Xerox looks beyond paper

After having reorganized late last year, Xerox is on a roll. The company's profits are up, thanks to rising sales of color printers and copiers, as well as a new focus on services, which now account for 20 percent of revenue. Herve Gallaire, Xerox's chief technology officer and president of the Xerox Innovation Group, spoke with Computerworld's Robert Mitchell recently about research and development projects in the lab, real-world applications and whether Xerox's move to services means the company is letting up on its commitment to hardware R&D. Xerox registered more than 500 patents in 2004.

What role does the Innovation Group play at Xerox?

The technology that feeds into the products -- the platforms that will become products -- are being done in the Xerox Innovation Group. What we do is not just the technology, but also the intellectual property management. Our DocuShare product is also hosted here. It is a business unit, but Xerox is not a software product company, therefore I manage it.

PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre) is a bit special because it used to be an integral part of our research and technology organization, but it has been spun off. We have enabled PARC to work not just for Xerox but for other partners.

How has the concept of the document changed, and how has Xerox adjusted?

[Documents] have nothing to do with paper anymore. This is about finding information and structuring it inside the document, whether it's paper or electronic, and it's about connecting the document to a workflow. We're still about output, still about input, about scanning, about copying -- but those are just some of the capabilities that need to be made available. Your multifunction [copy, print, scan, fax] device becomes part of an application.

What innovations are you working on that are likely to appear in products in the next 12 months?

One is to use a digital camera as a scanner so that when you are mobile, you can take images of documents. The secret here is to develop software that will enable me to clean up all the errors, all the noise that is being introduced. The idea is that mobile workers can use cameras as scanners that can be introduced into normal workflows. This software could be loaded on the digital camera itself or as a service on the Internet.

Another example is something we call CopyFinder, which uses your multifunction device as a tool to search your repository of documents. The concept is you might have this document but you don't have much information that says where the source file is. So how do I find that?

I could use my search tool and type a couple of keywords, but I'll probably find lots more answers than I care to find. What we do instead is use the source page and do a scan. We analyze enough of the text to be pretty sure that we can find a document that has a very high similarity to this. We see that as a fairly effective way of a search for certain types of applications.

What other technologies are you working on that may have a big impact?

We have now an image classifier, a mathematical algorithm that tries to find points that can be used to categorize the image and distinguish it from something else. You could then combine this capability to search on text and on images, [but] it's only a categorizer at this time.

What are you doing in the area of document security?

The GlossMark technology is one where we print something you can see. If you copy it, the GlossMark will not be copied. So the copy is not the same as the original. The GlossMark is a way to use the toner to create an image that's visible given certain light characteristics. If I move the document under a light, I will see an image appear, and if I move it to a different position, it disappears. But it's not an absolute security, in a sense, because it's visible.

Xerox has been an innovator in the colour printer market. What will users see in terms of cost and capabilities in the next year?

Cheaper, faster, maybe higher quality. I don't know if you will have [them] all at the same time. You can almost determine the cost of a product by putting it on a scale. We have these curves that show the correlation between weight and cost. That means technically that we need to replace a lot of the heavy metal and plastic with more electronics, putting more smarts inside.

Xerox has repositioned itself from a hardware-focused company to a services-focused company. What does this mean for Xerox in terms of its role as a technology innovator?

About 20 percent of revenues are coming from services now. Xerox today spends about $US850 million [on research and development]. Out of that, research on technology is about $150 million [including the PARC spin-off], and inside that, I spend one-third on the software and services side, one-third on the imaging side and one-third on the hardware. I don't believe that we will decrease the hardware [spending], at least for the next few years.

Xerox and PARC are renowned for developing key elements of IT infrastructure that other companies capitalized on. Is Xerox better prepared today to exploit its own innovations?

One of the mechanisms we put in place is the Innovation Group. We have responsibility for both the creation of the technology and the exploitation of the technology. What we have done by putting the two together is to make sure somebody would watch technology and, when it is not used by Xerox, to try and decide how to capitalize on it in the best possible way. Xerox cannot exploit everything, so you need alternate mechanisms. We have very impressive licensing. We want to license it if we don't use it.

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