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Death to the flipchart

'Interactive digital whiteboards are definitely not for box-moving channel businesses'

The days of the good-old fashioned flipchart are numbered and they’re quickly disappearing from the modern boardroom. As we move to the ‘paperless office’ and ‘enterprise of the future’, employees are no longer required to sit in a central office all day.

Thanks to proliferated broadband access, they can work anywhere, and given the increasing traffic congestion in our cities, that can only be a good thing.

Boardrooms and collaboration spaces are being fitted with interactive projectors, digital whiteboards and ultra-high-definition (UHD) interactive panels. Among the benefits that these product sets bring is the enablement of virtual meetings with remote video connections, files being shared and collaborated on and meetings being digitally recorded.

With this trend still a growing phenomenon in the South African market, local channel players feel there are some gains to be made.

Workplace efficiency

Hennie Crous, business sales manager at Epson South Africa, says the rise of the mobile workforce is changing the way business is conducted, with interactive projectors being used more frequently as a tool to improve efficiency in the workplace.

“The demand for interactive projectors that not only feature integrated mobile technology, but that can also be accessed remotely, will likely increase,” he says. "'Bring your own device' is also growing in popularity and will see more businesses investing in projectors that are light and compact enough to travel with.”

Crous believes mobility will encourage companies to develop a dynamic portfolio of advanced projector tools, creating opportunities for the channel to sell specialist software, enhancing the customer’s experience of using an interactive projector. “This, in turn, presents opportunities for channel members to upskill in order to be able to educate customers with regards to the features and benefits of interactive projectors.”

Due to South Africa’s geographical location and the cost of time and travel, he says interactive devices, with all their complexities, are a very cost-effective way of improving productivity and limiting costs, provided they’re implemented correctly.

“In a recent survey we ran among SMEs in South Africa, 30% said their employer encourages occasional home working, while 26% were concerned that regularly working from home would make them feel less connected to their organisation. This suggests great potential for increased home office efficiency thanks to interactive technologies and how the dynamic is viewed by employers,” he says.

Market segments

Cliff Hartzenberg, product manager for communication services, Ricoh SA, says: “While globally, market sales are focused on the education sector, that’s not the case in South Africa, where the largest portion of the country’s education market – the public sector – has little budget for this type of equipment, and is further frustrated by poor infrastructure in many areas.”

He notes that South Africa’s education sector uptake is primarily in the higher and private education portions of the market.

In South Africa, Hartzenberg says, the focus of market sales is sharply on the corporate sector where businesses, with budgets under immense pressure for a variety of reasons, keenly grasp the benefits superior products like interactive digital whiteboards provide.

“Though interactive digital whiteboards may initially require some budget outlay, the collaboration features distinguishing it from straightforward interactive panels can radically slash travel costs and time employees spend out of the office.”

For Anle Els, Mecer product manager at Mustek, in the education space, interactive panels as well as digital whiteboards are most certainly growing very fast.

She points out that private as well as public sectors are moving towards this technology to upgrade boardrooms.

“It is, however, important to note that the price difference between a projector and UHD interactive panels is quite substantial, thus securing the space for a traditional projector.”

According to Els, because this solution is flexible and utilised across almost all market segments, all channel partners can acquire the necessary skillsets to add this product to their market offerings, which generates new sales opportunities.

“Consider acquiring the correct skillset and resources prior to entering the market as this will ensure complete end-to-end customer solutions," she says.

Channel skills

Meanwhile, Hartzenberg notes that field maintenance requirements on interactive digital whiteboards are very low. “Most of the technical requirement is needed upfront when installing the devices in their environments, but even that’s comparatively low next to the similar skillset for PCs. The new generation of products is extremely user friendly, they don’t have unnecessary cable connections, and they’re more like smartphones or tablets than PCs when it comes to setting them up.”

Nonetheless, he adds: “Interactive digital whiteboards are definitely not for box-moving channel businesses. They’re the domain of proper value-added resellers, corporate consulting channel businesses, and systems integrators.”

He urges channel players, to ensure that employees have detailed knowledge of interactive digital whiteboards before they can sell them.

Crous notes that, in general, the specifications and features of interactive devices increase with every new generation, and the set-up of the interactive devices on the LAN and IT infrastructure is becoming increasingly advanced and complex.

“Channel players need to have comprehensive knowledge of their product range, and to understand how to install, maintain and manage the products, as well as knowledge of how to support the configuration, monitoring and management of a customer’s projector fleet,” he concludes.

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