Natural Language Technology is Here

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Advanced software that allows computers to understand the exact meaning of questions and answer them with speed and precision has just become available, through an alliance between Andersen Consulting and answerFriend.

AnswerFriend develops natural language processing technology to improve e-commerce. QuestionEngine can understand requests in everyday language and specialist jargon. It can provide an answer in plain English by retrieving information instantaneously from large bodies of text, tabular data, numbers, or a mixture of both. Answers are immediate, precise and concise. This means, for example, that calls routed to a call center can be handled by fewer people and in a fraction of the time it takes to use old-fashioned keyword-based tools.

"The personal computer became ubiquitous in businesses and in homes when the green screen computer interface was replaced by graphical user interface. Likewise, answerFriend's technology eliminates all barriers to using the Internet. If you can ask a question, you are computer literate. Or as we think about it, the computer has now become literate," said Gary Mekikian, chief executive officer of answerFriend.

"We knew we had a powerful product that could redefine the customer experience, but to be truly successful, we needed more. That's why we turned to Andersen Consulting. Together, we will establish a new computing standard in the global marketplace," added Mekikian.

"Our clients recognize that they must reorient themselves to deliver exceptional customer experiences," said Robert Frerichs, managing partner at Andersen Consulting. "By teaming with answerFriend, we will be able to provide a leading-edge solution that makes it easier for companies to respond to their customers and deliver improved services."

Andersen Consulting plans to use answerFriend's technology across its practices in the areas of customer relationship management, e-commerce, knowledge management and wireless portal implementations.

"The answerFriend technology is revolutionary in terms of the range and breadth of data it can manage," said Thomas Fischer, a partner with AC Ventures. "It can change the way people work and the way companies do business."

AnswerFriend's technology is applicable to online, offline and wireless interactions between companies and their customers.

"Our technology will also help companies forge better relationships with customers through Internet interactions," said Mike Murphy, answerFriend's chief operating officer. "Today, two-thirds of all e-commerce orders are abandoned, often because customers can't get good product information fast enough. Potential customers just give up and log out, often switching to a competitor's web site."

Based in Palo Alto, California, AC Ventures, the venture capital unit of Andersen Consulting, works with entrepreneurs to build companies that transform industries and generate superior economic returns. It also provides a venture capital option that can help start-ups.

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