Spark Collaboration

Collaboration and team working are two big props you need put in the mix to develop a customer led ethos within a business. Comms Business’ Ian Hunter visited Cisco for a closer look at Spark, one of the applications seeking to take a slice of the that market.


Cisco Spark was launched in to an already busy market at the end of 2015 on the promise of delivering the three types of communication tools people use at work the most— messaging, meeting, and calling—from the cloud. At the time, and arguably, Slack – launched two years prior, was the market leader but here Cisco was offering the possibility for their phones and video conferencing systems to plug into the cloud and access these new services as well as an easy to use API which today is mature with a vast number of third-party integrations available.

Cisco regard Spark as being much more than a ‘messaging’ app and instead consider it to be a platform that is 2-3 years ahead of the game with many revenue generating opportunities for the channel partners.

The cloud based collaboration application was updated in early 2017 with the introduction of the Spark Board for whiteboard-based collaboration and Spark Meetings. The Board is available in 55 or 70-inch screen options from $4990 plus $199 a month.

This was most impressive. Cisco has positioned Spark Board as an all-in-one meeting room product that serves as a wireless presentation device, a digital whiteboard for all meeting participants, and a conferencing device – all powered by the Spark cloud.

As a wireless presentation device, the Spark Board uses ultrasound wireless pairing technology to detect users as soon as they walk in a room, and when a user walks up to the board, it will recognise and greet him or her. The user can then swipe or click on a mobile device for instant screen sharing on the board, not requiring Bluetooth or a special Wi-Fi connection and making remote controls a thing of the past. Users also can share content from their PCs, Macs, or tablets.

As a whiteboard, the Spark Board lets any worker – in person or remote – edit content and mark up documents in real time. It features Cisco’s encryption technology so that content is locked down, and it automatically saves content in an associated Spark Space so teams can revisit a whiteboard session and continually iterate on it.

For me, Spark Board is the star of the whole Spark experience. The Spark Board includes video conferencing capabilities, this means remote participants can be using the whiteboard while on a call. It features a 4K camera for a crisp video image, and has a new microphone array extending along the top. The microphone array, in tandem with VoiceTrack technology for voice location tracking, eliminates the need for those mics you typically see placed throughout larger
meeting rooms.

Ed Says…

Ahead of the visit to Cisco I had been encouraged to download the app to my phone and desktop. A process so simple that I quickly added my tablet and laptop in to the mix as I wanted to see how the app presented across all four platforms – all Apple by the way. The fully working download is free but restricted to the number of simultaneous calls it can make – if you want no restriction the cost is $7.00 per user per month.

Clearly there is strong integration with other Cisco collaboration tools, e.g., WebEx, Unified Communications, Video, etc. If you use Cisco products in your enterprise for phone and video communications, Cisco Spark is a very easy fit to meet your group chat requirements.

Today, most of us still use unconnected tools for team messaging, virtual meetings and phone calls. Applications such as Spark mixes messaging, meeting and calling in such a simple way that it is hard to tell where one ends and the next begins. All three are parts of a complete user experience. Having used Slack for about a year I would say Cisco edges it in a number of ways – most notably as far as I am concerned by its simplicity – including the single swipe from my iPhone to that great Spark Board – albeit the Board is obviously an extra cost.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine