PowerTrieve, A LEAP For CRM?

Event Summary

Although CRM applications, Portals, and Contact Centers are contributing to the improvement of customer relationships and the effectiveness of employees; in many cases they remain convoluted to users whether they are customers or company employees. Some software solution vendors have developed a noteworthy approach to alleviate those complexities using natural language recognition or LEAP (Language Enabled Application Platform). We met with one of them at the Microsoft Convergence Conference in March, 2003. Catalyst Evaluation Group, LLC from Irving, Texas and Leverance, Inc. from Bothell, WA were presenting the release of PowerTrieve, a data reporting tool that recognizes human language and responds instantly to verbal requests.

Market Background

Many CRM applications provide so many features and functions that end-users have a hard time navigating through all available options. Continuous training is necessary to pave the path for better usability. This issue is crucial since the success of your CRM is at stake. See previous article: CRM Application Users are Key to Project Success.

Complexities are driven from the various interfaces users have with the application. In many cases, familiar processes have been modified to either fit the application structure or redesigned to be more client oriented. Users are required to navigate through a series of applets and views knowing where to start and where to end in order to complete the entire process. The same situation applies to Contact Centers where customers have the advantage of self-service either through the browser of a portal or via an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) services.

Text-to-Speech capabilities are now being used to confirm user input and to vocalize feedback from database readings. Users can interact with systems by simply pronouncing a specific word or number and even in a more sophisticated environment use continuous and fluid speech where complete sentences can be spoken instead of one-word commands. This is made possible by the system's capability to recognize natural language. The real benefit from this technology is to empower end-users and customers to short-circuit the drill downs in multiple layers of web pages or selection choices. Imagine a potential caller to a help desk regarding a problem with a product he has just purchased. The system may ask: "What would you like to do?" The caller's answer can be: "I would like to be transferred to Support please". In this case the caller gets directly routed to the required department. Pronexus based in Kanata, Ontario, Canada, is among the providers of such technology.

Another technology involving voice is VoiceXML. This technology provides end-users the ability to develop a rule based command execution allowing customers to navigate through a site without prior knowledge to the site map. Elix a Montreal, Canada based company offers such solution. Guiding customers through complex processes by using natural language is definitely a breakthrough for reaching higher customer satisfaction and improved effectiveness.

Product Strategy and Trajectory

Chuck Cosby the creator of PowerTrieve has positioned its language recognition engine to help Enterprise Application users improve their effectiveness from a different angle. He has tapped into the complexity of generating reports by non-technical people. This is certainly an area of concern to most end-users. Today many Enterprise applications are offering preset reporting templates, but in reality they are not always suited to the user's need. Opportunities to take positive actions at the right time could be lost if the user has to wait for a programmer to create his special report. This could result in higher frustrations and criticism towards the application.

PowerTrieve allows users to access information from any LEAP-enabled database and builds a report using a Conversational Data Query. In other words, users simply say what they want and the system generates the report. Conversational Data Query is a non-technical data request transformed by the system to a database Query. The user speaks in familiar conversational phrases like:

  • "I need inventory stock status information"

  • "I would like to see summary sales of item B for the last 2 months"

  • "Show only items sold in the first quarter of last year"

The only limitation is the need to ask a logical business question in a conversational manner. PowerTrieve is a powerful tool that will make the life of many executives easier.

There are many possible applications of this technology. Microsoft Business Solutions Great Plains is the first application to use PowerTrieve and its Conversational Data Query technology. Additional commercial products are in the process of being language- enabled with PowerTrieve. We had a demo of the beta version during the Convergence event, and can see it being a valuable tool for any company.

Product Strengths

Voice recognition has been around for a while and is relatively simple technology in which the system recognizes previously recorded phrases. However, the LEAP (Language Enabled Application Platform) language recognition system distinguishes itself from other language recognition systems by allowing the computer to recognize words by organizing them into a matrix where they are analyzed by a series of algorithms that identifies and categorizes each word as an action word, field name, date interval, data record, etc. From the concept matrix, the system then reconstructs the words and phrases into the most likely meaningful request and acts upon it. PowerTrieve may not exactly understand a word or phrase, but it can often recognize what was asked based on the context of the entire sentence. PowerTrieve builds your linguistic profile as you use it. This profile allows PowerTrieve to increasingly more accurate.

Product Challenges

PowerTrieve in its beta version has relied on Microsoft SAPI for word recognition and the Microsoft Excel engine to display all resulting data. This has limited the reporting capabilities, because the Excel environment is limited to 65,535 rows. The company is looking to replace both with more proven and extensible technology. The challenge for Catalyst Evaluation Group and PowerTrieve is going to be the company and the technology they will partner with to support their engine. The database technology is certainly an attractive place to start, and since this is where PowerTrieve has selected to be, why not expand to partnerships with data warehouse and analytics companies where reporting issues are at their center of gravity.

User Recommendations

Today's challenges for end-users are to access the required information in a timely manner with minimum resources. It would be helpful to reduce the need for specialized resources and programmers and to enable non-technical users to produce ad-hoc reports and better perform their duties. However, the reality goes beyond that. The real challenge for companies with disparate and distributed databases is how well internal and external systems are integrated. Many Enterprise CRM applications, for instance, have shown weak and lengthy reporting capabilities and, as you add queries from other systems, the process gets even more complex. You may want to spell out your query; the question is how long would it take to show the result and how this will affect the system performance.

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