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Xerox looks back over 75 years of office innovation and considers the future of IT.

Darren Cassidy, MD of Xerox UK joins Wayne Scott on the ITProPortal Podcast to talk about IT; it’s development and what it means to organizations in the current times of change.

Xerox have had to adapt their business to help their clients print less and print cheaper and lead by example by employing many of their initiatives and approaches to working practice in their own office environment. Darren gives us an insight into what other companies might learn from this and how change's in technology have sparked a different approach to product design.

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Let’s go back in time first Darren to 75 years ago and a guy called Chester Carlson.

Last year marked the 75th anniversary of Chester Carlson's founding of Xerox. Chester Carlson began with what at the time, was a ground-breaking piece of innovation called the photocopier. Xerox today though is a global organisation working across a vast range of products and innovations.

Obviously that changed the face of how businesses could work, they then had the ability to duplicate information on paper without the need for costly printing presses. What the equivalent is in 2014? What has been just as important to businesses over recent times as the photocopier was then?

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Chester Carlson's aim 75 years ago was to create innovations that “make office work a little more productive and a little less tedious.” It is interesting to note that although there has been dramatic change over those 75 years, the developments of the last 5 years to the way we work have been quite profound. I think the most exciting change is the one that we are about to go into now, the age of mobility. Agility driven by innovations and technologies are fundamentally changing the way people think about work at its core.

What IT trends do you think organizations should be most concerned about as we head through 2014?

Well "Bring your Own Device" is just one dimension of it, but actually if you get up a little level from there the type of conversation that we have been having with our clients for a while now is actually around the nature of work. They are asking questions like: "What is the office of the future going to look like?" "How would we define the office of the future?" Very quickly you start to change that conversation into how is work going to get done.

"Work is not a place any more it is a thing we do," are the sort of quotes that we are starting to hear now so the nature of work is changing. Having the physical location of an office as a fixed place that you come to every day to do your work is changing and now we are driving the four main topics that organizations have been talking to us about.

The first is that we need to be more mobile. That is not just about allowing people to work at home but about being a mobile organisation that can be at our clients office, it can be on the road, it can be in a central place where they operate or it could be at home. We need to be more mobile as an organisation within our systems, processes and infrastructure. Likewise, there is a recognition now that change is happening at such a pace that we are having to rebuild our systems to be agile. Breaking those systems down into components and rebuilding them with that agile mindset at the core as opposed to creating the legacy that we know in 5 years time might not be fit for purpose.

If you want to be more mobile and agile, security becomes a much more important thing. Mobility and agility create potentially more risks to the information that we have in your business. Therefore security is becoming higher up on the agenda in the conversations that we have had. We have gone from a world where we have been striving and grappling with getting information and data to where honestly, now we have got more information than we know what to do with. The challenge of the future is how we inject the right information but get it at the right time and place to enable our people to do their job. Mobility, agility, security and information at the right time and place are the four huge drivers as we go forward and build the businesses of the future.

Obviously over the recent years we have had huge changes within the way that organizations manage their IT, the use of Cloud, Internet of Things and BYOD of course. Do you see that the change in recent years has actually taught us a lot about how we are developing technology going into the future and has that changed how people like Xerox design technology?

Yes definitely, we have been focused on innovation for a long time ever since Chester Carlson 75 years ago and we pride ourselves in being a company that really has innovated and created some great things.

We spend a lot of time in sessions with clients running client advisory councils to understand what it is that we need to be innovating to make, and I go back to Chester Carlson’s quote; “ife a little bit easier in the world of the future.”

Cloud allows you to now deploy things in a completely different way with an agility that just wasn’t there five years ago. But probably the biggest thing in the last 24 months I think has been the acceptance of Cloud and actually the tablet to drive a more mobile workplace to look at how work is getting done.

If I am honest many IT systems are behind now and we need to catch up in the creation of the infrastructure that allows the workers of today to do their job in a different way. We have done a lot of work in Xerox on some of things that we think need our attention if we want to unlock this world of the future.

There are a lot companies looking into the future but we believe there is an area that people have not paid enough attention to and actually that is the role of paper. It sounds a bit simplistic I know but if we had considered paper or print as an IT asset for the last 10 years we would be seeing our world very differently now. If you think about paper, what it does very effectively is move information around your organisation. It advances processes, it actually works in the same way that other IT assets have except that it has now been thought of as an IT asset and therefore it has been separated and kept on the side. Our view is actually forensically understanding the role that paper has in our business as one of the keys to unlocking the mobile, agile, secure and information rich organization of the future.

We clearly from the world that Xerox has been operating in, think that there is not another organization in the world that knows more about the role of paper in business than our organization. We have been developing and innovating for at least the last 10 – 12 years in the digital document area and in the digital space to look at how we can help organizations to understand and then manage paper out of their business.

If you want to be mobile, but your processes are run by paper then it will require you to come into the office to sign documents. That is simply not going to work. If you really want to get the right information, at the right time, to the right place it is impossible to lift up that filing cabinet full of that wonderful information that is on paper and get it to go to work for you. There is a lot of opportunity in business now to change the way work gets done and part of that is going to be around understanding and then changing the role of paper in your processes.

You raise an interesting point because probably for the last 20 years organizations have been talking about the paperless office but in fact a lot of reports seem to suggest that actually more paper is being used now in organizations than ever before, mainly due to concerns around security. Can we ever see a paperless office do you think?

That is a good point paperless, no paper I doubt, paper less less paper yes. There have been some recent disruptive innovations in the world of mobility as I talked about the tablet but it is changing the way people are seeing things. Cloud and our understanding of Cloud and its security credentials is also changing but we will not get to paperless or even less paper, again unless we get to grips with the role paper is playing and I say it again because I think we have got a pretty good job in business in taking structured data and automated process the other sats and the oracles of this world are doing a great job across enterprises big and small around doing that the key though is our businesses are fundamentally run on unstructured data and there is more of it coming because of the information access that we have today. That unstructured data is typically moved around a process or used via paper so unless we get to grips with that and understand it truly we will not realize the opportunity there is by digitalizing that process or the communications strategies that we have and the price is a big one because the opportunity that it presents in improving he way that processes work to drive the mobile, agile, secure work of the future and the ability to get the right information to people when they need it is a big prize worth going for and it is something that we as an organization have actually recreated our offers to organize our self to go and deliver for our clients especially in the enterprise space.

It must be an ongoing conundrum to solve the issues around interfacing paper held data with digital data and managing the resource required sometimes to get one into the other domain is that a big challenge still within businesses at the moment?

It is a huge challenge but with huge opportunities. It is a big challenge because it is difficult to do both. You tend to have to run both processes parallel for a while. The good news though, is that we do for our customers. One of the opportunities that we have is that to be able to change the way that we take our offerings to market so that we can actually make this easier for organizations to do. It is our area of expertise but it’s most likely not theirs, so they should run their business and we should be able to come and add our expertise and value by engaging with them to do that type of thing. We have now created an approach that has got three pretty defined steps process, assess and optimize the current environment.

We have got some brand new innovation coming in all those areas some that we have launched over the last 6 months and quite a lot coming in the next 6 months which demonstrate how committed we are to be a company that historically people will know as making our money out of print to being now an organization that does systematically drive to bridge the paper and digital world.

Looking at Xerox, your offices and employees and the way that you work within Xerox what are the things that you put in place to make your company run smoother that perhaps some other businesses might be able to learn from?

It is very interesting that you say that because we have had conversations about upping our game and utilizing more and more of the innovation that we are about to bring to market ahead of time partly to showcase it but partly to get our people to really understand its value. In terms of some of the basic things that we have done we have replaced paper in a number of our processes such as our expense process. Now through our technology we put our receipts into device, push an expense button on our piece of technology and it automatically routes that through into the expense work frame avoiding the need to have to physically sign bits of paper to advance the process.

We put controls over the use of paper in the process by monitoring its use and providing data intelligence to show us what has been printed and where. Also which process and application, so that we can provide hot spots of activity where we can get our team together to go and look at what it is that is causing that part of the business or that application to consume so much print of paper.

Would I say that we are using it to its fullest? No. We need to push harder in that area but there are lots and lots of examples of fundamentally changing how processes work and the way and how now we use digital formats to replace what we were doing on paper including most of our demand generation campaigns to our client base where we tend to communicate in a digital format now as opposed to a paper one.

What effect has this had on the employees at Xerox are they generally happier workers because they have the help they get from technology?

Yes, I think they are, one is it has allowed us to redesign our physical place of work so we now, like many other organisations have moved away from a physical desk to a hot desk environment where people can come in and out and have the flexibility to work.

It releases people to go and work with their clients and at home and it changes the way that they work. But, the biggest shift is the way that people bring technology into the work place and manage it; you mentioned Bring your own device. It needs to be managed well, it needs to be managed securely but actually being able to allow people to use devices that they are comfortable with at home into the office environment has been received very well.

Two final questions for your Darren - what are business customers asking you for but more importantly what should they be asking you for?

Our customers are very clearly asking us to help them print less, they have been asking us to take cost out of the printing domain forever and they are asking us to help them change their process, change the way their business works and support them to be an organization less reliant on paper to release the benefits of process automation. We are very clearly being asked to print for less but help organisations print less and we are set up to try and do that. Interestingly in our channel business our channels are asking us to give them technologies and services that help them approach their clients in terms of printing for less.

Serving the small, medium segment of the market they are very much looking forward and asking for innovation that actually helps them work differently, print less but automate process. We need to be the company that helps businesses big and small bridge the gap between the paper and the digital world to help these organizations work in a more mobile agile and secure rich way.