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Information is key, Xerox execs say

In a Comdex keynote, two Xerox executives underscore the importance of knowledge in the economy.

LAS VEGAS--Two Xerox executives and the company's TV spokesman triple-teamed the Comdex keynote today in an entertaining presentation that underscored the importance of knowledge in the economy.

"Today, knowledge is increasingly the source of competitive advantage," said Xerox president Rick Thoman, estimating that knowledge-based business accounts for 20 percent of the U.S. gross national product.

"We believe documents are the DNA of a company's knowledge," Thoman declared.

"Even though knowledge is more important and expensive, in [sharing knowledge internally], we are not much further than 3,000 years ago, hunting buffalo in small work groups," he added. Adopting the current buzzword of the Internet, he said copiers like those Xerox makes are "a portal to the documents world, a smart digital portal."

Added John Seely Brown, Xerox's chief scientist and director of the famed Xerox PARC research lab: "We are looking to build portals that are a seamless bridge between the digital and paper worlds."

Brown demonstrated conceptual designs of alternatives to paper, including "electric paper" that can be erased and reused, machine-readable marks on a page that can store up to 25 pages of text, and scanners that transform paper business cards into an email message.

Toga-clad John O'Hurley, the actor who played J. Peterman on Seinfeld and now plays a Xerox spokesman in TV ads, leavened the presentation with puns and questions.

Technologists must simplify technology to make it easier to use, Thoman said.

"Customers are still afraid of our technology and don't know how to use it," Thoman said. "That's a big barrier for our industry to move forward."

The Xerox official said the company will roll out 20 industry-specific solutions, including the ability to deliver relevant marketing documents to a specific person and print a single book in one minute, enabling printing manuals or books on demand.