​Secret Reseller - Can Spark Board change the game for Cisco?

​Secret Reseller - Can Spark Board change the game for Cisco?

ARN’s partners inside the industry lift the lid on the real world of the channel.

So Cisco Live has passed, one of the biggest technology shows in Australia and New Zealand and a regular on the channel calendar.

After more than 6,500 IT professionals descended onto Melbourne to hear Cisco outline its roadmap for the year ahead, security, data analytics, services and cloud dominated the agenda.

But amidst the chatter, Spark Board was on show.

Naturally billed as a “game- changer” in collaboration, the result is a new digital whiteboard that blends of messaging, meetings and phone calls in the cloud, directly taking on Surface Hub and Jamboard from Microsoft and Google respectively.

Specifically, the product essentially combines wireless presentation, digital white boarding and video conferencing, as Cisco attempts to compete in the all-in-one collaboration device space.

The digital screen connects to the vendor’s Spark WebEx platform for unified communications and collaboration, something Cisco has had boiling away for a while now, and represents a huge play for the business.

But from the perspective of the partner, how does Spark Board stack up?

It’s a great product but a little late to the market in my opinion. Smart boards have been out for a while through earlier releases from competitive vendors, and because of this I struggle to see how the product can realise the widespread adoption that Cisco craves.

Essentially it looks like a giant iPad, and acts like one. Unsurprisingly, it’s also not cheap.

Now available in Australia, the 55-inch device comes with a price tag of US$4,990 ($6,592.90) for a product that also includes three special pens, alongside a Spark Cloud subscription at US$199 ($262.93) per month.

Later this year, Cisco is planning to add a 70-inch version of the board to its collaboration portfolio, at a cost of US$9,990 ($13,197).

Apparently, 20 per cent of all global pre-orders for the device came from Australia, so perhaps there is stronger than anticipated interest locally.

But personally, I think it’s a pricey product, with the Spark Cloud subscription another form of lock-in for the customer.

The other potential issue is around a lack of open standards. More and more end-users are wanting to diversify their vendors to extract the best price and technology, but it seems as if Cisco is trying the old Apple closed loop trick on the market, making it difficult to switch.

From a reseller standpoint, it’s encouraging when it comes to renewals because the customer essentially must come back for that, but I believe more will be scared off by the original sticker price.

As a partner and user, I carry out a lot of Spark calls each day and in fairness to Cisco, they have done a lot of tweaking with the platform. The result is a platform that is one of, if not the best, platform in the market.

But is that enough to balance out vendor lock-in? Customers want more freedom than even a few years ago.

Spark is a great product but price point still needs to be acknowledged as a serious barrier to entry for many customers, compared to the free or significantly cheaper products currently available in the market.

Naturally, Cisco had to fight back and make a play for fear of losing mindshare, and market share to Microsoft and the Surface Hub.

But if the industry thinks placing that bet on a wall will replace four boardrooms with 20 people and a traditional set-up, I’m still sceptical.

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