SMART Technologies, which started out with a focus on business customers before it was discovered by schools, colleges and universities, is re-engaging with enterprises and SMEs struggling with the practicalities of hybrid working
As inventor of the category 35 years ago, SMART Technologies was once synonymous with interactive whiteboards. Since then, many more vendors have entered the market and interactive whiteboards have been superseded by interactive displays – a development SMART was initially slow to pick up on.
Today, it is still a major player, moving up and down the top three rankings, with a solid base in education and a growing footprint in the enterprise. Buoyed by post-Covid education sector grants and corporate investment in collaboration spaces to support hybrid working, SMART has been growing by 30% to 40% in every region across the world, except in the UK, where demand has been constrained by a lack of Government support for schools and a mature, replacement market – in education, at least.
As Jenna Pipchuk, Executive Vice- President Chief Sales Officer at SMART Technologies, told Technology Reseller when we caught up with her after June’s InfoComm event in Las Vegas, there is still much new business to be won in the enterprise and SME space and a real appetite amongst SMART’s UK channel partners to make deeper inroads into that growing part of the market.
“I have just come back from InfoComm where I met many of our UK channel partners. It was great to see them in person and there really was a great vibe at the show. You can tell people are excited to be back and are really looking for new solutions to help enterprises return to the office in a more productive way,” she said.
SMART has been pivoting towards business sales for several years, especially in the UK where it has 100% penetration of the education market and an open channel policy that has traditionally attracted resellers from different parts of the market – an approach that it has now replicated in North America, resulting in the recruitment of 300 new partners and increased traction in segments it wasn’t strong in before.
Over and above this, there is little doubt that the return to the office and the reorganisation of workspaces to support diverse collaboration requirements is giving a real boost to the business market, at a time when schools are cutting back on purchases due to inflation and the high cost of energy.
“Where we’re seeing most of our strategic counselling is in the return to office and how to set up spaces where people can come and work together. We know that you can work from home, from your laptop quite productively, but that’s not always 100% collaboratively. When do you need to be in the office and what do you need the office to do? What does that space look like?,” said Pipchuk.
“In our enterprise market, the return to work is a bit scrambled and we’re using some of the learnings that we have gained from education to help organisations understand that the office has changed from a place that you go to every day just to do your work to a place where you really need key collaborative environments. Businesses now understand that they have to combine what’s going on in the office and what’s going on at home and make the space in the office much more relatable to collaboration.”
In addition, SMART is seeing demand from certain niche areas, such as
digital courtrooms, and key verticals like construction, as well as the broader SME market.
Pipchuk adds that in some respects today’s stronger focus on business is taking SMART back to its roots.
“A little known fact about SMART is that we started in the enterprise and
then schools adopted the technology, after which touch technology really grew. People sometimes forget we were doing touch before iPads, when touch was a phenomenal, magical thing in education. Over the years, we’ve had a few entrances into the Business and Enterprise space. We were one of the three main manufacturers for Microsoft Room Systems a number of years ago. Now that people are trying to redefine what working should be like after Covid it seems as though the business market is ready again.”
She adds that one of the reasons the business market has caught up is that SMART is already familiar to so many of today’s office workers.
“We’ve been selling into education for a few generations, and people who know
us from that environment are now in the workforce and expect to use the same kinds of collaboration technologies that they had in schools in their work environment.”
That aside, why should a customer choose a SMART Board rather than an equivalent from one of many other providers in this space? One reason, says Pipchuk, is the simplicity of SMART technology.
“The technology just works. And what we mean by that is when you pick up a pen, it writes like a pen. When you pick up an eraser, it erases and you don’t have to be fooling around in menus or remembering ‘Oh yeah, I have a pen right now. I can’t use my finger’. That kind of goes away. The technology is made to be used by humans in a really natural, interactive way. That really is our focus – the user experience.”
As an example, she cites SMART Ink software, which gives users the reassurance of knowing that when they open a PDF they will be able to ink into that PDF at the exact zoom level they are working at and that when they change the zoom or when they change applications, the ink adapts accordingly as if it was written with a pen on paper.
“Some of the other technologies just haven’t figured out that we’re humans fundamentally and what we’re here to do is collaborate; the technology has to enable that,” said Pipchuk.
Another attraction, for end user customers and resellers, is the investment that SMART makes to ensure that its products, designed to be long-lasting, remain at the leading edge of interactive technologies throughout their lifecycle.
“At SMART we really invest in keeping what we call equity across different versions. When we build our products, we build them with as much technology as possible. Because they last longer than a traditional IT cycle, when we build them we think ‘OK, this is going to last three IT cycles’, meaning the Android operating system or the specs and speeds will change. So how do we make sure that it can be upgraded as the tech cycles are upgraded?”
Earlier this year, SMART introduced brand- new versions of all three of its core product lines: the 6000, its premium line; the MX, its main seller; and the GX, its competitive offering. With screen sizes from 24in to 86in, these series provide a solution for pretty much any corporate collaboration space.
According to Pipchuk, certain models have even found favour with home workers, notably the 55-inch MX Pro Series SMART Board and the SMART Podium 524/624 24-inch interactive display, which, when used as a primary monitor in a home office or linked to a large SMART Board, enables instructors and professionals to write notes or draw with a cordless pen onto digital content while presenting.
“We have what we call a Podium product (see photo above), which a lot of designers, a lot of engineers and those who have to write over content really
like to use. It’s an at-home podium that professors use a lot in higher education. It has both a video in and a video out so you can bring anything that you want from your computer, and you can add the inking and collaboration and send that video out with those enhancements to large groups.
“Then, we have our 55-inch business MX, which we recommend for home offices. They can be on mobile stands so you can move them around and they can really help those who want to work from home and do interesting demos. Because we have so much experience in the education space, we know humans can take deeper, more complex information when they have a visual aspect. Not just writing on a screen, but actually seeing how someone writes on a screen gives us more fulsome information. An audio-visual experience can really enhance collaboration for those who do teaching from home or who have really complex things that they have to work on with others.”
A unified commercial engine
In addition to the strengths of its product line and its extended channel reach, Pipchuk says SMART has been transforming its sales and marketing processes with the introduction of a Unified Commercial Engine.
“Data shows us that buyers want fewer and fewer interactions from salespeople and want to do more and more things digitally, so we have made a lot of progress on creating a digital engine that helps a group of buyers to buy – because in enterprise it’s never a single person but a group of people – when they want less and less personal interaction. We are now thinking about how that folds into our channel and how to pull our channel into that digital buying experience so that more and more interactions can be digital.
“We have a brand-new organisation, a very specific engineer-to-sales pod, that looks at the entire commercial process and we’re spending a lot of money on systems to help us integrate with our channel. We’ve done a whole new website design; we’ve increased our leads to our channel by 50% over the last two years; they’re better quality leads, they’re coming faster, they have more information about the customer and we’re going to continue to grow that and have a full loop through the channel and back to the end customer,” she said.
In the meantime, says Pipchuk, SMART will continue to leverage its experience in the education sector to help partners exploit new opportunities in the business sector, especially in relation to back to office.
“Organisations are struggling with what that means and how that’s going to look. I think we offer a lot of opportunities because we’ve seen it with education, where we went very quickly from Covid to back to school to what hybrid learning is like. Now we’re seeing enterprise going through the same process,” she said.
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