and $1,000 to put a digital whiteboard in their offices.

"The interest in office-based whiteboards does exist," Gareiss said. "Organizations are willing to pay for [digital] whiteboards if the prices go down to a point where it makes sense."

digital whiteboard providers

Pick one digital whiteboard vendor

Many products and vendors have flooded the digital whiteboard market in recent years. Examples include Google Jamboard, Microsoft Surface Hub and Cisco Webex Board -- formerly called Spark Board. Microsoft is also working on a second version of its Surface Hub.

A common problem among organizations, however, is they don't have one consistent owner and manager of meeting room technology. As a result, organizations may have different digital whiteboards in different rooms, as separate business units purchase the boards piecemeal.

Consequently, inconsistencies start to emerge among meeting rooms. Employees might know how to use one vendor's digital whiteboard in one room, but they may not know how to use a different board in another room.

"I recommend organizations pick a digital whiteboard vendor and stick with that vendor throughout all the meeting rooms so you can have that consistency," Gareiss said. As a result, it won't matter what room people are in, because they'll know how to use the devices.

Why organizations are not using digital interactive whiteboards

Despite their advantages, not everyone has adopted digital whiteboards. Organizations not using the boards said they haven't seen the demand from their business units, according to Nemertes. IT might have to market these products to business units and educate end users on the benefits of digital whiteboards, Gareiss said in a recent webinar.

Another reason organizations aren't using digital whiteboards is because they are often deemed too expensive. The 84-inch, first-generation Surface Hub, for instance, was priced at nearly $22,000. But as more companies use digital whiteboards, prices could drop.

Other organizations said they haven't adopted digital whiteboards because they haven't had time to evaluate them, while other companies are concerned about how new the products still are.

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Why wouldn't you deploy digital interactive whiteboards throughout your office?
The market clearly wants to use a digital board. The desire has been there for decades. The need is not esoteric. It's as fundamental as cave painting. There are several keys to success for to the current generation of what we call the Online Whiteboard.

1. It is about the software, not the hardware. End users should be able to use the software on ANY large-format touch screen that has sufficient performance. The market will continue to innovate on quality and cost of the hardware and customers should NOT pigeonhole themselves with a single Hardware vendor.

2. The whiteboards themselves, or what we call workspaces, need to be virtual, and NOT room centric. People need to be able to access them from anywhere at any time. This makes the endpoint just another place to access your work. Any time, anywhere. In other words there are no second class citizens. There are no remote users. All end points are first class.

3. Leadership has to show the way.  It's not enough to buy some digital boards that support touch and wait to see what happens.  Leaders at every level need to develop the business scenarios and partner with their vendors to drive change. 

The time has come for the Online Whiteboard. We've been waiting for it for quite some time.

Demian Entrekin

Thanks for your comments and insights, Demian. All great points, much appreciated. I certainly agree it's the software that makes these devices really shine. And it'd probably be helpful if end users had one, consistent software user interface from room to room or device to device. 

And I agree with your point about virtual workspaces/endpoints. Apparently, however, some organizations don't always see it that way and resort to in-room experiences. 

And great point about leadership. If managers don't buy into a technology, then others would struggle to adopt it, too. 

Question: Why do you suppose "we've been waiting" for online whiteboards "for quite some time"?


Thanks for asking!

I would say we've been "waiting for online whiteboards" because of the reason you mention: 1. we can share the work in real time with other folks in other locations. A clear plus. But there are several more reasons. 2. we can continue to develop the content over time - digital workspaces are more like living documents than static pictures of a whiteboard. 3. all of the other content we work with is already digital, and we want to bring it all out and incorporate it into that creative format. 4. we don't have to take over a room for weeks or even months for a big project - we can just load and unload the workspace as needed. And how about his one? 5. the end products we are working on are often digital - why can't we experience the design effort in a similarly digital format?  Seems like a "duh" reason if there ever was one. There are more, but that's enough!