Xerox Corp’s recently announced line of digital office equipment (CI No 3,141) is more than just another product announcement, it is being hailed as a possible path back to market leadership for the company that lost its dominance of the photocopier market more than 25 years ago. Until the mid 1970’s, when the market was overtaken by the Japanese, the name Xerox was synonymous with stand-alone office photocopying, so much so that the word is still used by a generation as a verb in its own right. Since its glory days, Xerox has seen the Japanese companies eat away at its traditional markets, and the likes of Hewlett-Packard Co gaining dominance in the digital, computer-based document market of networked laser printers and scanners. Now, the company is apparently finally fighting back, and in a big way. Last month, it completely re-vamped its corporate structure, and the recent product announcements are the result of a massive $500m research and development project, which the company hopes will take it into new areas such as the small office/home office market, which it has more or less ignored until now. Industry watchers say the company’s transformation sends a salvo over the decks of Hewlett- Packard, and the traditional copier firms such as Canon Inc and Ricoh Co, none of which has yet launched a full line of digital copiers. Analysts reckon it is only a matter of time before HP adds copying capability to its printers, although HP claims that its customers prefer separate products, and that it has no current plans in that direction.
Replace millions of copiers
Xerox is hoping to persuade customers to replace what could be millions of old-style copiers with new models over the next ten years, which could represent a huge upgrade cycle for the company. The new products are a range of modular, digital copiers that can be accessed from a standard personal computer on a network, and which, as and when the customer requires, can have printing, faxing and scanning capabilities added to them. The two available immediately are the Document Center 220, offering 20 pages per minute, and the 230, offering 20 pages per minute which list for $8,600 and $10,500 respectively. The 40 page per minute Document Center 240, and the 60 page per minute 260 will be available in the autumn. Xerox says the machines are designed with 80% fewer replaceable parts than traditional copiers, and that they should therefore need far less maintenance. The fact that they can scan documents once and then print unlimited copies from memory also means a radically simplified paper path, and should mean cheaper copies, the company says. The Document Centers will use Xerox’s CenterWare software, an icon-based desktop system that enables the copiers to be accessed from personal computers. A future version will be Web-enabled, so that users will be able to access the machines over the Internet and intranets as well as a standard local area network. Brian Stern, president of the Office Document Products Group says what makes these machines different from previous multi-function office technology is that whichever function you use – copy, fax, scan or print – it is the best in its class. He heralds this as a watershed for the company, and reckons the likes of Canon and Ricoh are at least a year behind. The company is also changing its sales strategy. Until now, its direct sales force were used to selling a few, high commission $100,000 machines. Last month, the company set up a special sales force to serve the digital market and go after the retail and reseller channels. An alliance with Microsoft Corp to work on Internet browsing software, and the directive for its Palo Alto Research Centre to deliver practical useable technology rather than ‘blue-sky’ research, have added weight to convincing analysts and customers alike that this time, Xerox really means business, although Hewlett-Packard will be a tough nut to crack.