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9/7/2011
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How FedEx Has Adapted From Overnight To Over Net

It adds services to help customers print documents anywhere in the world and to print more easily from mobile devices. One in a series of profiles of InformationWeek 500 innovators.

Federal Express made its name delivering critical documents overnight, around the world. More and more such documents have gone digital, so the company has had to use technology to keep a crucial role in business communications. The courier acquired Kinko's in 2004 for $2.4 billion, with an eye to giving customers the means to send their documents electronically to any of 1,800 fully networked information superhighway "off-ramps" around the world for printing.

"In the world of content there's still a significant need for our customers to be able to move documents and content securely and have them reproduced," says FedEx CIO Rob Carter.

That's why FedEx has launched two innovative services aiming to simplify the task of preparing and transmitting documents for output at former Kinko's locations, rebranded since 2008 as FedEx Office. FedEx Office Print & Go, which went live in January, lets people transmit documents to a copy machine through a USB thumb drive or wirelessly using apps for the Apple iPhone and RIM BlackBerry smartphones. The apps let people preview documents and send them to printers at any FedEx Office location. Customers can also pay for printouts at the machine, completing the self-serve approach.

Print & Go uses a customized version of an e-printing app that Hewlett-Packard developed for commercial use, in combination with Canon printers that have been adapted for compatibility with the service. "The world is now very rich with content that never finds its way to print. But the small percent that does needs an off-ramp," says Carter.

FedEx's first major link between digital and printing came in 2007, when it launched FedEx Office Print Online to let customers upload documents from a PC or mobile device to the company's website, choose from a number of options for output and finishing, and then print to any FedEx Office location. The service uses rich Internet application technology to mimic the performance of desktop printing applications.

FedEx builds more ways to go from digital to print
FedEx builds more ways to go from digital to print

Last year, FedEx enhanced the SOA-based service with options for printing signs and large-format graphics, and with drivers that let people choose the service directly from within the "Print" menu in Microsoft applications. Print Online also lets people print documents from Google Docs' online storage, rather than on a person's computer.

For documents that contain, say, trade secrets, people can choose output at FedEx centers that have undergone ISO and FedEx internal security audits, including giving workers security training,

Both FedEx Office Print & Go and FedEx Office Print Online rely heavily on software developed in-house by teams drawn from FedEx's 7,000-person IT organization. There were a couple of keys to keeping the projects on track, Carter says. The teams used an agile development approach to get frequent feedback from people outside the teams. Also, Carter kept teams small. "We try to keep some of these innovative teams in IT down to what we call 'two-pizza teams.' If you can't feed them with two pizzas, they're probably getting too big," he says.

Carter also wouldn't allow either service to go live until pretty close to perfect, meeting what the company call's the "Purple Promise" for quality. Says Carter, "We're fanatics about the customer experience."

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage

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