Vandebroek: In Xerox we have three main strategic plans. These three elements -- color, mass customization, and smart documents for document-intensive business processes -- are the core of the focus of the research. Within PARC we extend it well beyond that. Horizontally overlaying everything is the sustainability and environmental focus.
Bernstein: The area that PARC takes a real grand challenge in is information access and building tools and technologies that understand the need for information inside of a context that can be inferred by all sorts of systems. The question isn't how much information can I get my hands on anymore. It is how much time do I have to get the information that I need? The answer's not enough. The smarter documents technology is an example of being able to leverage an understanding of the work process in order to facilitate the transmission of content needed by that person at that point of the process, and being able to reduce cost and increase efficiency.
IDG: Many research examples, like smart documents seem to focus on enterprises. Is research being geared toward consumers too?
Vandebroek: It depends. The research is often applicable to both. Within Xerox, we are geared toward small and medium business like a law firm and hospitals to very large global enterprises. However, the intellectual property can be used for end consumers. In fact, PARC just supported a spin-off, Powerset, with some of our core technologies.
Bernstein: Understanding the meaning of words and phrases through linguistic applications is a technology that's at the core of Powerset's search facility. It's focused on consumer search, but rather than Google, which uses keyword matching, you just simply ask a question and it understands by the context of the phrase, disambiguates the meanings and gives you the information you are looking for. It was originally developed to facilitate translation of meaning -- not just words -- of documents from one language to another. The technology now is being used for other purposes around content.
IDG: With the economic downturn, research labs like HP's are cutting back operations. There is pressure to reduce costs. What is the future of research labs?
Vandebroek: I do believe in innovation -- you have to continually refresh your products and services. Back in 2000 when Xerox was going through very difficult times -- we were losing money -- [Chairman and CEO] Anne Mulcahy and the senior team turned the company around. She got a lot of pressure also at that time ... [to] cut more R&D. Her statement, which I strongly believe is held across the company, is "how can I rescue it today and jeopardize the future?" If you don't invest, you have no future of new products and services. In the last three years, we launched over 100 new products and services, and it's our intention to keep doing that. We are not cutting R&D at all. The beauty of PARC's model, of course, is to be able to reach to clients across the world.