Cisco Extends Spark Collaboration Reach into the Conference Room

    One of the most perplexing issues facing organizations today is that despite all the investments made in IT, the overall level of productivity has steadily declined over the past decade. Much of the blame for that decline is laid at the feet of personal productivity applications that were never designed to facilitate workflow across large groups. That shortcoming has in turn given rise to a wave of new collaboration platforms, including a Cisco Spark cloud service.

    Cisco is now moving to extend the reach of that service into the conference room itself with the launch of Cisco Spark Board, which when coupled with new Cisco Smart Meetings software delivered via Cisco Spark, promises to make it simpler to collaborate across an extended enterprise.

    Cisco Spark Board features include wireless pairing technology that makes it possible to project content from any device onto a screen that can be seen both in the conference room as well as by people attending the meeting remotely. There’s also a digital whiteboard that not only can anyone edit, but any document created on it is automatically saved.

    In addition, Cisco has included 4K cameras along with 12 microphones that make use of VoiceTrack technology to make it easier for remote users to clearly understand who is the primary speaker in a meeting at any given time by isolating background noise.

    Jonathan Rosenberg, vice president and CTO for the Cisco Collaboration business unit, says Cisco Spark Board is designed to eliminate all the stuff that gets in the way of a meeting by, for example, making it possible for Cisco Spark Board to automatically turn on any time someone enters the room.

    “There’s no on/off button,” says Rosenberg.


    The first 55-in. iteration of Cisco Spark Board is priced at $4,990 and requires a $199 subscription to a Cisco cloud service to operate. Cisco plans to roll out a 70-in. version later this year that will be priced at $9,990.

    It’s too early to forecast what impact new types of collaboration tools will have on productivity. There’s clearly a lot of interest. But it’s also quite possible that many of these collaboration applications will in effect wind up simply creating additional silos. The real collaboration challenge, of course, will come not so much from standardizing collaboration platforms inside an enterprise, but rather fostering collaboration between individuals who work for different organizations. Rosenberg says Cisco has addressed that issue by ensuring that the Cisco Spark cloud service is extensible using application programming interfaces (APIs) and standard interfaces such as SIP to tie into everything from email to other conferencing applications.

    There was a time when productivity was the primary reason organizations invested in IT. Somewhere along the line in the last 10 years, organizations appear to have lost sight of that goal. Hopefully, the next few years will be spent making up for a lot of that lost time.

    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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