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Revisting the Knowledge Company of the Year -- Behind the scenes at Xerox

Field service technicians the world over like to document their service manuals with scribbled margin notes, clueing themselves in with a word or two that will help them the next time they run into this problem or that. And more often than not, the clues aren't technical patches or parts numbers. They're names and phone numbers: "Laura in Denver, 555-1234;" "Robert in Malaysia, 01 1000111" or "Boise Tech Center, ask for Larry, 800-123-4567."

Because service technicians understand it's not what you know, it's whom you know. Who has solved that problem before? Who helped me the last time something like this happened?

That's fine, except it's tough to run a global service force that way. Xerox recognized that dilemma and set out to formalize "who knows what" in Xerox's worldwide field service force. The plan, called Eureka, is a knowledge sharing, best-practice repository that enhances customer service by increasing Xerox's 14,000 technicians' ability to diagnose, solve and prevent equipment problems in the field, anywhere in the world. Eureka is knowledge management at its best and earned Xerox its designation as KMWorld's Knowledge Company of the Year for 1999.

Rolled-out effectively and applied creatively, Eureka can have much deeper impact than merely in field service efforts. Xerox is bringing many of the insights gained from the service people to the groups that produce documentation, manufacture products and make engineering and design improvements. For some products, people are mining the databases to rewrite documentation and they are beginning to engage manufacturing. For example, in Brazil, a customer had problems with a Xerox DocuColor 40 production color copier/printer to the point where the technicians were going to replace the $40,000 machine. Using Eureka, the technicians in Sao Paolo discovered a tip from Canada that suggested replacing a 90-cent connector. The technicians replaced the connector and fixed the machine.

But it doesn't stop there. That tip was sent back to manufacturing, and the problem can now be remedied at the source. For Xerox, a little knowledge, insight and experience goes a long way toward the bottom line and customer satisfaction.

"We have focused our strategic direction on helping people share knowledge through documents," says Rick Thoman, Xerox president and CEO. It would appear that shared knowledge has entered the competitive arena among multinational enterprises.

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