KMWorld 2024 Is Nov. 18-21 in Washington, DC. Register now for $100 off!

Xerox: from internal solution to KM product

Xerox’s recent foray into knowledge sharing products could be called a well-researched maneuver. And the biggest guinea pig in that research project was the 91,000-employee, $18.2 billion corporation itself.

Starting in late 1995, a "knowledge movement" of grass roots initiatives was growing at Xerox. The company was still evolving as "the document company," but customers and employees were already taking a keen interest in knowledge management. Dan Holtshouse, director of Xerox Knowledge Initiatives, was a key element in developing knowledge management internally.

The lessons learned from the early internal plunge into knowledge management will likely be seen in several Xerox product releases over the next year--particularly DocuShare 2.0, a custom tool called AmberWeb inside the company. The newest version will be released this quarter.

Common practices tool

AmberWeb was developed as a Web-based tool for Xerox scientists ("an individual bunch that wouldn’t like something like Lotus Notes," said Holtshouse). The tool was designed to help communities of practice share information across the enterprise. Such groups focus on common practices and areas of interest, rather than specific product or research schedules.

Several Xerox departments have bought it since--so far 25,000 employees use it--and "no one runs it or specifically controls it," said Holtshouse. One administrator spends about a third of her time on it; the rest is self-administered. Like the Web, it requires little or no training.

Basically, AmberWeb (which Xerox has developed into the DocuShare product) serves Xerox as a collaborative workspace with document management abilities. In terms of sharing, a document publisher can mark the document two ways. "Private" means that a non-approved user would not see that it exists. For example, the publisher could send the document only to a specified workgroup until enough progress was made to make it available to all. A "not private" allows all users to see it exists, but if they don’t have rights, they are told whom to contact to find out more information.

Tracking the internal benefit is somewhat elusive, admitted Holtshouse, but the usage rate is high. People who use it stopped sending attachments and long files, there are fewer duplicated files on everyone’s hard drive, and people are sharing the knowledge, he said.

Greg Cholmondeley, DocuShare product manager, and his department have been users of the system for some time. To illustrate its benefits, Cholmondeley pointed to marketing meetings between his Rochester, NY, office and his cohorts in Palo Alto, CA. Previously everyone would send information by E-mail. Now they can post to DocuShare sites and access the information as needed, he said.

Cholmondeley said startup and administration costs are low. DocuShare 2.0 will be available at three levels: Basic, a 25-user package for $1,350; Office, a workgroup-sized package for $14,995; and Enterprise, unlimited usage including linkage to Oracle database for $44,995.

The newest version will include a drag-and-drop feature to get documents into the system. It will also include the scan-to-Web ability that Version 1.5 offers.

Eureka, another internal example

Eureka was designed for the service reps at Xerox, and it focuses on a specific problem: "A service rep comes upon a new problem, resolves it on the fly and moves onto a new problem," Holtshouse explained. The solution never makes it into any sort of guide.

Eureka, a Web-based knowledge repository with search capability, tackled that problem. Independent of format, it allows service reps to contribute information and access it from laptops. That knowledge repository now contains about 5,000 "tips," and Holtshouse estimated that 25% of the service reps worldwide are contributing. Contributions can be in most any format; for example, an audio recording of how a problem was handled can be saved as a wave file.

Helping improve customer service provides a competitive advantage to Xerox, he said, adding that the company is talking about making Eureka a product.

The development of those types of products is core to both Xerox’s corporate strategy "to supply total document solutions that enable customers to better manage and share knowledge" and solutions strategy to "develop and deliver complete, paper-to-digital networked solutions around Xerox document software, hardware and services."

According to Colman Murphy, marketing communications manager for document management systems, "DocuShare and products like it that are under development represent central repositories that can speak with all the (digital hardware) devices."

Research and what it means

Xerox’s KM research wasn’t limited to within its own walls. Early on, Holtshouse and company turned to a range of experts. Xerox worked with Ernst & Young (www.ey.com) and coordinated with the American Productivity and Quality Center (www.apqc.org) on its knowledge management benchmarking research, with the fifth such work now in progress. Researching an accumulation of 75 case studies, Holtshouse was able to focus on 10 "key areas" in knowledge management. Those 10 areas are apparent in Xerox’s internal initiatives.

Going even a step further, Holtshouse has formed a "Knowledge Panel" of 100 or so knowledge managers, chief knowledge officers or other executives leading knowledge management projects. The anonymous (outside of Xerox) research is based on a survey or two a year on "what’s working and what doesn’t seem to be working," said Holtshouse.

"All research is aimed at making ourselves more knowledgeable about how it’s developing," he said, such as how KM applies to Xerox’s customer initiatives, its product development, its business development and its internal knowledge management focus. The research helps shape marketing and product development.

More than technology: culture and strategy

Even though Xerox is a technology/product company, its approach to internal knowledge management has not been just technology.

Like everyone else, the Xerox corporate culture did not revolve around sharing. But to a degree, that has changed. The incentive is not financial or threatened punishment—it’s recognition.

"Contributors get known. People notice: ‘Oh yeah, that guy up in Canada solved these problems,’ " said Holtshouse, as an example.

As for Holtshouse and the Xerox Knowledge Initiative, they live in the corporate business strategy unit. Externally and internally, knowledge management is fitting in at Xerox.

Xerox knowledge domains

While investigating early adopters of knowledge management, found the following 10 domains for knowledge management projects. Xerox’s internal KM initiatives also fall into these categories:

  • sharing knowledge and best practices;
  • instilling responsibility for knowledge sharing;
  • capturing and reusing past experiences;
  • embedding knowledge in products, services and processes;
  • producing knowledge as a product;
  • driving knowledge generation for innovation;
  • mapping networks of experts;
  • building and mining customer knowledge bases;
  • understanding and mining customer knowledge bases;
  • leveraging intellectual assets.

KMWorld Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues