Microsoft has officially started shipping the Surface Hub to its business customers, almost two years after the IT giant made its debut in the AV space with a mostly-empty booth at InfoComm 2014 and nine months after showing the product to thousands of curious onlookers at InfoComm 2015.

Linda Civitillo, VP of unified communications and collaboration solutions for Surface Hub launch partner AVI-SPL, says company officials have worked closely with Microsoft on developing this collaboration solution and have seen it go through its various development stages.

“We’ve been excited about this solution from the get-go,” says Linda. “We always try to bring our customers the solutions we believe they will adopt and use and help them be more productive. They put a lot of thought into it and we were able to see the progress they were making.”

Linda sees the Surface Hub as a key element in the evolving look at the workforce.

“Offices are becoming more collaborative and the workforce is more mobile than ever,” she says. “We see a great opportunity there.”

AVI-SPL has received “a significant number” of pre-orders for Surface Hubs, says Linda, including some who want to try it out and have ordered one or two units and others who have ordered “significant quantities” of the products. AVI-SPL will provide a full suite of services to those customers placing the large orders, including training, says Linda, but the companies testing the product before making larger orders will get “a little less hand-holding.”

Interest in Surface Hub in the corporate market is “huge,” says Linda, but higher education clients are also extremely interested in adding it to their classrooms.

Linda says the delays in Surface Hub shipments hasn’t slowed down the interest from customers or the enthusiasm on AVI-SPL’s part in the product. Pre-orders have been steady since last summer, she says, although she expects an uptick in interest now that it’s shipping.

At InfoComm 2016, AVI-SPL will be among a handful of booths with Surface Hubs, although Microsoft itself won’t have a booth.

AVI-SPL will have both a 55-inch Surface Hub in a conference room or meeting setting and an 84-inch product in a more open area. AVI-SPL will demo some partner apps on its Surface Hubs, including a new version of its Symphony app that will allow AVI-SPL to manage Surface Hub customer platforms.

John Mitton, VP of AV and CTO for fellow launch partner Red Thread, is excited to see Surface Hub finally available to customers who’ve awaited its arrival. Red Thread will have Surface Hubs at its new state-of-the-art WorkLife Centre in Boston for demos.

“We’re thrilled to be able to demonstrate the incredible features of the Surface Hub to our clients,” says John. “More importantly, they are excited. Now, they can begin to take advantage of this ground-breaking technology to help seamlessly and intuitively connect their teams both globally and locally.”

Brady Bruce, chief marketing officer at InFocus, says the company is excited about the release of Surface Hub, even though it’s a direct competitor to Mondopad.

“It’s validation for us,” says Brady. “Both Jupiter and InFocus, now one company, have been toiling in the touch-enabled collaboration phase for some time and have been successful at it. Microsoft typically waits to see development before they come in. Their arrival signals to us, ‘Hey, there is a market here. People do want this.’ We see their entrance as a good thing. There is a big market here and there is a lot of room for many different players with different solutions to find growth here.”

Others aren’t quite as enthusiastic about Surface Hub’s long-anticipated arrival.

Harry Meade, director of operations at Net-AV and Matt Scott, owner of Omega Audio Video, did a Surface Hub demo in AVI-SPL’s booth during ISE 2016 for AV Nation. Meade was largely unimpressed with what he saw.

“Maybe they’re not demoing the factors that set it apart,” he says. “It has remained unimpressive to me. If you look at the component parts, there’s not a lot there.”

Harry’s biggest concern about Surface Hub is its all-in-one nature.

“It only takes one thing to fail to take out an entire room,” he says. “I think about workarounds all the time since I end up dealing with that.” While the installation and setup of Surface Hub are positives in Meade’s eyes, the service and support issues could become problematic, he says.

“End users care that their room is up and running. They don’t care if it all comes in one shiny box,” he says. That doesn’t mean Net-AV won’t be selling the Surface Hub, though.

“If somebody wants it, we’ll sell it to them,” he says. “But we can put together the components we know work together and market that just as easily.”

Harry agrees with Brady that Microsoft’s interest in AV is a positive development.

“It’s good they’re looking in this direction, but it’s disappointing this is what they came up with out of the gate,” he says. “I see too many holes for it to be the be-all, end-all of meeting spaces.”

Matt remains largely befuddled by Surface Hub’s entry into the space.

“I’m still confused what the purpose of it is,” he says. “I don’t understand the difference between it and any other smart board. No one has been able to explain to me why we need to pay such an exorbitant price.” Surface Hubs cost $8,999 (£6,310) for the 55-inch size and $21,999 (£15,426) for the 84-inch model.

Matt is also concerned about Surface Hub’s all-in-one nature, saying it “ties your room down to that one set of devices. Can it run Autodesk? Work with a Mac? It’s a hard sell for us. It seems to be a device we’re selling off a hope and a prayer.”

Matt views Microsoft as a company that’s “putting a ton of money in the AV space, but it’s still a hobby for them.” As for Surface Hub, he thinks it needs involvement from smaller companies to truly hit it big.

“When they can come in and play with it and potentially sell it,  that’s when it’ll be a true piece of technology for our industry,” he says. “Because you can do collaboration on a wall, people ooh and ahh. I’m still waiting to see why it’s ground-breaking.”

Here’s the full statement on Surface Hub’s release from its Devices blog by Brian Hall, GM for Microsoft Devices Marketing:

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.

We have built Surface Hub as a group. We have been building our Surface products with Surface Hub. Even more importantly, we have seen how innovative businesses and partners have embraced this opportunity to pioneer new ways for groups to work together. They have been our inspiration.

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.

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.

In short, we’ve seen the future of group productivity as we have built this with our partners and customers. We couldn’t be more excited about this future with this new category of product. We also can’t thank our customers and partners enough for their inspiration and contributions in making this product with us.

Surface Hub will help transform businesses and teams

Companies like AstraZeneca, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and SHoP Architects have seen that Surface Hub will improve how people work together and engage customers. We’ve watched the magic that happens as Surface Hub fundamentally transforms not only conference rooms and huddle-spaces, but also factory floors, lecture halls, hospitals, and executive offices and boardrooms.

For example, 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 is calling it a “game changer,” 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.

Surface Hub will save companies money

In a recent Total Economic Impact study commissioned by Microsoft, Forrester Consulting1 worked with five Surface Hub early adopter customers to outline the costs, benefits and risks for implementing Surface Hub in a business environment. This resulted in benefits of more than $850,000 (3 year NPV*) based on savings in device deployment and management costs, avoided printing and device purchase costs, and improved sales. Companies that conduct meetings in rooms and collaboration spaces with a Surface Hub installed experienced a 75% improvement in remote attendee setup and post-meeting productivity, saving about 15-20 minutes per hour-long meeting spent on setting up video or screen-sharing services and completing meeting notes. Organizations saw decreased printing costs of up to $9,000 in the first year, using Surface Hub with pen and touch-enabled screen to make changes and take group notes instead of paper copies. Companies that conducted sales meetings using Surface Hub as a platform for presentations and collaboration with clients estimate a 20% sales improvement with those clients.

Surface Hub fits into many businesses

We know all companies have different needs and workplaces. To customize their experience, Surface Hub customers can easily visit the Windows Store for Business and download a variety of commercial-grade Windows 10 apps to help the business like viewing 3D modeling and CAD files, analyzing videos, facilitating brainstorm and voting sessions, and more. Some examples of applications that can be used on Surface Hub include: Buzz Radar; FluidMath; Mediator by Interknowlogy; MURAL; Power BI; Sensavis The 3D Classroom; Portal Mindmap by HeadCandy; Stormboard for Surface Hub; TechSmith Loop; SharpCloud; tuServ by Black Marble; Virbeya; and XOS ThunderCloud. And, as a Windows 10 device, the Surface Hub benefits from Windows Update for Business, which provides flexibility in managing when and how updates are deployed.

If you are interested in purchasing Surface Hub for your business and for more details about Surface Hub, please visit https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-surface-hub/en-us.

I couldn’t be more proud to announce this milestone for our team, customers, and partners. We can’t wait to see what people, teams and businesses will do with Surface Hub. This is an important moment, and just the beginning.

This article first appeared on Commercial Integrator.

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