E41: RG Conlee, Chief Innovation Officer at Xerox Services – Interview

July 19, 2016


This great interview with RG Conlee is about innovation at Xerox. RG is the Chief Innovation Officer at Xerox Services. Xerox Services is a huge division of Xerox that focuses on customer care, business transactions and processes, and other areas. It’s a part of Xerox most people don’t think about.

RG has a fascinating background, including many years in education before jumping into technology and the private sector.

Xerox is an extremely innovative company so I invited RG on the show to tell us more about his views on innovation and what he’s doing at Xerox.

Here are some other things we talk about:

-What are your main priorities as head of innovation Xerox Services?
-What projects are you working on? Automation, better customer care?
-We talk about a parking technology (who knew) Xerox has developed and sells.


David Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs and today we get to interview RG Conlee. And RG is the Chief Innovation Officer at the Xerox Services. And Xerox Services is a little outside of what you normally think of as the printing area. They instead focus on services around customer care and business transactions and processes, which RG can tell us more about. So as we all know, Xerox is an extremely innovative company. So I invited RG on the show to tell us more about his views on innovation and what exactly he is doing at Xerox. He also has a really interesting background which he can tell us about. So RG, thanks for joining us today.

RG Conlee: Yes, thanks for having me.

David Kruse: So, yes, let’s start to get to know you a little better. Can you give us a little bit of an overview on your background and what you did before coming to Xerox?

RG Conlee: Sure, glad to, and my background is not exactly a linear one for getting to corporate IT and innovation and the like. I had a 20 year career as an educator. I’m actually a trained musician and was a teacher and administrator for 20 years, built a school, did a number of things and then in 1998 changed and went to a different career. In corporate IT I was a developer. Had evolved at computer business and so since 1998 forward have worked in a number of different types of positions and in particular, then came up through the company ACS affiliated computer services and that company was bought by Xerox back in 2009, 2010 and during that time period did anything from development to operations. Then I started in innovation program in ACS and then when we were acquired by Xerox that innovation program kind of build in into the Chief Innovation Officer role and since that point we’ve developed a full innovation component that’s tightly integrated to all of our business and also provides in essentially the preview across the Board for our new products and services and things that we are going to take to market and all the things that we do with our various platforms.

David Kruse: And what prompted you from switching to teacher to the IT world?

RG Conlee: A number of personal things. It was also the right time. I had had a lot of – I built a computer business back while I was still a teacher and this is something we looked at as, personally being able to change and turned out to be a great move and now I’m at the end a second 20 year career.

David Kruse: Wow, yeah that’s why I love your background. I love it when people switch up right there in the middle and you’d made it work quite well, which is impressive. So let’s dive into Xerox services a little bit. Can you just give us maybe a little better overview than I gave and about Xerox services, like employees, number of employees and the revenue and anything else?

RG Conlee: Sure, I’d be glad to. And when I do a lot of demonstrations, and I do a lot of that with clients and in speaking engagements and the like. Almost always people come away and saying, I didn’t realize you were doing that. Xerox services are not the traditional copier, printer side of the house. Xerox is really divided into two parts. One is the Xerox Technology, which is the traditional copier, printer managed print service and then Xerox Services is all the other thing that we do and it’s pretty prolific. We’ve got about 1,005 employees on the services side, another 145,000 in Xerox. We are worldwide. We do anything from transaction processing in healthcare to HR, F&A. We do the toll way systems for easy pass of New York and New Jersey, got redline cameras across the world. We do work in banking, we’ve got a lot of – we are a major player in the government health care world. So there’s a lot of things that we are doing that don’t associate in your mind with the Xerox name. Call center, big for us, we got 55,000 call center agents. We do about 2 million, 2.5 million calls a day and a vast variety of domains. So it’s a very complex science. It impacts the way I look at innovation, because my charge is to be able to say, now how do we innovate in all of that and when we do that, we have to then – we put together an organization that allows us to be able to get pipelines and portfolios of innovation that go both in the business vertical, as well as to the specific capabilities and delivery types of organizations. And those all combine together to be then the offerings and the new things that we are doing across the broad. So lots of complexity, lots of things that people doing know about, but really powerful organization.

David Kruse: And let’s take more about the complexity. So how – I mean it’s vast, so how do you figure out your priorities and what to focus on?

RG Conlee: We are right now organized as – we are organized as business verticals and capability horizontals, and so I’ve got Chief Innovation Officers that are in all of those positions, for all of those towers or horizontals. And then they all hub together to be able to coordinate that, because you don’t want us to be innovating everywhere, because you can get a lot of things that won’t hook together. We also work with our strategy organization and then set the business priorities based on what are the specific business needs, the pre goal funding, the fee-to-market, there’s a lot of categories that work with that. In particular we are looking at portfolios of things, because Xerox as a whole is one of the top IP and Patent holders in the world. We’ve got a lot of innovation, a lot of IP and a lot of things that we can do. We are not going to commercialize everything. So we really go through a pretty tight selection process throughout the year, manage those roadmaps and pipelines very tightly. We look at the commercialization process. In services innovation it’s very important to be able to think in smaller terms than normal, mechanical or other types of innovation where you might be having hardware that’s still developed on one, three and five year segments. Services innovation often has to be on the one, three and five month scales. And so we’ve had to adapt so that we can have rapid commercialization. We can always have new things that are on the horizon and we can be able to remove those. So there is time sort of on all innovations that can end up being a success, so we have to have a real right review, and so all the group Presidents, and the Capability Leaders are tightly involved with this. So we can consistently produce new products and services, differentiate our business you know and etcetera.

David Kruse: And what type of projects is the innovation team working on now? You don’t just…

RG Conlee: Yes, I mean obviously some of the things I can’t tell you, but I can tell you that we have a strong focus on automation right now. We’ve got some, we’ve had some origin technologies. In fact we just formed an automation capability that is focused on being able to drive, especially provide process automation, other types of automations into our businesses. We’ve also made some new headway and some offering access that are fully on the automation spectrum. We have some great innovations coming out in our transportation world, are some great examples more in the public sector where we have demand based pricing on parking and we’ve automated a lot of types of things that traditionally have been difficult to do and then we’ve got a ton of other things that are going on. Again, I could talk about each of those domains, but those are just some of the big ones.

David Kruse: Yes, you know actually I’d be interested if you can give an example on one of those domains, whether it’s the business process automation or just expand on that or you mentioned the parking and to dive a little bit more into what you guys are doing?

RG Conlee: Sure. So on the robotic process automation, we have our own tool set that we built over the years and we’ve combined it to be able to infuse it into our business. So essentially you are replacing what the person would do, what you are automating. And because we got so many people that was really attracted to us to look at, is to say how do we take the customer to the next level and so we’ve built our very large scale operations that can replace you know thousands of people as opposed to just individuals and basically become an automated workforce. So internally with our people workforce and allow us to be able to expand the capabilities, reduce our costs and command and control it all with workflow. So it’s a very powerful technique. We’ve already gone from the point of developing the tool sets and we’ve got over 300 businesses that have that employed. Now at the point that we’ve developed a full scale delivery capability and are taking products to market, so our next generation customer care, so under customer care you, the traditional voices that you call in, you talk to somebody etc, we’ve connected that with our automation and we can also machine learning to allow you automate chat and to help automate the voice calls and be able to expand on that. So a lot of different things within automation, but we’ve hobbled it around the current or set the same tool set and then we are able to be able to drive that, not matter if it’s call center or if it’s an F&A job. So we do a lot of back end processing for procurement and things like that. That same tool set can then drive a large scale transaction and probably if I had to do the cal, probable 70,000 of the 105,000 people are doing some type of transaction and it might be a little higher than that. That gives us the ability then to empower those people, not just to reduce them, because our goal isn’t to just reduce people, it’s only to expand business and that’s why we interweave with them. So that’s a pretty exciting thing. The parking example was really exciting, because it’s affecting overall municipalities. L.A. Express Park is our operation. That was one of our first visitors in being able to roll it out. And it just changes the way you’re doing or you essentially got sensors everywhere and you got the ability to understand what – where parking is available and help flow control. So sometimes it’s not just pricing, some may not be as important to the municipality as the congestion in the city. It’s really kind of cool to watch. We’ve got a big board that will show the analytics and where people are and where people are flowing. It gives you the ability to really understand the essence of the flow of a city and help change large scale problems that are you know large place like L.A and Washington and other places will have, where as we all know it can be pretty congested at any given time.

David Kruse: And with that parking example at what point did the innovation team become involved? What was kind of the lifecycle of that or the parking…?

RG Conlee: Yes, so that’s usually on the – that’s on the front end, so my work is almost always done on the front end part. So we have research and development centers throughout Xerox. We got six of them across the world, anywhere from Palo Alto Research Center which is our Park, the original one. The people would know all the way across the world to Grenoble, France, and we got in Canada, etcetera. And so that research, the commercialization, the prototyping, the first of a kind, and even the coordination into the commercialization, the actually building out of the platform, we will be involved. We are not – the innovation team is not going to be involved in the, the run time and the running of the business and service kind of ventures, but we will be involved in that frontend.

David Kruse: And who – does someone come up with – how does the idea generated. Do you buy a company or do you sit around and say, hey we need to get into parking. How does that evolve?

RG Conlee: Well, most of the time it’s a business demand. So we have businesses in all of these. We don’t go often shoot an innovation that we don’t have. We would typically to get into business you got to probably buy a business. You are not going to try to grow it from scratch, unless it doesn’t exist period. But most of the time you are probably building on a business that you are in. So we were in transportation. We bought a transportation company years ago and you began to build on top of that. You may have a new need. Now it could be that you are building on top of something that you bought a business, but you need a new sector. You are looking at something specific, it’s a problem set. So we work with a lots and lots of customers. So we do a tour called Dreaming Sessions and those dreaming sessions allow us to be able to really get down, we will meet for a day or two with the customer and they are paying points, revisions, really get down to the need of what they are seeing and where are the needs are and then we scope our innovation targets, highly towards what is the customer need. We just don’t do academic innovation and research. We’ll do over a 100 of those a year, big events and then we’ll do about 1,000 or so smaller things throughout the year. And we’ve gotten to where we track those and we’ve got a pretty robust system to be able to take those ideas and be able then to aggregate them and put them into larger things. You also can’t chase 1,000 things and so we have to prioritize them and you know all that stuff I talked about earlier. But that’s we – we are always going from the customer and then moving it into the need. We don’t just built and hope they are going to come, that’s not our approach. We are always looking at the customer’s needs, pinpoints and then in bringing forth the idea to help deal with it.

David Kruse: That’s smart. So yeah, it’s like you guys are a very large start up, which is at least the priming is which is a great way to structure it. So I’m curious, do you – before you ended up parking and you are talking to some potential clients, do you essentially get buy in from them before you move into there or it’s just kind of a general sense that you get from your clients that they are interested in parking that they didn’t…

RG Conlee: And parking is probably not a great example there, because you are looking at public sector and municipalities, it’s a different thing. If you are looking at commercial customers, where you maybe solving spot problem sets, that’s where we’ll get the buy-in. We have to get the buy-in, because if we are going to co-create, we are going to co-innovate or we are going to solve for them, then it could be it’s in a sector like HR, where you are not really competing side to side with various customers, we maybe solving it for an industry. But we maybe hearing from a dozen key customers about certain problems stats and say okay, that would be great and we bring our researchers in and other people in to be able to help solve that problem. Whereas we maybe also talking about commercial customers who do compete, and therefore maybe we’ll co-innovate with them as it’s a big problem. So it’s a little different. It depends on where we are at. The key thing is you want to start with what’s the need in the industry for the customer and then draw it forward and then you have to say, is this something that I can build or do I need to build it? Can I go get some partner technology, put it together, can I just insert some IP, There’s a lot of ways to solve that problem. We usually build by partner approach to say, we don’t have to build everything, we need to seriously look and say where do we apply our finding and how we best utilize the dollars that we have.

David Kruse: Interesting and what new areas of tech or projects that you are working on that you are most excited about. I know you mentioned machine learning, so can you either be – yes, certain areas that you are guys are spending a lot of time on right now.

RG Conlee: Sure. There is – well, obviously I talked about the automation, the machine learning and all things in that regard to be able to automate. Well obviously analytics are very important, so there is a number of different areas that are very important to us in analytics. We are not big box provider, we are not doing engines and things like that, but we got a significant healthcare business that we work in; we got prepaid cards that we work in; we’ve got exchange systems for HR, so all of those require a strong focus on analytics. We also look at mobile. We got a lot of people; the virtual workers and the at home offices and all the connectivity and the mobile types of fairs are very important to us. Personalization, doesn’t sound like much, but personalization in a lot of our areas is extremely important. The Internet of Things to a certain degree, even though they usually comes on the advent of what our customers are looking at, because we don’t product those types or products. But we may have to connect to them. So if you’ve got an internet centric device like thermostats and the like that are sending out data, our customer care sites may have to take that data in and use it. So those are sort of the big rocks that we are looking at. Obviously I talked about the transportation, and so dealing with all of the – the transportation has kind of all those facets as well, but you are looking at in that case a lot of simplicity around municipalities and helping to get cities and municipalities and states and countries working more efficient and the like.

David Kruse: And how do you guys learn from your mistakes? I mean you mentioned at the beginning, and much of that sounds like really important, is that you also know – you got a feedback, you also know when to turn off a project or shut it down, which is probably very important stuff.

RG Conlee: Yes, I call it weed and seed. I coined the term weed and seed. So, in the organization we have a process to look at all – everything that we’ve got going on a quarterly basis and so we do – they’ve got business plans, they’ve got everything you might think about at a business level we’ve got for our research and our innovation projects, commercialization. So we are looking at those, are they on track, we are running this project. Is it going to – has the market and demand changed. So on a quarterly basis we look at all that. There may be some that we start up that maybe have changed. It maybe six months ago it was fine, now it’s not. So we have the ability to make sure we can stop. Could be that we need to accelerate. So we may need to put some additional funding in there, additional resources and say, hey, we really got to make this November date as opposed to what we thought was February. So we look at it very deeply. We have – like I said, we’ve developed over the last five, six, years a very strong organization that will keep in touch with that, all the way up to governance to our president level. So it’s – you have to do that and if you don’t what will happen is you’ll go far too long, you’ll spend too much money and that won’t be a success and everybody is unhappy and you get into that ditch.

David Kruse: Got you. Okay. And then unfortunately, I think we are coming to the end of this interview, but defiantly I appreciate it, but one – but I’m curious, since you made a career change in the middle of your career, was there certain mentors that helped you along, especially at the beginning that helped you get to where you are now?

RG Conlee: Well, as I made the career change, early on there weren’t a lot of mentors, because I changed. I was a contractor for a while and for a couple of years in the utility industry. When I came to ACS which I did in late ’99, I had mentors all the way. I worked with Len and Tom Wadget [ph] for many, many years and they may not be familiar to you, but they are kind of icons in the BPO world and they were mentors. I mean I had some great sets of bosses that kind of guided me. I was able to get multiple job responsibilities. I was a development manager for four years. I was in operations for another five years. I started as Head of Innovation. So the ability to have some of that mentorship and have some great people to work with, cannot go unstated, because if you are in vacuum you are not going to get it done. So I’ve had opportunity and it was great and it’s been a great ride and enjoy what we do.

David Kruse: Great. Well I think that’s a good way to end the interview and I definitely appreciate your time RG and I hope everyone enjoyed the podcast as much as I did. It’s really interesting what you guys are doing.

RG Conlee: Okay.

David Kruse: I knew you guys were – I knew you guys were innovating, but not necessarily that scale in that many of my interviews.

RG Conlee: Well I appreciate the ability to be on and hopefully it’s been informative and always go ahead and come back and talk again.

David Kruse: All right, great and I appreciate it. So thanks RG and thanks everyone for listing to another episode of Flyover Labs. We’ll see you next time. Bye.