On October 10, Xerox held its annual technology event, inviting analysts and press to its New York technology center to take a look at what’s new with Xerox. I could summarize the event in a number of ways, but I think it was done best by SVP, Global Offerings Tracey Koziol as she kicked things off. “No longer are printers and MFPs standalone machines sitting in the corner,” she said. “They are true citizens of the Internet of Things.”
We’ll get back to Koziol and the rest of the meeting, but that’s an excellent statement to keep in mind as we talk about what Xerox is up to. Because while we’ve written a lot about Xerox this year, most of what we’ve written has to do with the Fuji Xerox merger/non-merger/lawsuit. Regarding that, I’ll take the same tack as Xerox did in their briefing – mention it, acknowledge it exists and move on, because that’s not what this is about. Xerox did this through a brief dinner presentation by President and COO Steve Bandrowczak, who opened the floor to questions and invited us to ask about the situation. Of course, the spin was brief and positive and relatively non-committal, and why not? Mergers and acquisitions and corporate intrigue and high-level maneuverings happen in large corporations all the time, and if the entire company stopped what they were doing to focus only on the unknown, nothing would ever get done. And Xerox is getting things done, so let’s focus on that.
For the last two years, Xerox has held its briefings in March, featuring hardware rollouts combined with a lot of focus on software, apps and workflow. This year was different in two ways — the event took place in October (OK, one more mention of the Fuji Xerox situation – March probably wasn’t the best time) and there was no hardware. Neither one of these things were bad.
In 2016 Xerox had just announced its planned split and I got to use the phrase “soon-to-be-bifurcated” when writing about it. It was a big year for both of us. At the 2016 event I remember being somewhat surprised to find that, in spite of the perception that the “new Xerox” (Conduent was as-yet unnamed) would be the technology company and the “old Xerox” would be old-school hardware, the once-and-future Xerox was going full speed ahead with technology. That year Xerox introduced the App Gallery and a number of workflow capabilities on the 14 new ConnectKey enabled i-Series devices announced at the event.
The 2017 event was also a major hardware launch with a lot of app action tied in. It marked the introduction of the VersaLink and AltaLink lines, replacing the former WorkCentres and Phasers — 29 new devices in all, all equipped with the ConnectKey system.
So after such a huge rollout, it is not really surprising that there was no new hardware announced at the 2018 event. We’ve seen several OEMs hold dealer meetings and events without a single new piece of hardware, and frankly, that’s more an indicator of the current state of the industry than it is of any lack of innovation or development. Instead, ConnectKey finally got star billing for Xerox, and several new apps along with their developers were featured. The Xerox App Gallery now includes e-commerce functionality, opening up a global marketplace for channel partners who can browse, deploy and purchase apps — and allowing channel partners to share in the revenue when their clients purchase an app. Templates are now available in the gallery for those with no programming experience, while for skilled app developers, software developer kits are available for further customization.
“What we want you to take away from this is that Xerox is a technology company,” said Koziol. “We are innovating … in terms of trying to help our customers be more productive and to drive workflow for everyone, from individual all the way up to enterprise.”
We saw demos of several apps, including the Workplace Assistant apps that cater to various departments with different needs like sales (Connect App for Salesforce), accounting (Connect App for QuickBooks Online, and Concur – oh, what I would have given for these fast-expense-report apps 10 years ago when I cursed every receipt, staple and roll of tape) and HR (Xerox Forms Manager). We also saw the Audio Documents App, which securely transforms hard copy documents into audio files — we even got a sample USB key with the press release on the app in audio format. It’s an interesting concept – as a visual learner too easily distracted to absorb content through audio or video I am certainly not the desired audience, but I think a large number of people would appreciate being able to listen to papers and similar information.
Also interesting were some of the education apps — I found the Proofreader Service especially intriguing. It checks for writing elements in the English language, including spelling, grammar, style, and perhaps most important to teachers, plagiarism. I have to assume there are use cases for this app beyond the education environment and would be curious to see how it compares to apps such as Lingofy and Grammarly. I was surprised by the demo of this app and some others taking printout form, and also having a paper-based input. I don’t have kids in school, but several of my colleagues assured me that the amount of paper in schools is a mixed bag, and more work than I’d expect is still in paper form.
There were several more apps we saw demoed, but I won’t spend too much time going over them all – they meet the needs of a number of different specific use cases, show a good deal of innovation, and you can read more about them in Xerox’s press release.
Another breakout session I found particularly relevant was the one on Xerox’s Virtual Print Management Services, led by Elizabeth Fox, Xerox’s VP, Managed Print Services Offering Development. What is managed print today? The concept has evolved, and we’re all becoming far more workflow oriented, focusing on digitization and digitalization and cloud and software — all as it relates to print.
Let’s go back to the statement from Tracey Koziol I mentioned at the beginning of this article – the one about MFPs no longer being off to the side, but a central part of the IoT. IT infrastructure is evolving, and the MFP is a part of that. No longer is data and print purely on-premise, and the cloud is kind of a big deal. Virtual Print recognizes that, eliminating print servers and allowing for a flexible printing model, enabling users to print from any device in any location from mobile or computer.
Fox talks about the “print path” – Xerox-ese for the flow of documents — and how it is affected by all that technology and innovation. IT infrastructure is changing and IT departments are being asked to increase capacity optimization and increase ROI, and they’re doing it by moving to the cloud with API integration. But what are we doing with print infrastructure today, asks Fox? I’ll let the picture speak 1,000 words for me here.
It’s a frustrating fact that IT is being asked to consolidate its infrastructure, and yet there is a proliferation of print infrastructure. It doesn’t have to be that way, Fox said. What if you could consolidate all those pieces?
Xerox Workplace Cloud, which has been around for a couple of years, is a familiar pull-print type model, allowing authenticated users to submit their information to the cloud where it is rendered by a cloud print driver. The job is then submitted to a virtual print queue or direct to the printer, allowing the user to walk up to any printer, authenticate and release the job. Xerox Virtual Print takes this solution and layers on Xerox managed print methodology, deploying it to print servers instead of printers. “We used to ask, ‘what is the user to printer ratio?’ said Fox. “We now ask ‘what is the printer to server ratio?’” For larger enterprise it’s about 150 to 1; for midsize it’s about 75 to 1 — and even small businesses with a lot of printers, like law firms, may have print servers in place. Xerox does a baseline TCO assessment, which usually amounts to $5,000-$6,000 a year per print server. Eliminating a data center footprint can result in 30 percent cost savings – and reduce hassle for the IT staff. It is also an option for branch businesses, like banking or retail, that either have local print servers or are sending content back and forth across a WAN.
Virtual Print, of course, integrates seamlessly with ConnectKey, but Xerox recognizes that most businesses are not single-brand, and it will work with non-Xerox devices as well.
There were a number of other intriguing discussions at the event, and as usual, I’ve chosen to focus on just a couple in the interest of not writing a novel. Xerox has far more going on than the examples cited above, but this should provide a snapshot that encompasses what the company is doing and where it is going — focusing on the future, on technology, on the cloud and on workflow, and on its channel partners who are active partners in app development. Where will the company be in another year? We only have to look back a couple of years to realize we had no idea at the time what the future held for Xerox, so making assumptions now would be pointless. Xerox has a lot going for it in the way of innovation, and for the time being, that seems like plenty to focus on.