Why AI could be the key to taking Xerox to the next level

What are some of the most exciting innovations Xerox is working on at the moment?

Xerox is developing a number of exciting innovations to help businesses communicate, connect, and work. In digital printing, we’re continuing to create breakthrough printing products such as the new Iridesse production press that is able to print metallic inks to deliver eye-catching embellishments for printing applications in a single pass. In R&D, Xerox is working on new products that can print directly on packaging and objects to enable late stage customisation and point-of-sale personalisation. Expanding beyond digital graphics printing, we’re also doing research in printed electronics to enable low-cost smart tags and smart packaging in the Internet of Things that can sense and respond with the environment to enable greater supply chain efficiency and a better customer experience.

In the office, Xerox is building upon its global launch last year of 29 new multi-function printers each with onboard and cloud-enabled intelligence that transforms them into workplace assistants that can orchestrate digital workflows through apps. Our app gallery enables our channel partners to get creative, and develop and sell custom apps for clients, helping them bring innovative solutions to their clients and generate recurring revenue. We are also working on a number of new innovations in workflow automation and cross-media communication services that will enable the evolving workplace of the future at the convergence of the physical and digital worlds.

Are there any good case studies of customers using your technology you want to highlight?

Businesses are beginning to shift their focus from replacing paper-based processes with digital solutions, to using apps to offer new ways to print more intelligently and efficiently.

We’ve already seen hundreds of thousands apps, many created by partners, installed on Xerox devices alone – from Xtandit’s ‘Quiver Secure Scan’ that enables customers to scan their documents securely, to EtiQube’s apps which their clients use to enable device geo-localisation and consumables re-orders, in addition to employee presence and absence reports directly on the devices to name a very few.

Xerox Easy Translator Service automates customers’ everyday processes such as the translation of documents, helping save time and money. Working with our channel partner Nustream, UK recruitment firm, Austin Fraser, uses the easy translator app to translate and send contracts between global offices, saving translation time and speeding up client negotiations, enabling faster placement of candidates in key roles and boosting business productivity significantly.

How do you see AI affecting your business over the next few years?

AI is already appearing in our apps and solutions today. Take Xerox Easy Translate Service as an example, it constantly uses a learning engine to improve translation quality.

We see the continued impact of AI to improve the usability and reliability of our products and services, both through embedded sensing and intelligence as well as leveraging new technologies such as augmented reality to empower customers to learn how to perform a function or fix a problem. We are big believers that the greatest potential of AI is to collaborate with people to help them do complex knowledge work. For example, we are already seeing how our analytics dashboards help our customers and our delivery teams understand how they can optimise their printing infrastructure and automate transactional workflows. In the future, we envision advances in AI to be able to help knowledge workers to collaborate on documents and other knowledge workflows, and to make better decisions faster, and ultimately make Xerox and our customers into more agile, digital companies.

How can businesses ensure they stay safe and protected whilst still looking to embrace the latest technology innovations?

Xerox does all it can to help protect customers data by offering benchmark security on our products, and also partnering and integrating with industry experts such as McAfee and Cisco.

Every business should invest in the latest IT security technologies for their networks and also leverage cloud services from vendors that are constantly monitoring and updating their security technologies. But perhaps more importantly, businesses should also educate their employees on the new forms of social engineering attacks that are used to gain access into company networks, such as phishing emails that pose as legitimate messages from managers, vendors, or partners in order to get user credentials and other sensitive data.

What recommendations would you make for businesses looking to stand out from the crowd?

For companies that are trying to transform into true digital enterprises, I would make two key recommendations:

1. Think about what customers want, not just what you make. This requires re-thinking what business you are in and what business models makes most sense. For example, Xerox is not just a printing company; rather Xerox has always focused on helping people do their work using or inventing the latest technologies of each age, from photocopying to laser printing to our digital solutions today. As another example, Ford Motor Company has redefined itself as a mobility company, not just an automobile manufacturer, and has experimented with new business models such as car and bike sharing services and package delivery.

2. Adopt an options-based mindset. Given the rapid pace of change in technologies, business models, and customer behaviour, every business and every employee needs to adopt an agile, learning-based mindset and development process. Options thinking is the right approach under uncertainty because you can make small bets to start to explore emerging opportunities and continue to invest only if you get validation and traction in the market. A traditional waterfall-based development approach is highly risky under technology and market uncertainty because you can spend a lot of money and end up with a product that customers don’t actually want.

But this does require the discipline to state your hypotheses and assumptions explicitly at the start and to design the right kind of business experiments to test those hypotheses, learn, and iterate.  Eric Ries in his books “The Lean Startup” and “The Startup Way” calls this the “Build, Measure, Learn” loop, and I believe that businesses that want to have a truly sustainable competitive advantage in the future will become highly proficient at going through the loop faster and more times than their competitors.

What do you feel will be the next big "breakout" technology to benefit businesses across the world?

I believe the next big “breakout” technology will be intelligent conversational assistants that can help employees and customers learn, solve problems, and work more productively. While these assistants won’t have comprehensive knowledge of the world like those portrayed in science fiction, they will have the ability to interact with people in carefully bounded domains where we can model the environment and create a robust enough knowledge base for the automated assistant.

For example, in customer support via chatbot or voice, we will have intelligent assistants that can interact with customers over multiple turns to understand an issue with a product, diagnose the problem, and then walk the customer through a process to resolve it.  Or in internal business applications we will be able to enable a salesperson to prepare for a meeting with a customer by asking an intelligent assistant questions and sharing knowledge of the customer’s interests and constraints. The intelligent assistant recommends relevant products and services and gets feedback from the person through multiple turns in a conversation to reach a higher level of shared understanding between the person and system.

Today, chatbots and voice assistants are mostly limited to single-turn question answering or transactional order taking using a structured vocabulary and script. At Xerox we are working in R&D on dialogue management and knowledge base construction that will truly enable conversational assistants in the future.

Lawrence Lee is VP of incubation and strategy for Xerox. 

Lawrence Lee

Lee Lawrence is the vice President at Xerox. Incubation and Strategy Lead offering incubation and technology strategy for the Research & Product Development organization at Xerox, reporting to the CTO. He manages innovation pipeline and new business incubation to accelerate the commercialization of ideas into products. Responsible for technology strategy to ensure that Xerox is investing in technologies, intellectual property, and partnerships to deliver the existing product portfolio as well as capture new business opportunities in growth markets including digital packaging, AI workflow assistants, 3D printing, and sensors and services for the IoT.