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Collaboration solutions for business

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Over the last month, AV News has arranged to visit vendors and distributors of business collaboration solutions. By getting hands-on with as many products as possible we have prepared this report, to help resellers match solutions to specific user groups.

During our tour of collaboration solutions, we reached a consensus early on, that even rival vendors were able to support. This is, if your customer is fully subscribed to the Microsoft ecosystem, has stacks of Office 385 subscriptions and the budget, advise them to buy the Microsoft Surface Hub. Likewise, if the customer is an avowed Google supporter and GSuite user, point them towards Jamboard. It is important to understand that sales of software licences are the motivating factor behind the hardware initiatives of the software giants.
In these circumstances, there is little point in swimming against the tide – customers will always be drawing disparaging comparisons of the “it’s all right but it’s not a Hub” variety. But, if your customer is not willing to commit 100% to a single platform, wants a more open solution or doesn’t have a large budget, don’t despair, there is plenty of choice, some of which offers a pretty similar solution at a lower cost, and some of which provides a different solution which might well be more suited to your customer’s application.
The experience

surface hub

Microsoft Hub is undeniable impressive. If your customer is a Microsoft house, and has the budget, make sure they see it and give it due consideration.
We have discovered, and it should really be obvious, that what really counts is the user experience. Pick the right solution, or one that can be customised to be the right solution, and the rewards will come in the form of user adoption. Pick the wrong one, one that is too inflexible to customise or one which defies intuition to use, and you will be supplying an expensive coffee cup stand with no chance of a roll out or reorder.
We have now moved beyond the point where the business community is expected to use technology developed for education. Even though the brands might be the same, their business solutions are differentiated by the adoption of PCAP, 4K and an increased number of touch points in the hardware, and new business oriented software.
Of the business solutions that we tried that from vendors who made their bones in education, Clevertouch, Genee and CTouch all have business solutions ready to ship now or due imminently. Avocor is another brand whose involvement with education was relatively brief and now has a solution that is clearly differentiated through a partnership with Nureva.
Other vendors, including Sharp, Logitech, Crestron and Kramer, have no particular association with the mass education market. but are active in higher education. We felt that some of these solutions were probably at home in the huddle space arena than board rooms or larger meeting rooms.

mdm_screen_dashboard

Clevertouch has optional Mobile Device Management (MDM).
Either way, AV News has discovered that collaboration solutions vary widely in the extent to which they can be customised. Some products range are supplied without a display or camera, offering plenty of scope for the systems integrator to tailor a solution completely suited to the customers’ business process, organisation, software, security provision, budget considerations; and ROI policy.

User interface

PN-80TC3_commercialcmyk

Sharp’s BIG PAD: PCAP option at Full HD. [PN80TC3]

Deployment of collaboration solutions in open office and meeting spaces will inevitably invite use by novice users. Most of the vendors interviewed stressed the importance of ascertaining the customers’ intended uses of the solutions. In evaluating each solution, we felt that the user interface choice of collaborative activity must be immediately apparent – e.g. “I want to present”, “I want to start a video call”.

Here, Microsoft Hub sets an initial standard, offering the user a simple choice of whiteboarding, video calling of file sharing when walking up to the panel. Others have different approaches, and some rely on third party software. For example, Avocor has joined the Quicklaunch Solution Partner Program (QSPP) as an Interactive Display OEM. QSPP provides a framework for delivering multiplatform collaboration experiences across customer environments.
The Quicklaunch application is a meeting room interface that provides multi-platform integration to transform a PC into an easy-to-use one click meeting space. Users can create one-touch meeting rooms based on the platform of their choice using either Exchange or Google Calendar. It provides the simplicity and security of a meeting room appliance with the power and flexibility of the PC.
Quicklaunch is available as an optional extra for Avocor’s flagship product range, the F Series. Shipping in 3 sizes ranging from 65” to 84”, the Avocor F series comes with Avocor Intelligent Touch using InGlass technology, delivering an extremely precise, smooth and accurate writing experience with no more waiting for the ink to catch up with the pen.
One of the unique features of the Avocor F series is that it is a completely open solution and therefore platform agnostic, meaning that it works seamlessly with Quicklaunch to enable users to create their perfect collaborative environment, designed to meet their specific needs and requirements. Ian Goodhind, VP Products at Avocor explains. “Customers really want the ability to walk into a room and just hit join. The inclusion of Avocor displays will complement the Quicklaunch by providing world class touch and whiteboard experiences. The Avocor Applications are now natively supported within Quicklaunch.”
While Quicklaunch is really helpful in creating a simple, custom user interface it imposes an additional licence fee to be absorbed into the overall solution cost. Other vendors are known to be developing proprietary alternatives.
Touch experience
The adoption of fully bonded PCAP glass in Microsoft Hub has created expectations in the nation’s boardrooms. There is no doubt that the writing experience, coupled with its software features and ease-of-use are a CEO’s dream.
Add to this the premium Microsoft branding and the price tag is the only real barrier to adoption. We heard several tails of Hubs being installed in the showcase areas of companies while something else was chosen for other areas.
To capitalise on the general popularity of the tablet-like touch experience, several other vendors have elected to use PCAP technology in their business collaboration iFPDs. Clevertouch was the first with its PCAP product introduced almost 12 months ago at the Sahara showcase event last year, as an extension to the company’s Pro range. Dismissed by some rivals as “that Android thing”, the truth is that Clevertouch is arguably one of the most open solutions on the market with both Android and PC modules.
Clevertouch also has a legion of experience in touchscreens. Shaun Marklew, Sales and Marketing Director, at Clevertouch parent Sahara explains that touch has evolved through various generations of IR, culminating in the development of IR in-glass (such as Flat-Frog) where the touch mechanism is in the top of the glass layer.
In projected capacitive technology, the touch layer is under the glass substrate and is less likely to terminal damage by physical distress or liquid ingress. Marklew explains that, in true bonded capacitive, the layers are fully bonded so there is no air gap and anti-glare can be added. One of the much-discussed features of capacitive technology is its ability to sense the pressure applied to each touch, and to use that data to trigger responses in software.
For example, the harder you press the thicker the line can be. Marklew says that corporate users not only want the sleek look and feel of PCAP for their boardrooms and meeting rooms, they also want a natural handwriting experience. PCAP is ideal for applications with fine detail – architectural design, construction, engineering, product design, car manufacturers and CAD.
The move to collaborative working in corporates is mirrored by the move to cloud-based working. This makes it easy for people to walk into a meeting space and access and share their content. But, he concedes, price will continue to be the limiting factor on demand. True-bonded PCAP is around double the price of standard touch. From a buyer’s perspective, there isn’t a TCO case to make. It doesn’t last longer and is no easier to repair. “Buyers will choose it because they want the best – best looking, the most responsive and accurate,” comments Marklew.
Collaborative tools
To add further value to its business collaboration solutions, Clevertouch added additional capabilities including optional Mobile Device Management (MDM). Marklew explains: “No longer will IT support have to perform diagnostics on each screen, using a new centralised MDM system will save Clevertouch users valuable time and we’ll also give them a new option of switching off and wiping the screen remotely.”
With Clevertouch MDM users can create groups to make sure each screen has the most suitable apps and files for its environment. They can take control of the Clevertouch screen from their desktop and push messages directly to the Clevertouch display (ideal for security announcements). Optionally, Clevertouch MDM can serve as the basis for managing other devices in the organisation (Android, Windows, iOS and Chrome OS) from a single console, such as: desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Clevertouch has also introduced Over-the-Air technology for promulgation of new features, bug fixes, software and hardware updates. These can be seamlessly delivered to every Clevertouch screen, making life easier for IT Managers who are responsible for ensuring smooth running on site.  Previously IT Managers have had to spend time running manual maintenance and software updates on each machine – but now Clevertouch can handle this for them.
Marklew comments: “This is a huge step forward in touchscreen innovation.  Clevertouch has always been the first with the latest technologies and once again is the first interactive touchscreen to harness wireless technology in this way.”
One final but almost universally popular addition to, and a slightly unexpected hit in the Clevertouch range, is the Clevershare USB connection from a mobile device to the Clevertouch display. Users of the similarly named Belgian product will recognise the value of this as a handy time saver in kickstarting meetings.
PCAP on the Big PAD
Sharp’s latest range of Big PADs includes an 80-inch PCAP model, the PN-80TC3, designed to service the needs of customers for the company’s business machines. The Projected Capacitive Touchscreen is paired with an advanced controller and faster sampling techniques. The controller employs a unique algorithm which through increased sampling speeds of 220Hz and stronger signal creation reduces the amount of noise right down to 1/8 of that which would otherwise be expected.
Touch accuracy is improved, unintended and false inputs are almost completely eliminated, and latency virtually eliminated. BIG PAD’s touchscreen can recognise up to ten simultaneous touches with pinpoint accuracy and as many as four people can use it at the same time. The Sharp Pen software also utilises unique technology, which allows pen pressure to influence the visible result.
The speed and accuracy of the touch input using this approach results in a natural and fluid writing experience, which along with pressure sensitivity feels almost identical to writing on an old-style whiteboard with marker pens. Quite unusually, this is a full HD product, with Sharp asking the question: “Is 4K really necessary for business applications.”
Does it have to be PCAP?
If 4K is a bit of a luxury for business, is PCAP a necessity? Unfortunately, we were not able to try the new 75-inch CTOUCH Leddura 2Meet and 2Share – they will not be available until the end of this month. But they sound promising. CTOUCH has worked closely together with Barco and Harman Kardon on the 4K Leddura range.
Leddura 2Share was specially designed to share digital content wirelessly and securely in meeting rooms. It also brings easy access to a digital whiteboard and annotation functionality to make collaboration as easy as can be. The emphasis in the Leddura 2Meet model is shared with video collaboration with remote meeting participants.
The CTOUCH Leddura is compatible with Windows, Mac and Android platforms and has a slot for an onboard PC. The range is equipped with Microsoft Skype for Business, offers secured wireless possibilities for working together and reacts to spoken commands for queries in Google and Microsoft. Unlike the Sharp BIG PAD, Leddura 2share and 2meet are both 4K but, unlike the Sharp, the glass is not PCAP.
CTOUCH CEO Remmelt Van der Woude comments that CTOUCH has considerable experience with touchscreens. He says that, currently, three quarters of all touch screens are sold to the educational market, but Leddura will be different: “The CTOUCH Leddura enables users to work together on presentations in a secured, wireless environment. It is also equipped with the latest technology by our partner Harman Kardon, thus enabling spoken commands for Google and Microsoft”.
The introduction of the Leddura range will see CTOUCH undergo some organisational and directional changes. CTOUCH CEO Remmelt Van der Woude commented: “CTOUCH is in the midst of transforming from product-focused thinking to client-focused thinking. ‘CTOUCH as a service’ soon becomes reality. Then we’re able to embark on a long-term relationship with our clients. A lasting relationship, with much attention to service, guidance, and personal commitment.
User requirements

So what conclusions did we reach from our perambulations around business collaboration. First, Microsoft Hub is undeniable impressive. If your customer is a Microsoft house, and has the budget, make sure they see it and give it due consideration. If your customer does not want to be restricted to a locked down solution, be it from Microsoft, Google or Cisco, there is no denying that most of the Hub benefits are available for a half or even a third of the cost of a 54-inch Hub, albeit at the smaller 65 or 70-inch screen size. For many installation environments, this is enough.

Nureva: interactivity beyond the screen.
In this report, we have spent some talking about ways in which, what is sure to become a commodity product, can be differentiated. Avocor, through its relationship with Nureva, has something of a doozy. Imagine a situation where a workgroup, of four or five people, all need to share and amend content simultaneously – or perhaps even immerse themselves in the content?
Visitors to recent trade shows will be aware of Nureva’s huge collaborative canvases which use projectors to display content from the cloud across a wall or even a square or cylinder or interactive surfaces. The partnership with Avocor now allows users to take content generated on the Avocor screen and move it seamlessly into the Nureva Span environment – quite a thing when your customer demands real-time group collaboration.

Huddle space solutions
Large iFPD-based solutions are often ideal for boardrooms and lager meeting rooms, but huddle spaces demand smaller, lower cost alternatives for mass deployments around corporates and institutions. We have seen one of these, bought one for our own business and are keenly awaiting the arrival of the third.
So, in reverse order, and starting with the one we are waiting for, Crestron SR is described as ‘a powerful, professional solution built for Skype for Business which brings a simple to use, HD audio visual experience to meeting rooms, which can be easily deployed and managed on the network’. Crestron SR has been engineered from the ground up to easily integrate with a large range of meeting rooms; from small and midsize spaces to larger conference rooms.
It’s possible to easily join meetings, make calls and instantly share content in room and remotely, all from an elegant touch screen device. Some of its key features include a touch controller which manages the Skype Meeting; HDMI inputs and outputs; six USB ports to connect audio devices and a port to add an occupancy sensor for automation and room usage reporting. We like the look of this and the simplicity of the interface. By the way, the manufacturer’s SRP will be €2649.00 with the product available across Europe later in the Autumn 2017.
Next to the one we tried: Kramer’s VIA GO offers iOS, Android, Chromebook, PC, and Mac users instant wireless connectivity with advanced presentation capabilities. The product features content streaming with mirrored images and stunning video playback and includes iOS, Windows and Android mirroring. VIA GO is easy and flexible to install with both built-in Wi−Fi and LAN connectivity and includes industry-leading 1024-bit encryption for secure use on the internal network.
We particularly liked the ability to customise the user interface and the 60 fps Streaming Multimedia. Users can share the HD wireless video streaming (using the VIA app Multimedia feature) which supports up to 6 Mbps video bit rate when using the built-in Wi-Fi module in Access Point mode.
This is one for the systems integrators who can not only configure the hardware but also the interface to the users’ precise requirements. Up to two participant screens can be displayed simultaneously on main screen. With iOS and Android mirroring, VIA GO has seamless integration with VIA Site Management (VSM) software and the VIA Pad
Finally, the one that we use: Logitech GROUP Kit. This is a multi-purpose collaboration system that extends the flexibility of and lowers the switching costs associated with cloud services in the conference room. The solution, which offers 1080p video and professional-grade audio, is optimised for use with Microsoft Skype for Business, Cisco WebEx, Cisco Jabber and a number of Logitech Collaboration Program members including Blue Jeans and Zoom, ensuring a superior meeting experience when using these video applications.
The Intel NUC powers the system with high performance and reliability to run HD video conferencing with support for multiple HD and 4K UHD displays. Paired with the Intel Unite application, the solution enables wireless content sharing on both PC and Mac, and delivers a clean and elegant meeting room solution. Intel vPro technology gives IT pros remote access to the Intel NUC or management and security tasks.
Iluminari Quicklaunch SE offer a fully configurable and simple user interface to GROUP Kit that brings appliance-like ease of use to the meeting room. Quicklaunch SE offers several intuitive features including one-touch meeting starts, automated room resets, and a locked-down kiosk mode for streamlined IT administration. In addition to video conferencing applications, Quicklaunch SE also allows easy integration of well-known business applications and services, for example project management tools, analytics dashboards or team collaboration applications.
Microsoft Windows 10 Pro provides a familiar user experience and helps IT departments manage devices, apps, and identities in a way that scales up or down with business needs. It also offers enterprise-grade security features to help protect critical information.
Also included in the GROUP Kit is the Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 Plus, which offers a multi-year battery life, a wireless range of up to 33 feet, and an integrated touchpad that makes it easy to initiate a video conference from across the room. The Logitech GROUP Kit is available in Europe via Maverick now at an end-user price of c. €2,199 / £1,799 ex. VAT.

kramer c,ykcm9Kramer’s VIA GO offers iOS, Android, Chromebook, PC, and Mac users instant wireless connectivity with advanced presentation capabilities.

 


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