Digital whiteboard market poses promise and pitfalls

Touchscreen whiteboards enhance content sharing and visual collaboration amid persistent workflows. But these newfangled products do have their limitations.

Over the last year, the digital whiteboard market has heated up. These devices have become the latest hot items...

in the collaboration and digital workplace market, with more than a dozen vendors offering products in this space.

The digital whiteboard market has developed into three classes of products:

  • Screen-sharing devices are primarily designed to enable participants in a meeting to share content without using a web conferencing app and without having to switch cables. Examples of these products include DisplayNote Montage, Polycom Pano and T1V ViewHub.
  • Touchscreen systems are primarily designed to enable distributed workers -- both remote and within conference rooms -- to share and manipulate on-screen content. These products include Cisco Spark, Google Jamboard, InFocus Mondopad, Newline Trutouch, Microsoft Surface Hub, Smart kapp iQ, Touchjet Wave and Zoom Rooms for Touch. 
  • Immersive group collaboration systems project content across multiple screens or walls, enabling participants to immerse themselves in content sharing and manipulation. These systems include Bluescape's visual collaboration workspace, Hoylu Huddlewall, Nureva Span, Oblong Mezzanine and Prysm. 

Some IT leaders are somewhat bullish on the digital whiteboard market and its assorted systems. In a recent Nemertes Research study, 23.5% of participants said they were deploying them. Another 47% said they are evaluating the products for potential future use. 

Not yet seeing broad adoption

In this video, watch demos of the immersive group collaboration systems from Prysm Inc. and Oblong Industries.

Companies, however, are generally only using digital whiteboards and immersive group collaboration systems in pilot programs and for workgroups that might benefit from real-time content sharing or manipulation across multiple locations, such as marketing teams, R&D, application developers and engineers. Digital whiteboards, according to Nemertes' data, have yet to cross the chasm into broad adoption or gain acceptance as a required conference-room device in every room.

The primary limitations of these devices are cost, IT's awareness of the products and the closed nature of some systems. Digital whiteboard prices, for instance, run from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Investing in a product requires careful upfront analysis.

As digital whiteboards and immersive group collaboration systems are still relatively new enterprise products, most IT leaders are just now kicking the tires on these devices, trying to understand their options, the use and business cases, the costs and the limitations.

Many of the larger collaboration vendors -- such as Cisco, Google and Microsoft -- are delivering systems that tightly integrate with their collaboration offerings, such as Spark, Hangouts and Skype for Business, respectively. Other vendors -- such as InFocus, Polycom and Smart -- tout their ability to interoperate with other collaboration apps -- in some cases, providing a built-in Windows endpoint that can run any Windows-compatible collaboration software. 

Is a digital whiteboard on your roadmap?

Despite some challenges and limitations, digital whiteboards offer the potential to support distributed teams by enabling them to see, create and manipulate content, regardless of their location. 

Anyone who has been on an audio bridge, when other team members are physically in the same conference room, knows the frustration of not seeing what's jotted on a whiteboard, even if they have access to video conferencing. Additionally, many teams know the pain of not being able to save or revisit sketches or notes on a whiteboard. A digital whiteboard can solve those problems. 

Immersive systems offer an added layer of collaboration that may be of use to teams in content creation and engineering roles.

If a digital whiteboard or immersive group collaboration system are not on your roadmap, now is the time to take another look at offerings from both your strategic collaboration partners and emerging vendors.

Next Steps

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