Live from the Cisco Spark Board and Spark 2.0 launch event

By Graham Robinson, Group Practice Manager, Data#3 Limited

[Reading time: 6:39 mins]

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the Cisco Spark launch in San Francisco, an event which has been shrouded in mystery for the last 3 months and has had the collaboration community buzzing with excitement.

In the IT industry, company-wide non-disclosure agreements (NDA) are commonplace, but rarely am I asked to sign a personal NDA, however 90 days ago Cisco asked me to do just that… and for good reason. What was unveiled on Tuesday (in the US) this week was not just a first for Cisco, but a first for the entire industry and a culmination of 50 years of technological evolution.

In a grand unveiling not unlike Steve Job’s Apple iMac G3 launch of 1998, attendees cheered as curtains rose and lights beamed onto a sleek white Cisco Spark Board. However, it wasn’t just a new piece of hardware that Cisco was unveiling, but rather an upgrade to its entire Cisco Spark platform, and an elegant solution to a perennial problem that no-one has been able to crack… the frustratingly painful, everyday meeting experience.

As a Cisco Gold and Master Collaboration Partner, I’m excited for what Cisco Spark 2.0 and the new Cisco Spark Board can do for our customers. On a personal level, I’m dreaming of a day in the (very near) future when I don’t have to spend the first few minutes of a meeting setting the room up, waiting for others to figure out how to join the meeting, or fielding calls from colleagues in other states asking me which cable goes where?!

Now, before I jump right into some of my personal highlights from the launch of the Spark Suite (Cisco’s new term for the Spark platform and all the services it offers up), let me say this… remember when you had dial-up Internet access and thought you didn’t need DSL Internet speeds, and then you experienced DSL and could never go back? That’s the Cisco Spark Board. You can read about it all you want, but until you experience its power and its elegance, you may not truly understand why Cisco Spark, and the Cisco Spark Board, will completely revolutionise the way teams connect, collaborate, create and share.

So, let’s get down to business…

The industry’s most advanced collaboration suite
As a Cloud-based SaaS platform, Cisco Spark continues to deliver a seamless, consistent user experience irrespective of where you are or the type of device you’re using, however the new Spark Suite does much more. It combines messaging, calls, conferencing, file sharing and white boarding into a single powerful platform; one in which you find yourself effortlessly using the tool you want, when you want it. By bringing these features together in ‘spaces’ –  virtual meeting rooms which contain all your relevant discussions, meetings, schedules, documents, drawings, etc. – Cisco has created a unified collaboration platform which will not only make in-person meetings far more efficient, but one which may be so effective that it could eliminate the need for in-person meetings almost entirely.

Additionally, these ‘spaces’ can be quickly integrated with countless business applications through connectors in Cisco’s Spark Depot, allowing you to easily move information between a Spark Space and your other business tools. Jens Meggers, SVP and GM at Cisco, enthusiastically described the new Cisco Suite to me as “highly extensible” after the morning’s launch, and with new connectors being deployed into the Spark Depot every day, and open APIs for your own custom development, he wasn’t kidding!

And I haven’t even mentioned the Spark Board yet!

What is the Spark Board?
Put simply, the Spark Board is a 55” 4K ultra high-definition screen (70” available soon) that takes pride of place on your meeting room wall. As a 3-in-1 presentation device, video conferencing screen and digital whiteboard, it eliminates the need for the slew of typical meeting room technology. Multiple laptops, TVs, cameras, microphones, amplifiers, speakers, whiteboards, projectors and the rats nest of cords sitting underneath (or on top of) the table, are all now unnecessary. Spark Board does it all.

Users connect seamlessly to the Spark Board by simply walking into the room and tapping the screen. You (your app) are recognised and automatically connected; logins and complex calling codes are now a thing of the past. Some of the other features of the Spark Board include:

Super easy set-up and intuitive to operate.
Straight out of the box and onto its stand (or mounted on the wall), plug into power and you’re ready to go. Cisco have kept simplicity in mind at every step; from launching meetings with a single click to handing off an existing call from your phone to the Spark Board with a simple upwards-swipe, the Spark Board is so simple even your CEO can’t get it wrong.

No complex Wi-Fi or Bluetooth pairing.
Cisco have released the Spark Board with their highly advanced ultrasonic wireless pairing technology built-in. Users are recognised (via their Spark app) as soon as they enter the room, meaning no manual logins, no mess of cables, not even a remote control. Apart from the power cord it is completely wireless.

Internet Only. 
No need for local server access, complex configurations, or debating with your internal IT department as how best to connect it to your highly secure network, all the board needs is an Internet connection.

Virtual real-time white boarding.
The Spark Board features the industry’s first multi-party white boarding experience that works in both physical and virtual environments. Meeting participants can simultaneously write, draw or annotate on the screen with a stylus or even their fingers, while remote users can contribute from any device in real-time. What’s more, you’ll never have to photograph the whiteboard again as content is automatically saved to your Spark Space so you can access all your notes, annotations and sketches at a later time.

Enhanced video and voice experience.
Featuring an intelligent 4K camera, stereo speakers and the most advanced microphone array I’ve ever seen, the Spark Board tracks a presenter around the room and automatically adjusts for a speaker’s volume and proximity to the board. The amazing wide-angle camera lens means you can be working at the board without ruining the experience for remote participants.

Changing collaborative workspaces forever.
Walk up to any Spark Board in the world, whether it’s your organisation’s or not, and in one click connect, collaborate, create and share content with colleagues anywhere. If the room also has an existing Cisco TelePresence unit, Spark companion mode will see the Spark Board automatically recognise and work with the TelePresence video equipment to give you an even better meeting experience.

How much does it cost?
At less than $5,000 for the hardware, plus a $100/month subscription, the Spark Board is significantly cheaper than its biggest competitor, the Microsoft Surface Hub. Cisco have gone to market with exceptionally competitive pricing and have also created a Spark Flex Plan – bundling the hardware, software, and Cloud service in one subscription.

The verdict.
Cisco have given us a solution to a previously unsolvable problem, the richness vs. reach meeting conundrum. The Cisco Spark Board, powered by the newly enhanced Spark Suite, breaks down collaboration barriers in the workplace – not by trying to integrate existing (and archaic) tools more efficiently, but by fundamentally reimagining the tools we need to be productive.

They’ve clearly reconsidered the traditional meeting, no longer viewing it as an end unto itself, but rather as a structured element of a larger set of collaboration necessities. By interweaving the before, during, and after meeting activities through focused spaces, Cisco Spark Suite creates an environment of continuous collaboration in which elegant hardware and intuitive software combine and fade effortlessly into the background… letting you focus to what’s most important, your business.

Like to know more?
As both a Cisco Gold and Master Collaboration Partner, Data#3 specialists want to work with you to get the most out of Cisco’s new Spark Suite and Spark Board for your business.

To learn more, contact your Data#3 Account Manager or Spark me today at graham_robinson@data3.com.au.

Eager to see Spark Board in action? Data#3 are hosting demonstrations. Register your interest here.


Tags: Cisco, Cisco Webex Teams, Collaboration, The Anywhere Workplace



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