Electronic whiteboards. The best idea ever, or white elephant?

Next month I’m going to be at my favorite show of the year, InfoComm17. And during that show I’m moderating a talk about the past, present and future of electronic whiteboarding. I am doing this as part of my work with the IMCCA, not my day job of Logitech.

By bizarre coincidence I actually fell into the video conferencing space through electronic whiteboarding, by selling the Xerox Liveboard way back in 1992.

I think it’s fair to say the electronic whiteboard space has had a chequered career. Either being wildly successful like the Smart Boards were in education, or languishing, unloved and unused in the majority of corporate spaces.

The space has seen numerous different ideas tried, from ultrasonic attachments to existing dumb whiteboards, to huge displays with the ability to use special pens, or your finger. None have seriously taken off as yet, and the huge range of different user experience ideas suggests that perhaps no one has truly cracked the problem as yet.

Under normal circumstances one could reasonably suggest it’s either a technology people don’t want, or that the vendors haven’t quite cracked the code as to what users actually want to achieve.

However, suddenly this space has gone from sleepy backwater to the hottest space in the industry. Google, Cisco, and Microsoft have all piled into the space. It seems all of them are suggesting that this is the new nirvana for collaboration.

So the question is, is it? Have users shied away from the technology in the past because the manufacturers didn’t have a solution they wanted, or do real users, back on planet Earth, not have any interest in this sort of thing?

Honestly I can see both sides of this coin. Smart Boards proved that there is real power in electronic whiteboarding in education. A single teacher, who becomes highly competent and more importantly, confident with the technology, has the ability to educate like never before. There is no question that was a powerful driving force. That the UK government mandated that every school in the UK had them didn’t hurt either.

But in the corporate world, do the same rules apply? Will users be prepared to spend the time to learn how to get the most out of these devices? Will they risk looking foolish in front of their colleagues by not knowing how to use the technology?

Cisco, Google and Microsoft, among many, many others, are betting big that users will adopt this new way of working. I truly don’t know what the answer is on this. I’d love to hear from you about what you think about this space, where you think it will work and where it won’t. What are the success criteria of the killer application? Assuming of course there even is one.

And lastly, you have a unique opportunity to equip me to ask those hard questions of this industry when I moderate the session at InfoComm. Please, please let me know what you think, and what you’d like me to ask. I think it could be a fascinating conversation about one of the hottest topics in collaboration

Of course if you’re able to attend to the session, even better, it happens at InfoComm17 in sunny Orlando on Thursday June 15th at 10am in Room W304EF

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