While most of us have a mental image of what it could be like to work with others in different time zones as if they were physically present, the actual experience oftentimes resembles “Conference Call in Real Life,” a three-minute video produced by YouTube sketch comedian Tripp Crosby. In the video, we see participants losing their connections, experiencing audio dropouts, freezing and dealing with annoying background sounds ranging from loud cafes to barking dogs. One of the overarching themes so humorously and poignantly portrayed in the skit is how much time is wasted during these “collaboration” sessions. The video concludes with the host asking another attendee to send an email recap “that basically could have taken the place of this whole meeting.”
Cisco Spark was created as an antidote to these frustrations and antics, and feedback from customers and other third-party reviewers confirm Cisco is hitting the mark. For example, earlier this year, two major industry trade shows—Enterprise Connect and InfoComm—honored Cisco with best in show awards for Spark Board, which combines wireless presentation, digital whiteboarding and videoconferencing while providing connectivity to the Cisco Spark service for continuous workflow. And, as Rowan Trollope, Cisco Sr. VP and GM for the Collaboration business unit, summed up in his keynote address earlier this year, “We don’t have a remote control because everything you need to control Spark Board is right here in your hand.”
One of the key differentiators that separates Cisco Spark Board from other smart boards and videoconferencing systems is that it is delivered entirely from the Cisco cloud, which reduces the expense, complexity and limitations of proprietary video systems and platforms. With Cisco Spark, users gain access to the full feature set via computer workstations, tablets or smartphones.
Screen/file sharing is another important collaboration feature that’s brought up in the humorous conference call sketch mentioned earlier. The conference host attempts to share a PowerPoint presentation, but no one else is able to view it for a variety of reasons, ranging from outdated firmware to incompatible platforms. Cisco Spark’s cloud-based platform eliminates these frustrations, allowing users to view participants and content on any device without the hassle of downloading software/firmware.
Another time waster pointed out in the video is users arriving late to meetings. Each time the host starts the presentation, he’s interrupted by an announcement that someone “has joined the conference.” Cisco Spark addresses this annoyance on multiple levels. First, it eliminates the need to get to a dedicated conference room. Users can join the session from their desks, a branch office, from home, from a room-based video system or from anywhere else via their mobile device. Additionally, users can easily switch between devices during the conference (e.g., from desktop to mobile or vice versa) without having to log out and back in again—and without disrupting other participants.
Users also can set up collaboration sessions from their smartphones simply by adding their names or email addresses. Cisco Spark is also built with the latest advances in artificial intelligence, enabling users to set up videoconferences or join virtual meetings simply by asking questions in natural language. For instance, a user may ask the system, “Where can I find a meeting room with videoconferencing for 15 people that’s available tomorrow at 1 p.m.?” Additionally, users can work together in unlimited virtual rooms, which are easily accessible through a searchable, sortable list.
Each Cisco Spark meeting is video-centric, so users don’t need to think about what type of conference they need before scheduling. Mobile users get features such as single-number reach, single-voicemail service, video services and the ability to seamlessly move between devices during a call. Plus, every time users log in, Cisco Spark is up to date—there are no disruptive updates or security patches to worry about, ever.
Although previous videoconferencing systems have greatly lowered the bar for conference call expectations, those who try Cisco Spark will quickly find the myriad advantages of being able to see other users on calls; hear everyone clearly; and share schedules, files and ideas in real time—the way collaboration was always supposed to work.
To learn more about Cisco Spark, check out the Cisco Collaboration Resource Center, available from Ingram Micro.