How Whiteboards and Digital Hubs Are Shaking Up Enterprise Collaboration
Most recently, we saw online collaboration vendor Miro unveil new platform capabilities that pushed its whiteboard tool into more than a collaboration tool and positioned it as a digital hub where teams can build an inclusive, data-rich environment.
If there was any doubt before that digital hubs might be the next big thing, they should have dissipated by now. Aragon Research defines them as "an emerging category of enterprise-grade software that facilitates and manages the creation, curation and communication of business content from the individual to ecosystem level."
Simply put: Digital hubs sit at the heart of the digital workplace by giving workers a single place to collaborate on content and distribute that content across the entire organization. Sounds like a game-changer to me.
From Whiteboard to Digital Hubs
If we think about it, the evolution of whiteboards and online collaboration tools into digital hubs shouldn't be that surprising. It reflects the way the workplace is changing. As Miro's chief product officer, Varun Parmar, told Reworked, gone are the days when work around a project happens in a physical location.
The reality of new working models and globally distributed teams is that the work now needs to live in the digital world where team members have access to it regardless of timezone and location, Parmar said. For Miro, this means redefining the expectations around online visual collaboration and helping teams change the way they think about work.
Parmar said the proliferation of tools — from analytics, to productivity, to project planning and knowledge management — has made knowledge-sharing an increasingly complicated and tedious task. The tools, he said, often do not work together; they rarely contextualize the information that is most important, and it can be difficult to know if the information found is the most up to date.
He believes this is where digital hubs can help, by enabling teams to build data-rich environments, assembling a variety of live content into a single place and making it possible to collaborate both synchronously and asynchronously.
“Many [companies] have found a solution in the digital whiteboard,” Parmar said. “Now, as organizations begin to design the future of work, we are seeing our customers really move beyond just the concept of a digital whiteboard.”
Digital collaboration tools, including whiteboards, offer cross-functional teams a shared, visual workspace to move ideas forward because they aren’t limited to meeting rooms, but instead work to enable the teams, projects and workflows critical to a business.
“Collaboration can happen synchronously or asynchronously at every stage in the process," Parmar said. "Visual collaboration tools have the potential to become a key element in any organization's productivity tech stack by giving hybrid and remote teams the power to collaborate as they would if they were together in the same room, if not better.”
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The Digital Whiteboard Evolution
The fundamental value proposition for digital whiteboards, according to Stowe Boyd, who heads up research and advisory agency Work Futures, is that they offer a digital analog of a physical whiteboard, except providing affordances that transcend the whiteboard-on-the-wall-in-the-conference-room, such as:
- An infinite "canvas" or drawing surface.
- A history of editing and capability to rollback to earlier versions.
- Collaborative editing, along with communication and identity mechanisms borrowed from other social tools, like mentions, chat and commenting.
- Increasing integration with other enterprise work technologies.
In a piece for GigaOm, he noted that because of the original orientation of whiteboards, it is unsurprising that users have clamored to be able to include information from other work tools and present that information on the visual canvas that work boards provide.
According to Boyd, early adopters of digital whiteboards who used them as a means to conduct synchronous distributed meetings are increasingly using them today to pull in a wide variety of information elements — from documents, work management, product and project development plans, and other artifacts — into shared workspaces that serve as a system of record. This is changing the weighting of various features, making integration and information management capabilities more critical.
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One powerful trend of digital whiteboards in Boyd's view is that they offer the ability to start a workspace with a sophisticated, rules-based template instead of a dumb blank canvas. A marketing campaign can be run in a fashion consistent with the previous campaign, and agile projects can benefit from reusing templates that embody knowledge, not just similar diagrams.
This, he said, will be the area of the greatest competition in the marketplace in the coming years.
Related Article: Why Enterprise Collaboration and Teamwork Is Becoming More Visual
Enabling the Future of Work
Alexandre Beauchet, who cofounded La Chevrolière, France-based Draft.io, a digital whiteboard for collaboration and visual management, said the value of digital whiteboards resides in their non-linear characteristics and the fact that they give extensive freedom to use all kinds of content in all kinds of situations.
“This is why people use whiteboards in the first place,” Beauchet said. “They seek to represent things as they figure them out, without being constrained by a predetermined layout and with all the necessary graphic tools to do so: at the very least, some text objects, drawings and diagrams."
The expectation for the next wave of digital whiteboard solutions is to enhance the collaborative decision-making process in organizations, such as explaining things, voting, sharing content and information among other things, he said.
But more than that, the evolution of whiteboards into digital hubs, which Miro sees as the future of this technology, is expected to allow for seamless creation, curation and collaboration across an enterprise, at scale, said Peter Kirkwood, principal consultant with Santa Clara, Calif.-based global management consultancy Zinnov.
“Think the next-generation of Google Docs, Teams, Gmail, Salesforce, OneDrive, et al. — all rolled into one, providing a single interface to get your work done, no matter the business function you work in,” Kirkwood said.
In the post-pandemic world, where the hybrid/fully remote/gig mode of work is the norm, it is critical for enterprises to invest in tools and software that not only allow for seamless collaboration but also enhance employee productivity. The advantage of having a collaboration avenue such as a digital work hub is that it facilitates employee engagement along with cost-effectiveness and autonomy through an agile way of working, Kirkwood said.
There, of course, remains a multitude of unexplored possibilities with digital work hubs, and we're only now entering a new phase in their evolution. The scope for product investments to ameliorate this trend and come up with a range of product offerings is massive.
About the Author
David is a full-time journalist based in Ireland. A partisan of ‘green’ living and conservation, he is particularly interested in information management and how enterprise content management, analytics, big data and cloud computing impact on it.