The corporate AV market is currently experiencing something of a revolutionary step-change, with significant developments in technology and the way the new technology is deployed. Indeed, the sector is arguably leading the way with technology consumption, with tech giants such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft committed to corporate AV solutions. Jason Turner from AVMI, one of Microsoft’s key strategic partners for the Microsoft Surface Hub, shares his thoughts on the product he considers to be at the heart of the workspace revolution.
Jason Turner from AVMIFirst out of the blocks, Microsoft’s Surface Hub may not have got off to the best of starts, with initial shipping delays compounded by stock shortages, price increases, and – it’s reported by some – technical glitches, but over two years on from its unveiling (January 2015) Surface Hub is beginning to fulfill its promise.

The 55” and 84” touchscreen solution was designed for the new breed of workspaces, and combines essential conference room components into one collaborative device. According to Microsoft, it adds ‘the best group productivity and collaboration device to the most productive personal devices in the world’.

Indeed, when announcing pre-orders back in 2015, the company opined: ‘Three years ago we set out to build a completely new kind of experience, a collaboration device designed from the ground up with group productivity in mind… we are… bringing a new way of working to our business customers and delivering a tool that will bring teams together in more efficient and engaging ways.’

Bringing together applications such as Windows 10, Office and Skype for Business, Surface Hub is designed around a highly responsive screen built for ink and touch. The two models are integrated with optically bonded displays capable of detecting 100 points of multi-touch and up to three simultaneous pen inputs. They also boast dual 1080p front-facing video cameras, and a four-element microphone array that detects and follows voice to eliminate background noise during VC sessions. In addition, there’s built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and various ports for wired and wireless connectivity options, allowing devices to easily share content to the screen.

Mike Angiulo, corporate vice president, Microsoft Devices, was quoted as saying this ahead of Hub’s launch: ‘While there are a number of devices designed to improve our productivity as individuals, there has yet to be a device that is truly optimised for a group of people to use together – designed not just for what we need to do, but how we want to work. Until now. Just as the PC revolutionised productivity for individuals, Surface Hub will transform the way groups of people work together.’

Corporate Collaborator

The corporate AV market is certainly hungry for a solution that integrates seamlessly into today’s modern workspaces, and Surface Hub is considered by many to tick all the right boxes. It provides great value for businesses by combining key collaborative scenarios, including general communications, visualisation brainstorming, remote collaboration and data insights.

A Microsoft’s research study, conducted by Forrester Consulting (‘The Total Economic Impact Of Microsoft Surface Hub: Cost Savings and Business Benefits Enabled by Surface Hub’), examined the ‘potential ROI businesses may realise by deploying Surface Hub in traditional and nontraditional spaces’. Released in February 2016, Forrester interviewed several Surface Hub early adopters, to report on the costs and benefits they experienced, ‘to better understand the benefits, costs, and risks associated with a Surface Hub implementation’.

The report was favourable, even at this early stage in Surface Hub’s life cycle, with improved meeting productivity – specifically for initiating meetings with remote participants and handling post-meeting tasks – reduced meeting room equipment costs and no printing costs; improved results from client meetings held in Surface Hub-enabled rooms, leading to more and larger sales and improved collaboration and business impact.

But how is the Hub being received today? For me where the device stands out is the ability to get the meeting started from the moment you walk in the room. Up and running within seconds of touching the screen. Walk up and use: it is exactly that. This is one of the Surface Hub’s major plus points.

Microsoft calls it ‘Walk up and use’ and it is exactly that. The Hub speeds up the whole process by getting you up and running within seconds. Typically, the time taken to set up meeting rooms is between 8 and 15 minutes: the ‘normal user experience’ of a meeting space.

Game-Changing Tool

The Hub is only limited by what you want to do with it or the applications you want to use on it. Quite simply, it’s an essential deployment tool for today’s modern workspaces. I believe it to be a game-changer.

The two 55” and 84” touch-screen solutions have been specifically designed for today’s modern workplaces and combine essential conference room components into one collaborative device.

Benefits included improved meeting productivity – specifically for initiating meetings with remote participants and handling post-meeting tasks – reduced meeting room equipment costs and no printing costs, and improved results from client meetings, leading to bigger and better sales.

Microsoft has developed the Surface Hub to fit neatly into its Cloud strategy, but also to be able to be used in conjunction with legacy solutions until such time as clients migration to Cloud in the future. It natively works with Microsoft Skype and Office 365. But it really is the simplicity of use that is the true benefit.

Most of us usually resort to a flip chart or a notepad to keep record or share ideas when in a meeting. What Surface Hub allows is the ability to simply record the outcome of these sessions and save this for sharing to all parties or for future use. So rather than having to stick the flip chart paper on the wall or add a ‘post it’ to overlay some additional process or flow detail to what you are working on – then capture this via your phone, then revisit the following week and set out the room with these wall hangings – the Hub allows you to simply email or store the work to a OneDrive folder.

As a digital whiteboard, Microsoft is leading the way with its capacitive touch technology. The writing experience is smooth and responsive, with a nice feature that allow texture to your writing similar to how a pen would react if you were to press harder or softer. Capturing information from the web or other software is a simple two-stage capture: press, then drag an area! With the infinity canvas and the lasso tool, the ability to re order and expand your activity is easily done.

Easy Integration

But it’s not just easy to use: it’s easy to integrate into existing systems too. The Hub is designed to work with existing customer networks, but all you have to do is drop in an Office 365 license and hey-presto!, you’re up and running – super quick and super flexible. If the end user has his own Office 365 estate in place already, the Surface Hub is just added as a device into that existing estate.

So, Hub can be deployed onto existing estates – although latest versions of Lync 2013 or Skype for Business are required for full functionality. Some customers may decide not go down that route, and may continue to run something like Link 2010, perhaps deciding to migrate straight over to Office 365 going forward. Surface Hub is ready to go immediately, but additional benefits are available in the future, should the user decide to use them. Flexibility is key.

It’s important to remember that the Hub is unified communications or collaboration device and not a video conferencing device. Therefore if you’re looking for a telepresence experience then this is not the right solution for you. But if you want a solution that allows a group of people to communicate over audio, or audio and video then this is the right solution. The simple-to-use call feature for ad hoc needs, and the capability of one button entry into a scheduled session means that it is easy to get started each time.

One of the great things about the Surface Hub is that it allows for Windows 10 universal applications to be run on it, allowing you to download workflow, business use and collaboration/design apps from the various stores. Customers may wish to develop their own apps, of course.

Microsoft has created a very good foundation and toolset to allow you to drop the Hub into a meeting space and create an excellent meeting room solution, and it has great built-in software provision too. But this is, let’s say, 50% of what can be achieved with a Hub, The remaining 50% is all about what applications people can add to it and they can benefit from them. The Surface Hub provides the platform and foundation; we need to add the apps.

Surplus Solution

In September of last year, Microsoft resolved those initial stock issues, fulfilling all outstanding orders and even going into a stock surplus for the first time. At AVMI we have taken the view that to improve the speed of delivery to our customers we will also call forward stock from Microsoft; as a result we currently have a healthy stock level of both 55” and 84” Surface Hubs.

It’s important that Microsoft works with companies such as AVMI because we apply a level of assurance and governance in the way these devices are delivered to the customer’s preference and then installed. This isn’t the sort of task that can be done just off the page – for instance, it’s no small task to install an 84” Hub on a wall!

Microsoft are pushing all of their efforts into their Cloud-based technologies, with Office 365 being their cloud-based solution platform for Office, and it is very easy to consume Microsoft software. That’s what Microsoft are guiding people to do; Hub is designed to work with existing customer networks, but also all you have to do is drop in an O365 license set into it and ‘hey-presto’, you’re up and running – far quicker and far more flexible. If the customer has his own O365 estate in place already, the Hub is just added as a device into that existing estate.

So, Hub has been designed by Microsoft so that it can be deployed onto existing estates, although latest versions of Link 2013 or Skype for Business server are required for full functionality. Some customers may not go down that route, and may still be on something like Link 2010 and decide to migrate straight over to O365 going forward. So, Surface Hub gives users the opportunity to do things immediately; but in the future there’s the benefit of additional feature sets as well.

Innovation Improver

It’s very unlikely that there will be one single decision maker on Surface Hub integration in any organisation. It could be IT or FM (it tends not to be procurement), but it’s really about who’s responsible for innovation. Because that’s what Surface Hub is really all about: improving innovation spaces for staff to collaborate and work within. IT may be responsible for the technology in a particular space; FM for the space itself and how it looks visually. The two have to come together – appropriately, collaborately – in order to deliver that solution going forward.

There’s usually a person who’s in charge of innovation nowadays. Most manufacturers have these in place and a lot of end users are starting to also. Those people will be the ones who bring together the IT and FM teams for Surface Hub integration.

Every workspace is an investment. If companies can reduce the amount of lost time in a meeting space, there’s a cost saving or an efficiency to be made. How can they make those efficiencies and demonstrate what that ROI is going to be? Where the Surface Hub comes into that is that it’s quick start, always on; up and running within seconds. The whole process is speeded up.

Often in meetings everyone takes individual notes – notes that only apply to them rather than the group as a whole. Using the Surface Hub to create notes that apply to the whole group is a key thing – reminiscent of the way we all used to use flip charts. Now, of course, here’s no need to take a photo of the chart or type up its content and email it on: it can all be done seamlessly on the Hub.

Ultimately, Surface Hub is only limited by what you want to do with it or the applications you want to deploy on it. It’s quick and easy to integrate and use, cost-effective and super-flexible. It’s the plug-and-play UC and collaboration device we’ve all been waiting for: easy to use with huge scope for expanded usage.

This article was written by Jason Turner from AVMI.