There are not many women in the technology industry. Sophie Vandebroek, Chief Technology Officer and innovation chief of Xerox, is one of the few prominent ones. She heads the research centres of this global giant in document management products and IT services, in Europe, Asia, Canada and the US. She spoke to Goutam Das on a recent visit to India. Edited excerpts:
Q. What brings you to India?
A. At Xerox, we have a strong heritage of innovation. We have research labs around the globe. I am here to meet researchers at our research lab in Bangalore, which is the fastest growing research lab we have. I come once or twice a year to meet with researchers, review the projects, meet clients, and our partners with whom we do co-innovation for the services business.
Q. How important is the Bangalore centre for Xerox?
A. Today, over half our revenues come from Business Process Services, IT services. About 45 per cent is from our traditional and very successful document management business. Going ahead, by 2017, 75 per cent of our revenue will come from the services business. That is what we expect if we look at the market size and growth and the offerings we provide. Recently, we have invested in research for the services business and the research centre in Bangalore was created with a mission to create services value, both for the emerging markets and even more so for the global markets. The Bangalore research centre is the first one in the emerging world. The India centre is focused on all the pieces of our focus areas. There are projects on working with cities in analytics. We look at how the traffic flows through the city, or public transportation, or toll booths, or parking infrastructure – allowing a city official to have a dashboard of information of what is happening in the city. So in India there is a project on how do we involve citizens. Then there are projects around agile business processes; it is around eliminating people out of the processes. We are also doing a project with a hospital in Manipal University where we are remotely monitoring dozens on babies – we have a camera above the baby that can monitor a lot of the vital signs as well as potential diseases and then we do video analytics. We call it prescriptive analytics – it is not just measuring what is happening in my city or hospital.
Q. Is predictive analytics different from prescriptive analytics?
A. One builds on the other. People talk of predictive analytics – you predict that on a Saturday night, there will be traffic congestion in a certain part of the city. Prescriptive is the next level. What do I tell the city official to do to prevent this from happening? So you can change the pricing of the parking meters, do one-way traffic, etc.
Q. What is Xerox working on in 3D printing?
A. Today all 3D objects are dumb objects. Once built, they can't change shape. So the research is on, not to build an object – that has been going on for 30 years. 3D printing has taken off in recent times because of the breakthrough in materials and in the whole ecosystem of cloud-based software infrastructure that allows people to quickly download digital models and then print. But everything printed today is static. The breakthrough research is about embedding electronics while the 3D objects are being printed so that you can build smart objects. That is the core of our research.