Feature Article1: Our Research and Technology Group’s Initiatives to Make Smart Working a Reality
Companies of all types are pursuing work style reforms to gain benefits including increased work productivity and efficiency, as well as greater diversity in the way people work. At Fuji Xerox we believe that the key to achieving work style reforms is to improve the communication essential in a variety of work situations. Our goal is to create a society in which people can safely and easily use the information they need in the optimal format and share it with anyone, anytime and anywhere. We want to facilitate smart working for as many workers as possible by taking the technologies we have been cultivating to an entirely new level and making use of them in our products and services to transform communication at work.
On the following pages Yasuaki Onishi, who leads our Research & Technology Group, describes what his team is doing to make smart working a reality.
A Focus on Better Communications Inspired by Our Business Philosophy
As explained at the beginning of this report, Fuji Xerox has always upheld its business philosophy of “achieving better understanding among men through better communications.”
That philosophy is epitomized by the copy machines we have been supplying to society ever since our founding in 1962. The wide range of documents produced by using the copy machines help people to exchange information, and in that sense our products have really been supporting “better communications.”
But if we consider the current work environment, we find that in Japan especially, the workforce is forecast to decrease in line with the declining birthrate and population aging. With the growing diversification of work places and workers, the nature of communication itself needs to evolve to reflect the changes in that work environment.
Fuji Xerox has dedicated many years to enhancing the value of people’s communications through copy machines and a wide array of other products and services. In light of the changing work environment, we intend to further bolster our research and technological development to help bring about smart working predicated on the evolved communication styles.
Sharing Past Experiences and Instilling Them as Knowledge
What roles do you think work-based communication ought to serve from now on?
I personally think that henceforth communication needs to go beyond simply transmitting the obvious information from one person to another. Instead, from now on, communication will have to enable individuals to impart their experiences, deeply instill those experiences as shared knowledge, and then link this knowledge swiftly and effectively to action. What Fuji Xerox’s smart working policy aims to achieve is a situation in which work processes, workplaces, and work styles based on this form of communication have become firmly entrenched.
In order to make smart working happen, it will be essential to upgrade technologies relating to the information we exchange when we communicate and to make use of those technologies for new products and services. In this context, incidentally, “information” includes not only written information, but also all forms of digital data such as images and audio. It also includes information that used to be difficult to monitor in real time, such as workers’ behavioral traits, health, and mental state.
Building on Superior Technologies
Fuji Xerox is well versed in all types of work-based communication and we have honed our expertise concerning the characteristics particular to information exchanged when communicating. This familiarity and expertise is grounded in the strong trust we have earned by providing document management solutions to customers in a wide range of industries and businesses. As a result, we have been able to cultivate unique technologies enabling us to extract, process, and analyze valuable information from among unstructured data that is difficult to use as it is.
For example, Fuji Xerox was the first to develop reliable image recognition technology, as well as character recognition technology that could decipher even hand-written characters with a high degree of accuracy. We have already succeeded in using these technologies for applications including our form data entry system. Another example is our multifunction device monitoring service (EP-BB) that can constantly monitor how our customers’ multifunction devices are functioning via the Internet, picking up on signs of malfunction or other problems and promptly arranging the necessary response. Furthermore, we use technologies such as natural language processing to conduct automated analysis of feedback received from customers through call centers or by other means. We can then use the insights gained for product development and for measures to further enhance customer satisfaction. And when it comes to analyzing large volumes of data using AI, our in-depth knowledge of our customers’ work enables us to go beyond mere data extraction to use the data obtained for transforming work processes.
Fuji Xerox will continue to make the most of these technological assets to move closer to putting the smart working ideal into practice.
The “Human-centered” Approach Typical of Fuji Xerox
So, precisely what form will Fuji Xerox’s smart working take? One example among many is peripheral devices that continuously monitor and analyze parameters such as workers’ environment, the tasks they are performing, and their health. This would enable automatic provision of information that could be useful not only to their work, but also to their physical and mental wellbeing. It could also help workers to transmit such information to other parties. Perhaps it is easiest to understand if you imagine workers as having a virtual concierge that constantly keeps an eye on them, helps them with everything when there is a need, and anticipates the next move to recommend the best options.
Nonetheless, the fundamental approach governing Fuji Xerox’s smart working ideal is to always stay human-centered. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that putting people first is the policy that has continuously guided research and technological development at Fuji Xerox ever since the Company’s founding, when it made sure that its copy machines were user-friendly for everybody.
Using Collaboration With Stakeholders as a Source of Strength
To gather a diverse range of insights and ideas for putting smart working into practice, Fuji Xerox is bolstering collaboration on research and technological development among its research centers in Japan, the United States, and Singapore (see p.19 for details).
During that process, however, we anticipate facing challenges that cannot be resolved by Fuji Xerox alone. Consequently, collaboration with others is likely to prove essential. That means collaborating not only with companies possessing unique technologies and know-how, but also with members of the general public as we conduct wide-sample data collection or trial products and services.
Smart working can benefit people engaged in every field of endeavor. We at Fuji Xerox want to collaborate with our stakeholders in ways that come naturally to create more products and services that facilitate smart working as soon as we can and provide them to society.
Pursuing Smart Working via the Tripartite Research System
Fuji Xerox’s three research centers, Fuji Xerox R&D Square (in Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama, Japan), FX Palo Alto Laboratory (in Palo Alto, the United States), and the Innovation Office (in Singapore) are collaborating to bolster research aimed at generating new products and services.
The three research centers share Fuji Xerox’s overall research strategy, while at the same time tackling their own distinct research topics. These topics reflect characteristics particular to their locations, including social issues, industrial structure, and technological trends. The Yokohama researchers are studying a fully customer-oriented approach to create new customer value. In Palo Alto, the focus is on advanced R&D involving multimedia technologies and information-related technologies. Meanwhile, the Singapore research center is collaborating with partner companies in the Asia-Pacific region that are also its customers to verify the value of products and technologies aimed at resolving customers’ business issues. We are also taking steps to assimilate insights and ideas across the three research centers promptly and effectively through personnel exchanges and regular meetings, among other means.
Going forward, we will respond to global customer needs by expediting the type of collaboration that would enable Singapore to carry out proof of concept activities using prototypes developed in Japan based on research performed in the United States.
Enabling High-value Communication
Since its founding Fuji Xerox has developed technologies relating to documents and communication with the aim of forging a comfortable relationship between people and information based on comfortable communication environments. This approach is based on the philosophy handed down from Joseph C. Wilson (the founder of Xerox Corporation), who said, “our business goal is to achieve better understanding among men through better communications.” One of our mission statements is, “Build an environment for the creation and effective utilization of knowledge.” Accordingly, we are aiming to enable higher-value communication by creating environments in which everybody can use and share the information they need in the format they need anytime and anywhere.
That is why Fuji Xerox is now shifting away from the information-copying culture it fostered in the past toward technological development enabling use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and cloud technologies to convert information into the required format before transmitting it to others.
Delivering Better Communications via Remote Communication Technologies
Our researchers in Japan, Silicon Valley, and Singapore are far away from each other, but they have created an environment enabling them to interact just as if they were face-to-face, using it to make rapid decisions.
In meetings, for example, they use robot-based control technology to give them full control of a display mounted with a small camera, even at a distance. A screen allows them to see the other person’s surroundings in real time, and the display showing their counterpart’s face delivers the sense of immediacy that comes with meeting someone’s eye while talking.
Fuji Xerox’s remote communication environment benefits from innovations such as technology to correct distortions in scanned images. It allows a document on a desk to be scanned by camera and projected as slides onto the desk of another person far away, enabling that person to send documents and images on to others by simply pointing to specific slides. Documents are automatically translated, enabling joint work to proceed smoothly even when using multiple languages, thereby delivering a tight-knit communication environment.
Automatic Calculation of CO2 Emission Volumes Throughout Product Life Cycles
To minimize impact on the environment when creating its products, Fuji Xerox ensures that CO2 emissions volumes are taken into account when products are designed. That applies not only to the designers, but to everybody involved in development.
We have now enabled automatic calculation of CO2 emission volumes for each individual component throughout the entire process from raw materials procurement through disposal and recycling. We achieved this by structuring and correlating CO2 emissions data calculated using a vast amount of data relating to all types of components, as well as information on the materials from which they were made and their mass. Previously, the relevant data had been dispersed throughout the Company and aggregating it had been a huge task. We have now automated that work using AI to analyze the characteristics of a large volume of relevant documents and data. The result is that total worker-hours per product have been reduced by 75 percent, including the time required for preparation of application forms.
Looking ahead, we will create more products adapted to the various laws and regulations in each individual country and field. We will apply these technologies and methods not only in the manufacturing industry, but also in finance and other industries as a means of making the preparatory work when applying for official approvals more efficient, and otherwise helping to establish a common ecosystem throughout society.
Using IoT to Visualize the Workplace for Optimal Decision-making
IoT (the Internet of Things) brings improvements in productivity and quality by assimilating information about things via the Internet. Accordingly, Fuji Xerox’s production and maintenance are experiencing changes in work processes.
Our production and quality information control system, SCQMNote 1, brings together time-linked production data including data on the operational status of factory facilities, and information regarding inspections and manufacturers. When an anomaly occurs, workers can use the system’s database of past results to establish the cause and make an immediate decision regarding action to be taken, thereby preventing defective products from being shipped.
Furthermore, our multifunction device monitoring system, EP-BBNote 2, links customers’ multifunction devices to our EP Center, transmitting information about meter counts, automatic delivery of office supplies, malfunctions, and other relevant matters. The system also serves a role in further enhancing post-sales services: Remote “inspections” can discover signs of malfunction ahead of time, so that when a machine actually develops a fault, a customer service engineer can deal with the issue quickly and appropriately based on the remote diagnosis.
- Note 1 An abbreviation for Supply Chain Quality Management, SCQM is a registered trademark (SCQMR) and trademark (SCQM) of Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd. in Japan and other countries.
- Note 2 EP stands for Electronic Partnership, and BB stands for Broad Band.
Contributing to Customers’ Businesses Through Human-centered Total Design
We at Fuji Xerox believe that, rather than people having to adapt to machines, it is important to take a people-oriented perspective to deliver the necessary information and functions in the form best suited to human traits and activities.
Our Human Interface Design Development team is designing products holistically, addressing hardware and software in parallel to conduct total design based on a Human-centered Design approach.
By interviewing customers, observing work processes, and analyzing how people interact with our products, the division picks up on latent issues and needs to design in a way that supports customers as they communicate and perform their work. As a result of this approach, our A4 color printer and multifunction device (see photograph) won the 2016 Good Design Award. Our aim in launching this product was to offer an intuitive machine that would become even more intuitive the more it was used.
Looking ahead, we will continue dedicating ourselves to anticipating changes in the way our customers work to produce ever more compelling products and services.