iPhrase Technologies, Inc., a provider of natural language search and navigation solutions for enterprises, has announced a new version of its One Step platform. Enhancements in One Step 4.0 include support for multiple languages, expanded reporting capabilities, and new Web-based administration tools. This release also features new technology in an optional module called Interaction Advantage, which guides users to related information from multiple sources and can be used to suggest products and services for sale.
Like the previous versions of One Step, 4.0 provides a natural language interface that lets users ask questions in conversational language. The system removes any ambiguity in the language, interprets the request, retrieves the most pertinent content, and then dynamically creates a result page. According to the company, the product is "extremely tolerant to language, spelling, and usage, and provides a feedback loop that tells the user how the question was interpreted." The stated mission for the company's aptly named One Step product is to connect users to the information they need to take action—make purchases, research investments, solve problems, or find content—in just one step.
"iPhrase has again raised the bar in the self-service search and navigation space through One Step 4.0 with Interaction Advantage," said André Pino, iPhrase's senior vice president of marketing. "While other vendors are touting access to multiple sources of information, iPhrase goes beyond basic multi-source retrieval to deliver a powerful business tool. No other vendor comes close to offering the capability to directly answer user queries, anticipate their additional needs by intelligently guiding them to related resources, and interactively cross-sell relevant products or services to further promote loyalty to the online channel. One Step 4.0 with Interaction Advantage offers the industry's most comprehensive and robust self-service experience available."
The Interaction Advantage technology was developed as an optional module that sits on top of One Step. According to Pino, the system allows enterprise clients to provide users with information beyond what they might have actually asked for, recognize and anticipate users' information needs, and present appropriate related information. Interaction Advantage's key capabilities include the following:
Presentation templates—Offer multiple panes of information simultaneously in an organized layout
Presentation control—Dynamically highlights the most relevant resources
Intelligent Domain Selection—Identifies the best subset of resources from all available data, documents, and applications to deliver the most relevant information
Business Rule Control—Gives business unit owners control of the priority and relevancy algorithms
In describing how One Step works, Pino gave an example of a financial services firm customer who is asking a question about large cap funds. One pane on the result page could provide a definition, another could present a list of mutual funds that meet the large cap criteria, and a third could offer links to frequently asked questions about the funds. The look and feel can be customized, and the presentation is dynamic, changing with the question. Pino said that most portal sites suffer from the problem of "gotta know where to go." The One Step solution aims to minimize the number of clicks to get to the answer.
Interaction Advantage can also incorporate information from outside the enterprise site, even if that information is serviced by another search engine. When the module processes the user's request, it determines the most relevant source(s) of information. If the source is serviced by another engine (SQL, Web search, proprietary, etc.), it translates the request to the most appropriate form for that engine. This could include, for example, translating the natural language request to a keyword request and submitting it to Google.
The One Step 4.0 platform now allows users to search non-English-language content. It provides support for indexing and searching of both structured and unstructured data in French, German, and Spanish. One Step offers out-of-the-box stemming and respelling capabilities, along with translation of the iPhrase common-language layer.
iPhrase has extended 4.0's reporting capabilities to support expanded content analytics with a "Buried Content" report. This option allows One Step customers to understand how much of their site is more than three clicks from the home page. Statistics show that this is the point at which a large percentage of users abandon a Web site.
The One Step platform has also been made more extensible with additional integration and out-of-the-box connectors that fit into existing Web and content infrastructures. Version 4.0 offers APIs for integration into content management systems and existing keyword/vocabulary tools, as well as for use with e-commerce platforms. iPhrase has also added a number of Web-based administrative tools (the previous version provided desktop-based tools) and improved performance-monitoring capabilities.
According to Pino, the one-time licensing fee for One Step, plus initial service implementation, usually starts at about $250,000. The Interaction Advantage module costs an extra $25,000 per CPU.
The main markets for One Step are financial services, service providers, retail, and manufacturing/high technology. Current customers include Charles Schwab, Yahoo! Finance, Lycos Finance, Neiman Marcus, Staples, and Gateway. About a year ago, LexisNexis announced that it would implement One Step in its Advertising Redbooks and Directory of Corporate Affiliations databases. (See the NewsBreak at http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb011029-2.htm.) According to a LexisNexis spokesperson, the natural language interface has been deployed in these products and the company is currently working on an application for Company Dossier. LexisNexis has not yet tried the new version of One Step.
iPhrase is a fairly small, privately held company (about 60 employees) that is up against some bigger players in the market for search and navigation solutions. But it also has the backing of some prestigious investors, including Charles River Ventures, Greylock, Reed Elsevier Ventures, RSA Ventures, Sequoia Capital, TD Capital Technology Ventures, and Bain Capital.
Jeeves Solutions (a division of Ask Jeeves) has been one of the pioneers in natural language question/answer search and offers its Jeeves One solution to enterprises. Pino pointed out that Jeeves searches a database of known questions and answers. iPhrase One Step goes way beyond tapping just frequently asked questions to provide precise multi-source retrieval. In addition, Pino said its natural language processing capabilities far surpass what Jeeves provides.
Other competitors include Verity, Autonomy, and InQuira (a start-up formed from the merger of Electric Knowledge and Answerfriend). Endeca, a company that emphasizes navigational abilities in its enterprise search, just announced a new version of its ProFind product. Other companies that specifically target the customer relationship management market include KANA, Primus, and PeopleSoft. So there's plenty of activity in this space.
Sue Feldman, vice president at IDC, said: "Connecting people to the information they need is vital if enterprises are to sell products online, answer customer questions, or enable their own employees to work efficiently. iPhrase, with its ability to understand the meaning of both documents and questions, improves these processes."