by Noel Ward March 15, 2005 -- It encompasses 100,000 square feet--about three football fields. It is larger than some of the halls at drupa in Dusseldorf, Germany. It contains enough computing, software and printing capabilities to support the needs of a small city. It hums with life, the promise of technology and the triumph of imagination. And it's all in a state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Xerox's research and manufacturing complex in the flat fields of Webster, an eastern suburb of Rochester, New York. The Gil Hatch Center for Customer Innovation opened its doors on Tuesday, March 8, as the planet's largest showcase of digital products for the graphic communications and production printing industry. The center represents the vision of Gil Hatch, the former president of Xerox's Production Systems Group who passed away last summer. Hatch, long noted as a champion of customers, believed "everything we do begins and ends with the customer." "Gil was a customer advocate and an innovator," said Ursula Burns, Xerox president of business operations. "The future of graphic communications will be stamped with his imprint. It is not just for us at Xerox, for this community, or for the Hatch family that we inscribe Gil's name on this center. It is for the future of graphic communications. This center will make it's own mark on how we work with customers and how we innovate on their behalf." I had the privilege to talk and work with Gil from time to time and it was always energizing to be with him, even on a phone call. He had a way of imbuing his vision and enthusiasm to others and making them a part of it. It is very fitting for this center to be named in his honor, and I have no doubt that it will come to be the focal point for progress that he envisioned. Extreme Makeover The new center used to be known as Building 209, an austere, steel-framed, high-ceilinged manufacturing facility. In the space of about four months it was transformed into an elegant complex of meeting rooms, classrooms, customer training areas, and a product demonstration floor measuring about 150 by 120 feet. "The space," noted Mark Waxenburg, vice president and general manager of Xerox's monochrome business unit, "actually makes an iGen look small." Indeed, one of the two iGen3s in the space is some 43 feet long, and there's room to comfortably add more paper input units and inline finishing options. The iGen3s share the space with a full array of Xerox color and monochrome cut-sheet and continuous-feed print engines as well as wide-format ink jet printers. Most have inline finishing capabilities, with more options housed in an adjoining feeding and finishing lab where a variety of partners showcase their wares, all connected to a variety of Xerox printers. Out behind the walls lie classrooms and even more equipment and software for customer training. And while the digital presses get center stage, an entire section of the demo room is dedicated to the latest FreeFlow workflow offerings, the steadily evolving collection of software that helps print providers manage jobs from creation to final invoicing. Quincy Allen, president of Production Systems Group points out that, "From equipment to software, these are the kinds of offerings that are transforming the world of print. The center enhances the total customer experience and demonstrates how customers can increase profits and boost productivity and revenue by improving their entire printing process." The multi-million dollar investment is entirely customer-oriented. Xerox says dates for demonstrations and training are already well-booked for the next few months. And although existing customer centers in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and El Segundo, California will continue to operate as usual, the heart and soul of customer innovation at Xerox clearly now resides in Webster, New York. When I first walked into the demo room I thought, "Wow. This rocks!" Gil, as his wife Bernice noted in her comments at the opening, would have said it just a little differently: "Isn't this cool!"