When Affiliated Computer Services Inc. was acquired by Xerox Corp. in 2010, Natesh Manikoth saw an opportunity to utilize the resources and talents of one of the most innovative companies around and apply that innovation toward solving transportation infrastructure problems.
The acquisition of ACS, a $6.5 billion company, created Xerox’s Transportation, Central and Local Government Group, where Manikoth serves as chief technology officer. The 6,500-employee division provides system solutions for tolling, parking and transit.
“Xerox has a rich history of innovation,” Manikoth says. “One of the first business units to take real active advantage of that wealth of innovation talent within Xerox was transportation.
“We became very active partners with the research community in Xerox to tap into their brainpower to say, ‘You guys have been doing wonderful work with document management and producing world-class printers. How do we take that talent and apply it to solving problems for cities?’”
The division has developed roughly 50 percent of the tolling systems in the U.S. and parking systems in areas all over the country, and it provides public transit systems globally in more than 30 countries.
Here’s how Manikoth is using innovation across divisions to create better solutions in the transportation arena.
Solve the real problems
A lot of large technology companies have started to realize that technology becomes commoditized over time. Business becomes a harder game, and growth begins to stagnate. So Xerox made a conscious choice to supplement its technology offerings with services in order to grow.
“That was the rationale for the acquisition of ACS,” Manikoth says. “Now we are probably a 50/50 company between technology and services. The offerings we have solve real problems that our customers have.”
In transportation, throughout the last 10 to 15 years and going forward, the biggest challenge is more and more demand. The problem is you cannot grow infrastructure fast enough to deal with that increase in demand.
“You cannot build your way out of the problem,” he says. “So you are looking for how you can use the existing infrastructure more efficiently. What we help do is one way of saying, ‘I have this fixed asset called the road with five lanes. I’m only able to transport X number of vehicles through there. How do I now make it X plus 10 percent more?”
Xerox’s transportation group was at the forefront of electronic toll collection, which was a simple way of improving the toll process and increasing traffic flow. The combined forces of ACS and Xerox allows some of the best minds to contemplate those problems.
“All that talent has really been focused on document management and improving information flow,” Manikoth says. “ACS, on the other hand, used to be the people who did the work and built products to solve a particular customer problem but was not necessarily helping our customers think about what happens 10 years from now. That is what Xerox did extremely well.”
Do some thinking
Xerox thought about document management and information flow and what the offices of the future might look like. Now those researchers have the opportunity to sit down with stakeholders in cities to think about what the cities of the future are going to look like.
“Seventy to 80 percent of GDP in this country is generated from urban centers,” Manikoth says. “So if there is one problem we can help solve which will have the maximum impact, it is to make those urban centers more efficient.”
In L.A., Xerox is helping to modernize parking infrastructure. The key component there is real data analytics to predict parking availability so that people don’t drive around looking for a parking space. Xerox used a dynamic pricing engine to optimize parking availability.
Also in L.A., Xerox implemented a dynamic pricing mechanism to let people use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which have been exclusively for buses and other high-occupancy vehicles. Now you can pay a toll and use the HOV lanes. It’s an example of a slightly underused infrastructure now being used to improve the traffic conditions in the area and having people pay for the privilege of doing that.
Think innovation, think savings
Xerox is also looking at how it can improve the systems it creates for infrastructure. One of the research things that Xerox is working on is power saving.
“The idea is these pieces of equipment consume a lot of power, but they might be sitting idle a lot of the time,” he says. “So how do you reduce the power footprint?”
The transportation group is working with Xerox around the technology it uses in printers to save power and is applying that to systems in transportation.
“To do power consumption in an intelligent fashion is an art and a science and they have tons of research surrounding that,” he says. “The same thing applies to the transportation infrastructure.
“There are lots of places where we have equipment, which is powered on 24/7, but people show up at peak times and use it heavily, and at off-peak hours, it probably isn’t used at all. So there’s potential for energy savings in those environments, and we are applying that in our devices in transportation.”
Over the past couple of years, there has been a significant shift in the research stemming from technology to the services market.
“You have to adopt innovative practices that are successful in your other lines of business,” Manikoth says. “The common theme I see is people ask the researchers, ‘What are the solutions you have?’ The ones who I see being more successful are the ones who have conversations about the problems.
“You cannot draw the connection between what was your domain and research by looking at what the researchers are capable of. The connections start becoming apparent if you look at the problem a little more deeply.”
To make these kinds of connections, Xerox brought researchers from three different labs into conversations with its business units and didn’t say which problems were going to be solved. They asked businesses to articulate their customers’ problems with questions such as, “If the customers had a dream that they got fulfilled, what would it be? What particular problem of their customer would they love to solve?”
“When the problem is posed appropriately, the solutions seem to match things which we have solved before,” Manikoth says.
“... The first step is to really understand what the problems are and what the customers want to solve. What is their desire? What is their dream and what problems would they like solved in a picture-perfect scenario and then bridge that gap. Figure out whether you have offerings or whether your partners can bring something to the table to solve those problems.”
The reason Xerox asks questions up front is to make sure the problem is being broken down to its essence and that the wrong problem isn’t being solved.
“In the Xerox world, we’ve split research into things where we are partnering very closely with customers and then we have really exploratory research as well where we think about what some of the big ideas might be over the next four or five years,” he says.
“... For the foreseeable future, we believe making these cities more efficient in all modes is going to be very important. We think we can make a profitable business there and at the same time help cities improve their infrastructure and services.” ?
How to reach: Xerox Transportation, (312) 529-3284 or www.acs-inc.com/transportation-new.aspx