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5 big questions on innovation

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Francois Ragnet, VP, Innovation Development, Xerox Services

Francois Ragnet, VP, Innovation Development

With more than 15 years in R&D, Francois Ragnet specializes in successful transfer of innovation into Business. More recently, he focuses on pre-sales and is a technology evangelist, as well as managing an R&D group within Xerox Global Services in charge of transferring breakthrough innovation.

Francois has spent almost his entire career at Xerox, and understands Xerox's innovation strategy from many angles. For...
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1

How is your team changing the game within your industry sector?

Xerox has a long, well-known innovation tradition; it’s widely known for producing game changing inventions in particularly the 70s and 80s, with light lens copiers for instance, and the mouse. But, historically, we were not always so effective in capitalizing on those innovations. But while the culture has been maintained, and deepened to all levels, Xerox has transformed dramatically in recent years. We are now the leading enterprise globally in BPO services in areas like healthcare, financial services, education and even transportation.

In terms of traditional innovation and also blue sky research, we have 5000 scientists and engineers generating truly amazing things. The Xerox Innovation Group is a dynamic network of centers worldwide, including in the US, Canada, and France. We also have our major partnership in Japan with Fuji Xerox, and a center in India to capitalize on emerging markets.

We have a strong innovation culture company-wide, making sure the blue sky research we have going in Xerox Innovation Group is repeated and amplified across our services business. Some of this work does not relate directly to our core business today, but we want to keep that flexibility of researchers to come up with totally new ideas.

Innovation has been incremental in the BPO area, with profound results – you don’t have millions to spend on R&D in the service world, but the nice thing is that it is much more disruptive; you can innovate without multi-year projects. On the downside you have to be much quicker – you don’t have multiple years to develop those inventions.

Recently I’ve been involved more in customer care – an area we’ve invested quite a lot in, and where we place a lot of our innovation focus. Evidence of this is the Call Centre Association Innovation Award that went to our Xerox Virtual Performance Indicator product in 2013 – which is now deploying across the corporation, and which we plan to sell to external customers.

The indicator is really a small innovation, technically – but it does make a huge difference, once you make it right, you make 50,000 agents deployed more motivated, more productive, and more into their job. We have invested a lot in gamification – we’re motivating those agents by bringing an element of games and fun into their day-to-day work. They have key performance indicators, but we don’t want it to be a case of ‘Big Brother watching you’ – we want to use gamification in a positive way, and get people into their jobs. We are finding that agents are enjoying the spirit so much that they virtually belong to the customer company.

Turnover rates can be 100% for traditional call centers, with people too stressed or bored. With these technologies, you ensure they stay longer; they are more competent; I suspect there is even less sick leave taken. We have created a real sense of community and engagement in the call centers.

I believe we are able to make innovation work in a very difficult domain – Business Process Services - but are also able to deliver economies of scale, and even create potential new business for our customer.

2

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organization or industry sector?

The challenge the Business and Document Process Services sector is that it is a fast paced domain, which is constantly evolving with “mini” fixes – large, breakthrough innovation, although well needed, is not possible. Large corporations outsource largely to cut costs, and so “cost-down” is the primary driver for innovation. Reducing costs is a difficult driver for innovation – you start a project, put small fixes here and there; test and build successful innovations, and quickly drop those that aren’t working.

There is also a danger of deploying technology for its own sake. So we have ethnographers and scientists who study how work is being done; to tell us where technology can help, and be effective; and not just be technology for its own sake.

We increasingly have a mix of ethnography, user-centric design, research, and “Agile Innovation” - part of this was to learn to fail quickly. Furthermore, innovation models were quite rigid – planned, multi-year innovations which are focused on industrial design; not adapted to services.

3

How has innovation become engrained in your organization's culture, and how is it being optimized?

Innovation has been part of Xerox’s DNA forever. Indeed, although Xerox has a long-standing tradition being focused on industrial products, the ACS acquisition in 2009 took us into a totally new world. We had to rethink processes - including innovation - totally.

When we moved into Services and acquired Affiliated Computer Services we had to adapt drastically our vision for innovation – in ACS it was happening at a grass roots level, in small pockets. We have homogenized and built processes that touch just about everyone across the organization.

Within our services business, it is important to have the right structures, so we have the office of the CIO for Services; we have executives in charge of bringing innovations to maturity. Each line of business has its own CIO, and each group proposes new innovation projects that make the whole company more agile, and the creative energy cascades down to everyone.

We also like to be very customer-focused – so we have different ways of reaching out to and collaborating with our customers. For some of our top customers, we have Innovation Councils; we also have what we call “Dreaming Sessions”, where we bring customers out to our home in Grenoble (France), and show them some of our cutting edge research, and they talk to us about potential applications.

Internally, we’ve got processes for IP generation and for ideation, which encourages just about anyone, from call center agents to executive, to provide inputs.

4

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

A lot of technologies / models are potential game changers – cloud, mobility, SOA, BPM - the buzzword list is long! But at the end of the day, in our business, work is performed by humans and agents. I personally think technology alone will not be sufficient – we need to find other biggest leverage for motivation is gamification.

Another key technology area is automation – to understand business processes and automate as much as possible with technologies such as Robotic Process Automation.

5

Can you share a specific innovation strategy you’ve recently encountered which you find compelling?

We want to revolutionize the call center arena, and making machines ever more intelligent in satisfying a customers’ request is a worthwhile goal. We haven’t yet passed the “Turing test” – where, if you make a customer service call, you would not realize that you were talking to a machine. But we will be getting there someday hopefully -  and there might be times where you actually will prefer talking to a machine, in terms of the speed and accuracy of the solution. The key will be that Machines could detect when frustration is growing in the voice of the caller, and hand it over smoothly to a human.

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