Xerox: Web 2.0 coming to a grey box office soon

Banging the solutions drum on a rain-soaked Lyon river

Xerox has climbed on board the crowded Web 2.0 ship with the introduction of solutions-based document management for its customers.

Coming very late to the party, the photocopier giant has finally created its own HTML web-based, "IT friendly" product for office users.

The step Xerox has taken into the software solutions marketplace is hardly a surprising one. The technology it has employed isn't exactly a revolutionary new concept either. But, at a press event in France, the firm was enthusiastic about a future that is no longer simply box-shaped.

It's even created a new acronym in the hope of thinking outside the big, grey box. Extensible Interface Platform (EIP) is the future, it reckons.

The firm is keen to ditch MFP (Multi Function Peripheral), its three favoured letters of the past, and said its new product line is all about providing customers with the oxymoron-ridden term "standardised customisation" via its web-based offering.

So if you want a copier that prints, scans, makes the coffee, does your ironing, tells you the weather, and provides a bum seat for office party photo opportunities, then EIP is what you need.

Okay, so not all of the above functions are available, but Xerox has gone to some lengths to do as many things as possible with its product in a marked shift away from its core business – hardware. Now it wants to give you built-in software too.

It touted technology that included the use of swipe cards, allowing users to control their own content in a secure environment, as well as saying that it planned to open EIP up to the developer community.

Highlights at the event included soup served in test tubes and egg cups (we kid you not).

And, as plotlines go, there was a cliche-ridden, dog-eared script writing itself: as Xerox bods and its guests sat on board a boat moored on Lyon's riverside, an impressive thunderstorm erupted just as the first keynote speech from InfoTrends' analyst Jon Reardon drew to a close.

Gothic undertones aside, Reardon concluded his speech by claiming that Xerox was ahead of the competition in the document management market because it had chosen HTML over Java for its new so-called "IT friendly" web product. He even had some er, "minimalist" PowerPoint charts to prove it.

Reardon said "X marks the spot" for SMB customers. Surprisingly however, he didn't offer up any data on enterprise-sized organisations, the market Xerox had, up to now, been more traditionally associated with.

So why has it taken Xerox so long to adopt the solutions business model? The explanation provided at the firm's research centre in Grenoble was that it had been biding its time.

Rather than jump into a Java environment that senior VP Rick Dastin described as being essentially for boffins only, he said "HTML simplifies it for anyone to use...even a 13-year-old can do it."

Strategically, the grey box behemoth's timing could be right, but moving away from being known principally as a shifter of grey boxes is perhaps the biggest challenge it faces.

At the end of the event Xerox lined up a panel of its execs. Unsurprisingly the big questions coming from the floor centred on how the firm planned to successfully bring EIP to a crowded solutions marketplace.

But European VP and director of marketing Bertrand Cerisier continuously batted such difficult questions away, preferring Dastin to provide the answers. In the end, Dastin exasperatedly asked the question "what is marketing for anyway?"

Until Xerox can provide an answer it's hard to see how the firm can move away from being simply the big, grey, fusty box in the corner. ®

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