This is Not the ‘Old’ Xerox: Apps, Automation and the IoT Are a Big Part of the Company’s Future

On March 9, Xerox hosted its 2016 Office Technology Event at the Gil Hatch Center in Rochester, N.Y., where it unveiled a slew of new hardware, software and innovations to the gathered press and analysts. An announcement of 14 new ConnectKey i-Series MFPs was the mere tip of the iceberg at the event in which Xerox demonstrated that it is an organization with its eyes solidly on the future.

This point was emphasized right from the beginning in no uncertain terms as the event’s keynote speaker, futurist Alexandra Levit, kicked things off with “The Future of Work to 2025 and Beyond.” Levit’s discussion of the three Cs of future work — Collaboration, Customization and Creativity — would prove prophetic of the announcements to follow.

Jim Rise, SVP, Office and Solutions Business Group, first discussed “The Office Market and Xerox Strategy in the Office,” explaining that the changes in the office market have driven the need for an updated strategy. Although prices and page volumes are eroding and single-function printers and monochrome are declining, he said, color MFP placements are growing, and there is still a great deal of opportunity — the office solutions market was $3.7 billion in 2016 with a 4 percent CAGR forecast for 2014-2019; MPS is forecast to have a 6 percent CAGR from 2013-2018, with SMB MPS growing 10 percent annually by 2018; and mobile pages are forecast to grow from 16 percent to 24 percent of total pages printed by 2019. “Our focus for the future is in connecting into the way people work and making people more productive, and being part of the Internet of Things,” said Rise — a statement that would be key to the company’s new products.

Those products were outlined in a panel discussion featuring Bertrand Cerisier, VP, Global Marketing, Office Solutions Business Group; Toni Clayton-Hine, VP, Global Marketing and Value Proposition, Channel Partner Operations; and Kerry Sanders, VP, Global Marketing Large Enterprise Operations. The panelists discussed what was new about ConnectKey and how those new products and features affected their different segments. The full details of the new launches can be seen here in the Xerox press release issued March 10. In a nutshell, however, the new ConnectKey-enabled i-Series devices include features such as the Xerox App Gallery, Xerox Easy Translation Service, the Xerox Mobile Link app and the @PrintByXerox app, and are designed to make mobile workers more productive and expand the capabilities of the smart MFP. “There are a number of things you can do with an MFP as long as it is tied to the IoT,” said Cerisier.

Those “things” were further detailed in a series of breakout sessions demonstrating the new tools and capabilities offered. In “Stretching MFP Capabilities,” Xerox’s Rui Ferreira and Peter Munday explained Xerox Easy Translation Service, one of the more fascinating demonstrations — a document is scanned in one language, a translation engine adapts it into one of more than 35 available languages, and the translated document is printed out (although printing isn’t necessary; it can be stored digitally as well). The machine-based translation is imperfect, of course, but Xerox does also offer varying levels of human translation services at different price points. What I found most impressive was the fact that the document layout was kept intact — in the example document a three-column layout plus a photo, caption and headline were all maintained in place after translation from English to Spanish (not the most complex transition, admittedly, but other groups saw demos in Chinese and Lithuanian).

Ferreira and Munda also gave an overview of the Xerox App Gallery and the related Xerox App Studio 3.0 and Personalized Application Builder (PAB) program. In the PAB are 162 registered participants and two authorized developers, one of which is Swedish firm Foxway International, whose CEO Stefan Nilsson was on hand to demonstrate some of the apps his firm has built, including a specialized family search app, a car rental app, and even a visa application – all of which provide unique placement opportunities for Xerox devices.

The App Gallery itself is borrowed from tablet and phone interfaces, and allows channel partners to download and customize the UI. It launched with 10 available apps that allow for connections to common services like Dropbox, Google Drive, SharePoint, etc. The App Studio Portal allows partner-only access to customizable templates, allowing the apps’ buttons to be relabeled to better reflect an organization’s particular usage. For instance, a firm whose workflow includes scanning all invoices to Dropbox could relabel the “scan-to-Dropbox” button as “invoice scan” to provide clearer directions for users. The app button’s image can be customized as well. All the apps currently available in the studio are free to Xerox channel partners.

The channel partners are a big part of Xerox’s strategy with the i-Series ConnectKey devices, as explained by Elizabeth Fox, VP, Managed Print Services for SMB Business Unit and John Perry, VP, Managed Print Services Business Group. Every ConnectKey feature has the potential to be a revenue stream for Xerox partners, said Fox, noting “we’re basing the value proposition on partners innovating.” Perry, meanwhile, noted that ConnectKey enhances MPS delivery options, allowing for a different level of security and responsiveness, and providing better data remotely for proactive support and predictive maintenance.

In “Enabling Productivity for a Mobile Workforce,” Fred Ramsey and Jim Rego scored a hat trick as they made mobile print seem simple, useful and intriguing. Noting that it’s people who are mobile, not devices, a convincing argument was made for the functionality and simplicity of Xerox Mobile Print — simply emailing a document to print@printbyxerox.com will allow users to print from any i-Series device (or enabled legacy ConnectKey device). The free version will hold prints in Xerox’s cloud for a day, while the premium version allows for more customization, including customized email addresses. A key feature of Xerox’s mobile print is that it will render Office documents correctly, without the distortion in Excel files or PowerPoint documents frequently seen on mobile devices.

Additionally, Xerox’s Mobile Link is an app for mobile phones that can connect with output devices through a QR code, and allows users to create customized workflows — one example given was a user who scans a receipt, which is then automatically stored to a personal Dropbox folder, a shared Google Drive folder and emailed to an accountant.

While I have been known to be a bit cynical when it comes to mobile print, I have to admit that Xerox’s solution is simple enough to make even me want to use it. Xerox’s Rise agreed. “It’s easy, ubiquitous, and works on any network,” he said, pointing out that even if you weren’t able to connect your phone to a business’s network because of security policies, you could still send the print through your cellular data network. It might be enough to make me a believer. Also worth mentioning is that Mobile Link can be used as a standalone scanning app — getting Xerox products into the hands of even digital-only users (I’ve downloaded the app myself; it’s automatic de-skewing capability was a selling point for me).

If Mobile Link wasn’t enough to sell me on Xerox’s future, Darren Cassidy may have been. The recently appointed director of U.S. Channels Group was brimming with enthusiasm for all of Xerox’s offerings, even at the tail end of a very long day. Those offerings — including ConnectKey, MPS and apps — are all part of an interconnected strategy, he said, and what’s key is how it interacts in the clients’ environments and how we change the experience. “How do we have a different relationship with the paper and digital world?” he asked.

Ultimately, this sums up Xerox’s strategy nicely. Since news of its split hit the wire there has been much talk that the Document Technology company will simply be the “old” Xerox — the Xerox prior to the 2010 acquisition of ACS. This, however, is not really the case. Xerox now and Xerox’s Document Technology company (whatever its final name may be) are not the hardware OEM of 2009, dependent on clicks and constantly updated engines. With 2,300 resellers actively using its App Studio, an acute awareness of the importance of connectivity and the IoT, and the understanding that the MFP is not simply an output device but a digital hub, Xerox appears to be well on its way to a digital future; one in which it serves as a true technology partner to the channel.

Amy Weiss

Amy Weiss

is editor-in-chief of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. She has more than 20 years professional writing and editing experience and has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 15 years, focusing on areas including print and imaging hardware and supplies, workflow automation, managed print, document management solutions and software, business solutions and more. Contact her at amy@bpomedia.com.