Home' Technology Review : March April 2013 Contents 50 DISRUPTIVE COMPANIES 2013
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
The field of business services does not
necessarily reward technological innova-
tors. Isn’t it largely driven by how well you
lower a client’s costs?
It is. The start of BPO [business-process
outsourcing] was basically taking the
mess of somebody else and doing it for
less. Let’s take business processes that
are identical—everybody has to answer
calls—and if you can [handle such
things for many companies], then you
can use scale to your advantage. Then
it went to “Can we move it to lower-
cost areas and lower-cost people?” So it
became labor arbitrage. And where we
are now with BPO, and this is the most
exciting part about Xerox, is that the
next big step is not in trying to go to the
next cheapest place.
Why? Have we reached the lowest that
labor costs can go?
Not yet, but we’re getting there. The next
big step comes in technology. So if you
have 100 people answering the phone
and they take 10 calls an hour, can you
get it such that you have 100 people that
take 15 calls an hour? Can you apply
technology to make it such that instead
of taking six or seven weeks to train a
person in a complex call, you make it take
two weeks, or one week? Can you make it
such that—most calls are recorded—you
can look at the calls after and figure out
key things, see patterns via big data? And
can you actually apply that?
What’s an example of a services deal you
won because of technology you had?
Working with municipalities in California
on better parking. Parking is a pain in the
ass. And it doesn’t get enough money for
the value. In the middle of the day [cit-
ies] want to charge a whole lot of money
for parking on the street. We developed
congestion-parking solutions such that
[cities] can vary price. So you’re driving
around, and—some of this is still in trial
mode—you can get a bing on your phone
that says “There’s a parking spot a block
over,” and it will charge you the appropri-
ate amount. This is all driven by technol-
ogy from our Grenoble labs [in France].
In the 1970s, PARC, Xerox’s Silicon Valley
lab, invented computing breakthroughs
that languished because they didn’t fit
into Xerox’s copier business. How do you
keep your researchers focused now?
It’s all about themes. Even if [Xerox’s
customers] are in many different lines
of work, one of the themes is that they
[all] have a lot of information, and a lot
of it has to be processed, and generally
by people. A large amount of what we do
a process operate via technology like a
human would operate it, without the
inefficiencies and the errors and moods.
Why have you cut Xerox’s spending on
research, development, and engineering?
Primarily because of what we are
RD&Eing. When you are a builder of
things, one of the most expensive pieces
of RD&E is the building of the thing—
the prototyping. If you look at a software
company’s RD&E, it’s [often] counted in
cost of goods or packaged in the price of
a deal. You develop a solution on behalf
of a client and it’s not called “research.”
It’s not a capital expense.
My big balance right now is to make
sure we don’t spoil ourselves into believ-
ing all of the innovation will come at
the client site. I want to think even
beyond that. That’s where the labs have
to jump to.
How much longer will Xerox still be sell-
ing copiers and printers?
For as long as the customer needs them,
which will still be a while.
Well, will offices still be churning out lots
of paper in 2020? 2030?
In 2020, oh yeah, there will still be a lot
of paper. People like it. You fold it up,
you put it in your shirt. Until somebody
develops a technology that [has such]
benefits in some other form, paper will be
here. I was just looking at cars. They still
hand me brochures! It’s really important.
it’s not as easy. So until they figure out
a way to make it that easy, paper will be
there and I’ ll still be printing.
Xerox dominated the office of yesterday with its copiers, laser
printers, and fax machines. Now Ursula Burns is trying to
strengthen its role in the offices of tomorrow. Since becoming
CEO in 2009, she has increased Xerox’s sales of IT-related
services, like processing health insurance claims and man-
aging customer-service call centers. Nevertheless, Burns—a mechanical
engineer who has worked at Xerox since an internship in 1980—told MIT
Technology Review’s deputy editor, Brian Bergstein, that the company isn’t
straying from its technological roots.
Xerox’s CEO wants to use technology to shake up
the staid business-services market.
Photograph by Julie Bidwell
2/1/13 8:11 AM
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