Bringing a Blockchain Proof of Concept to Life for Xerox

You may know Xerox first and foremost as a verb — one that’s remained an office essential over the years. In reality, Xerox is a global enterprise that designs and manufactures print equipment, and sells print and digital document solutions, business services, and technology products in over 160 countries. Recently, they worked with Topcoder and Wipro on a blockchain proof of concept (POC). We spoke with Jonathan Levine, a Senior Solution Architect at Xerox, about Xerox’s IT organization, the need to understand and implement emerging technologies, and success with crowdsourcing solutions through Topcoder and Wipro.

The role of IT and innovation at Xerox

Within Xerox, Jonathan works in Solution Acceleration and Innovation (SAI), a small team in Xerox’s IT organization, known as Xerox Information Management (XIM). He says SAI’s mission is to design and deliver POCs that do two things:

  • Help them better understand emerging technologies such as blockchain, whether those tools might be useful to XIM, and, if so, how XIM can apply those innovations.
  • Demonstrate how XIM can deliver higher-quality systems and solutions faster.

Jonathan says that managing data is Xerox’s core business. He says, “A customer’s company might store its data in paper and/or digital formats. It might need data transferred from digital to paper (i.e., printing). It might need data transferred from paper to digital (i.e., scanning). And it might need information to be extracted from a scanned image and converted into searchable text or stored in a database (i.e., optical character recognition and machine learning).” For these requirements and others, Xerox automates, personalizes, packages, analyzes, and secures information to ensure that their customers’ processes are efficient and effective, and that they can remain flexible as their markets evolve.

Working with Topcoder and Wipro on a blockchain POC

XIM and other organizations within Xerox have their own developers and external consultants for software design and development. Jonathan says that “in every case, XIM and Xerox have used traditional funding methods and development processes.”

The journey to Topcoder was through Wipro, as Jonathan’s team was going to run a POC with Wipro to understand how blockchain works and considerations for implementation, and whether it might be useful to XIM. Upon learning about Topcoder, Wipro’s crowdsourcing platform and talent network, Jonathan says they decided to investigate — as an additional part of the POC (and aligned with SAI’s mission) — whether crowdsourced software development might help XIM design and deliver software.

Jonathan says, “The SAI team is always looking for ways to accelerate and otherwise improve methods of software delivery. We came to Topcoder because it was serendipitously at the right place at the right time (i.e., a division of the company delivering our blockchain POC) and we realized that it might help us fulfill our mission.”

Gathering requirements and UI examples for the blockchain POC

SAI selected a use case related to Xerox’s original business — visibility of a print device through its lifecycle from manufacture to installation at the customer site.

“This use case spans many different companies and many different software systems that are not integrated,” Jonathan says. “The POC’s intention was to show that blockchain could provide a unified view of the entire distributed value chain — plus information about how blockchain worked under the hood, and what design tradeoffs are required when deploying a blockchain solution.”

SAI developed the user stories, functional requirements, and examples of how the user interface (UI) might work. Together, SAI and Wipro worked to understand and clarify the requirements and UI examples. The decision was made to use Wipro developers for the blockchain part of the POC and use Topcoder to deliver the UI.

Finding success with a blockchain POC for Xerox

Jonathan and his team worked with both Wipro and Topcoder teams during the UI design challenge rounds, during which various UI designs were presented. In the first round, there were 16 designs. Of those, there were five top choices. Then in the second round, which included detailed feedback and some live selections, Jonathan’s team made their top three choices. The first choice was the favorite — and ultimately the winner of the UI design challenge.

“That winning design was eventually what we saw in the sprint demos and in the final product. That is, it did what was promised. We and our management like it,” Jonathan says. “Our Vice President thinks that it shows a ‘wow’ factor and thinks that the design may have additional uses at Xerox.”

He adds, “The POC had six sprint demos. These were our checkpoints. During those demos we provided feedback on what we saw. The teams were very responsive and updated the software according to our comments. These included things like bugs, errors in the text being displayed, improvements to the UI design, etc. However, most of what we saw during the demos was exactly what was promised and what we expected to see. Throughout the process, the Wipro team and the people I spoke with at Topcoder were very helpful.”

Crowdsourcing benefits and the possibilities with Topcoder

As Jonathan says, “Topcoder’s portion of the POC definitely benefited Xerox — because it gave us insight into a new approach to software development, and potentially gave us a new option to use when developing software. Xerox may be able to use Topcoder effectively when it needs a new system, potentially including new technologies, or a new UI or portal to a new or existing system. If we are to build something from scratch, Topcoder may be a very useful way to quickly get a team of experts on the project at a relatively low cost.”

Learn more about the state of crowdsourcing in our latest report with Open Assembly.