Xerox Gives Peek Inside R&D Lab

The copier and printer giant is growing increasingly vocal about the positive financial advances it has made over the course of the last two years.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Xerox Corp. doesnt want to simply leave its settled financial issues with the Securities Exchange Commission in the past. It wants to leave them in the dust.

To do it, the Stamford, Conn., copier and printer giant, which has its roots in this Western New York city, is growing increasingly vocal about the positive and tangible financial advances it has made over the course of the last two years; advances such as a dramatically reduced cost structure, sustained profitability, and innovative new projects like the "incorporation" of its famed Palo Alto Research Center in California.

Its doing something else, also: Old fashioned chest-thumping about its technological prowess. (Earlier this week the company announced it was awarded its 15,000th patent.)

At an event billed as "Inside Innovation at Xerox" the company, long-known for its secret projects and which gave the world such inventions as the laser printer and the graphical user interface, opened the doors to its Wilson Center for Research and Technology facility here Thursday to give the public a peek at a wide range of technologies under development and products-in-waiting.

Software under development called the Portable Document Camera, for example, is a program for digital cameras which, through support for optical character recognition, would let users photograph paper documents, then edit them in a word processor program after down loading the files into a PC. Essentially, the software, which has been at least two years in the making, would transform the digital camera from a device for image capturing to also a device for text capturing.

Xerox is considering several avenues for the program including productizing and marketing it itself; licensing it to third-party camera manufacturers; or possibly even host the technology as a service, said Patrick Mazeau, technology showroom manager at Xeroxs Meylan, France, facility, who was here Thursday. As is the standard operating procedure at Xerox, the Portable Document Camera team is working with the companys Xerox Business Group on "various ways of exploiting" the software, Mazeau said.

According to Herve Gallaire, president of the Xerox Innovation Group in Stamford, and the companys CTO, Xerox productizes about 70 percent of all the technologies it develops in its R&D labs around the world. "A lot of that is proof of concept, but not just that it works," he said. "We need to know what we could expect if we could productize it. We also have to demonstrate technology readiness."

Also on the portable computing front, Xerox is readying enhancements to its mDoc technology that enables Research In Motion Ltd. Blackberry users to open e-mail attachments. On the horizon, mDoc will get the ability to open documents in their original design. For example, scientists demonstrated the transmission and opening of a newspaper clipping on a Blackberry. Through a new compression technology, only the amount of the document that can fit on the handhelds display is transmitted, improving performance and lowing connection costs.

The technology demonstrations were a pleasant and much needed departure from the sour financial news Xerox has had to endure as of late, and much of credit for the companys focus and drive today was attributed to its chief, Chairman and CEO, Anne Mulcahy.

"Shes always cool," said analyst Cheryl Currid, president of Currid & Company of Houston. "Shes with the company all these years, then when she inherits this job, all hell breaks loose."

But Currid, a long-time Xerox watcher, as much as she is impressed with the leadership and execution of the company in dire times, is also a realist. "[The turn around job] is half done," she said. "The game aint over."

Mulcahy would be the first to agree. After exceeding her goal of reducing cost by $1 billion over 20 months (she reduced it by $1.3 billion), Mulcahy recently announced her intention to reduce again costs by $1 billion. This time, however, no time frame has been given.

That said, Mulcahy, is determined to push the positives, and to take Xerox successfully into the future. "Im very hopeful that at some point the story might get told about the fact that, yes, this company faced some very serious problems and survived, but is succeeding," she said in an interview with eWEEK.