People are not accustomed to thinking out loud when using collaborative devices and solutions. The Microsoft Surface Hub could change that. Let’s take a look at what makes this tool great as an enterprise collaboration engine.

The Surface Hub is a multitouch collaboration device that has the potential to unlock the power of the group. The aim is to reduce costs and improve effectiveness, compared with legacy audiovisual and presentation technologies.

Core Strength

People might think of it as an interactive whiteboard, but its capabilities extend far beyond that. At its root, the Surface Hub is a computer running a specialized version of Microsoft Windows 10. It harnesses the best collaboration and security features of Windows 10, including Skype for Business, Office, OneNote, Lync and Universal Windows apps like the Edge Browser.

The Hub tucks into your Windows world, making it easier for your IT team to manage and update it like other Windows systems.

The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is an important capability. First introduced in Windows 8 as Windows Runtime, UWP supports the concept that users want their experiences to be mobile, and they want to use whatever device is most convenient or productive for the task at hand. Microsoft’s vision was to build an application once and have it run seamlessly across not only different device families, but also across varying legacy collaboration technologies.

Even though organizations have begun adopting Microsoft Skype for Business, the reality is many have already made investments in other video conferencing solutions. The Hub is interoperable with leading conference room solutions from Blue Jeans, Cisco Systems and Polycom. That means businesses can amplify their existing investments in those solutions.

Custom Built

A wide range of businesses and disciplines are using the Microsoft Surface Hub to bring new levels of innovation and efficiency to their teams — in healthcare, manufacturing, automotive, consulting, defense, finance, education and design. In the Microsoft store there are apps available for all of these verticals. For example, for engineers, there are is an Autodesk application, which allows the user to upload autoCAD files. Plus, the Hub can run more than one app at a time. So, workers in healthcare can run a medical app next to a note-taking app.

Windows 10 also makes it easier to develop apps for UWP with just one application programming interface set, one app package and one store to reach all Windows 10 devices — including desktops, notebooks, tablets, smartphones, Xbox gaming platforms, HoloLens virtual reality systems and Surface Hubs. UWP makes it easier to support multiple screen sizes and interaction modes (such as touch, mouse and keyboard, game controller and pen).

The challenge for a lot of developers who create apps for the Surface Hub is that the screen size can change; the Hub comes in 55-inch and 84-inch displays. When developers build apps, they want to take advantage of all that real estate. We recently did a presentation for a healthcare organization, and afterwards they said, “We need to go back and talk with our vendors who build applications to make sure they are considering the UWP in their design.”

Touching is Believing

This summer, at the recent Microsoft Ignite conference in Atlanta, we had thousands of people visit our booth and look at the device. The typical response, initially? “That’s a whiteboard. We’ve got whiteboards. No big deal.” Then, we’d hand them a stylus.

Their reactions were swift: They were surprised at the quality of the display. The Surface Hub is a 100-point touch display, so the quality of the writing is truly comparable to writing on paper.

While touch is important to some, others prefer a hands-off approach. The Hub’s integration with Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent personal assistant for Windows 10, helps users launch a meeting without lifting a finger. How many times have you or someone on your staff entered a conference room and been confused about how to start a meeting? “What buttons do I press?” With Surface Hub, you just say, “Hey, Cortana, start the meeting,” and the meeting launches.

This clearly simplifies group collaboration. Millennials and younger users have shown a preference for using voice commands on their devices. It also improves accessibility, making these collaboration tools easy for all users, even those with physical disabilities. Integration with intelligent personal assistants like Cortana is the future.

Don’t Fear Openness 

People, in general, tend to be averse to change. Persuading collaborative teams to adopt the Surface Hub might be a challenge because workers must move beyond their comfort zones. As we pointed out at the onset: People aren’t used to working out loud.

Think about how people collaborate most often today. We dial into a conference bridge. Each person might have their own individual PC; maybe someone will share a screen. That might be collaboration to some people, but it is far better to get everyone in the same room.

The Surface Hub is a mirror-cast display. If you have a Windows 8 or 10 device, you can project what is on your screen to the Surface Hub. The idea is that notes, documents and files are up on the screen, and everyone can see and interact with them—as if they were actually all in the same room. Imagine having OneNote on the screen and seeing the notes your colleague is writing, and being able to change wording or highlight important points in a true collaborative manner.

Some people think there is a vulnerability to working out loud because it is not something they’re used to doing. But think about it another way: Will your group benefit from sharing? Will discussion be more open? The answer can only be yes.

Want to bring a Hub-like experience to the desktop? Delve into how you can do that with Surface Studio.

Bryan Letcher also contributed to this post.

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