The Microsoft Surface Hub Has Finally Shipped — So Just Why Is This Newsworthy?

Yes my friends, after many (many) months of waiting, wanting as well as utter criticism from all corners of the industry (beginning with InfoComm 2014, comfy couches and charging stations) the Microsoft Surface Hub has shipped and it’s been reported by various media outlets.

Let’s all finally rejoice.

I recently received an e-mail from the company handling press and communications for Microsoft in relation to the shipping of the Surface Hub with this picture attached, which I’m sure we’ve all seen at least 1,000 times…

Surface Hub pic

(Yes, I knew it did that).

I was notified that the Microsoft Surface Hub is a new category of device that will transform the way companies work by delivering a new kind of productivity experience made for group collaboration and how it was designed from the ground up for ink and touch, and harnesses the best collaboration and security features of Windows 10, Skype for Business, Office, OneNote and Universal Windows apps (yes I knew that too).

The e-mail also pointed to a Microsoft Devices Blog where I could get information on partner apps, case studies and overall news about the Surface Hub, as well as a (Microsoft commissioned) Forrester Consulting study The Total Economic Impact™ Of Microsoft Surface Hub* with what I deemed some very good facts and figures on the total economic impact of Surface Hub.

In this Microsoft blog Microsoft Surface Hub has begun shipping to business customers**, Brian Hall, General Manager, Microsoft Devices Marketing states:

Our Surface team is incredibly passionate about helping people be more productive. We live and breathe this mission every day.

One thing that we believe very, very deeply is that the best work is done by teams. People who get together, challenge each other, and work together can accomplish so much more than people working individually. And yet there wasn’t a device designed for teams to use together.

So we set out to change that. We set out to build technology to unlock the power of teams much better. And we got customers, partners, our software team, and our hardware team together to build a first-of-its-kind new solution, Surface Hub.

Sounds pretty standard as a statement goes, maybe even a bit bold. Hall continues:

I can tell you confidently, our Surface team works together better because we have Surface Hub. Our early Surface Hub business partners can tell you confidently that they work together better with Surface Hub. This is why we built Surface Hub. And this is why we are so proud to announce that Surface Hub has begun shipping to business customers. We are excited to see how Surface Hub will bring people together to work, create and learn in new ways.

That’s a great statement. And you say “Microsoft wrote a blog, said some wonderful things about the Surface Hub and that it’s finally shipping – so?” Me too.

But wait – now Hall gets into a new levels of innovation Surface Hub vs. legacy AV and presentation part of the story:

We are not just releasing a powerful device. We are releasing a team-empowering solution that will make meetings more productive, modernize workflows, and let people engage with data much better. We designed Surface Hub from the ground up for ink and touch, and harnessed the best collaboration and security features of Windows 10, Skype for Business, Office, OneNote and Universal Windows apps. We’ve seen how businesses and disciplines like healthcare, manufacturing, automotive, consulting, defense, finance, education, and design can bring Surface Hub into workspaces to bring a new level of innovation and efficiency to their teams. They can reduce costs and improve effectiveness, compared to legacy AV and presentation technology.

Aha! Hall has now deemed it a “team-empowering” ink and touch collaboration solution with Windows 10, Skype for Business, Office and more which can reduce costs and improve effectiveness, compared with — as he says — any legacy technology in the AV/presentation technology realm.

Just what is Mr. Hall’s definition of legacy AV and presentation technology though? There are certainly some damn good manufacturers of AV technologies in the collaboration and presentation space. OK granted, for those who think a SMART Board is a viable productivity solution for the enterprise – I gave up on that thought while I was still in integration sales (and that was about six years ago). The dedicated Skype for Business Room Collaboration System from Polycom in tandem with Crestron though I do consider that a viable solution with top notch display, camera and control technology, however the fact that the all-in-one full collaboration efficiency Surface Hub fits well in huddle spaces, small, medium and large conference rooms can’t be ignored here – but I do still want that definition.

So are we sold on this all-in-one Microsoft-defined team-empowering solution for communications and collaboration now that it has finally shipped?

Well OK, yes, we know that one of the more notable features of the Surface Hub is its built-in Skype for Business client which makes it easy to join face-to-face video meetings with other Surface Hub and Skype for Business users. However do take note that to host a Skype meeting which also incorporates standards-based videoconferencing users (such as those using solutions from Cisco or Polycom) it does require an interoperability platform, such as Pexip Infinity.

Here Graham Walsh demonstrates the Pexip Infinity interoperability platform at ISE.

Still with all of this certain people in the industry may for the most part still look at the Surface Hub as just an expensive SMART Board replacement in a meeting room (really?) – to which I say it is indeed much more…

surface-hub-healthcare-0416bBrian Hall mentioned certain businesses and disciplines like manufacturing, finance, defense and healthcare (to name a few) in the blog bringing Surface Hub into their workspaces. Hall points to how Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will be using a Qwaltec developed application on Surface Hub as a command-and-control center for doctors and medical staff, to manage scheduling and replace outdated whiteboards. The hospital specified it as a “game changer” (their words) not only because it will help the hospital save time and money, but also because Surface Hub helps connect the entire care team to their patients with up-to-date information.

On the partner side of the equation, Linda Civitillo, VP Unified Communication & Collaboration Solutions and Microsoft Surface Hub Practice Leader at AVI-SPL (who we recently had on our AV Power Up! podcast discussing the Surface Hub) talked about the Surface Hub in terms of customer feedback as well as personal-use perspective:

“The majority of time that we’ve had the Surface Hub we have deployed it for customer demos.  We have received a lot of feedback from Enterprise customers about the Surface Hub.  They are excited to be able to bring it into their environments for particular use cases so that they can work on projects together – ‘shoulder to shoulder.’”

 “From a personal-use perspective, I can say that in the time we’ve had it, the easy adoption and comfort in using the Microsoft Surface Hub has delivered a more collaborative and productive experience for our teams.”

There are of course a plethora of Surface Hub partners across the world and I will be talking with more of them about their own experiences with the device as well as client instances in upcoming blogs and podcasts.

So here’s where Brian Hall and I agree – the Surface Hub is a powerhouse all-in-one machine that can fit the computing/collaboration technology needs of any enterprise or SMB organization, as well as give the flexibility to fit into the large-scale plans of any discipline or business which the Forrester study explains fairly thoroughly.

However, I have to point out the fact that there is still a grand purpose for a well-engineered room system to suit a customer’s technology needs where the Surface Hub would not fit every scenario (even if it employs Skype for Business), so let’s not look too deeply into any all-in-one as ultimate solution market plan. Numerous manufacturers in the industry have certainly continued to progress as AV technology market innovators where you can never replace these system components or cloud and software applications with an all-in-one.

Now the big question — with the Surface Hub shipping has Microsoft now officially joined the ranks of the AV industry and left the memories of couches, charging stations and soccer in the rear view?

The real story as well as answers to certain questions being asked by people inside the industry (some have asked about the full operational efficacy of an all-in-one system vs. an installed room system) as well as outside will be provided by the partners and their clients in the coming months — and this is where we will see this as even more newsworthy than the latest and greatest Microsoft device being shipped to those ever-patient customers.

Watch for the follow-ups here — finally

* Forrester Consulting Study: The Total Economic Impact™ Of Microsoft Surface Hub 

** MIcrosoft Device blog: Microsoft Surface Hub has begun shipping to business customers

The rAVe Radio AV Power Up! episode with Linda Civitillo as our guest can be found here.