AskBEA makes BEA''s Web site fully searchable using the natural language technologies answerFriend provides. Users'' search terms may bring up answers from product documentation, white papers, almost 50 public newsgroups, and every other part of BEA''s site.
Development of AskBEA began last January when Terry Barrett, vice president of worldwide customer support for BEA, started looking for a product to reduce the call volume flooding the customer support lines, despite equally rapid growth on that end. BEA decided the most effective way to do this was to move the calls away from the call center and into a Web-based interface that developers would want to use.
Intially, the company chose to develop the service using Ask Jeeves'' technology. Because of the amount of time required to index terms and the complexity of the process using Ask Jeeves, BEA was able to index only information related to WebLogic.
Even with just WebLogic indexed, the call volume was mitigated. In June, 2,300 calls were recorded; in July (the month that AskBEA launched), the number of calls increased to 2,500. At that point, an increase of 200 calls each month was the norm. Since July, however, call volume has held steady despite the number of WebLogic downloads increasing by an average of 2,500 per month, Barrett told ServerWatch. In July, 11,000 queries were posed to AskBEA; in December, that number increased to 30,000, Barrett added. Another encouraging metric is the decrease in call inquiries from evaluation customers. In July, 14 percent of calls came from users who downloaded an evaluation copy of WebLogic; by December, that number had decreased to 11 percent.
BEA''s relationship with answerFriend began in July. By mid-November, information related to all of BEA''s products was searchable. When BEA launched a new product in December, answerFriend was able to incorporate the terms within a week, Barrett said.
AnswerFriend is able to implement so quickly because the technology its engine uses is based on ontology-like principles. Enterprises adopting answerFriend work with the company to provide an index of terms and synonyms for those terms. This differs from Ask Jeeves technology, where the enterprise must anticipate every potential question users might ask.
All queries for AskBEA must be phrased as questions, as the results for "how do I ...?" and "Where is ...?" can be dramatically different, Barrett said. AskBEA is configured so that no more than 20 responses will come back in any given category.
AskBEA requires no up-front log-in, so it can be used by anyone coming to the site. It can be accessed directly at http://www.bea.com/support/index.jsp, or through BEA''s Developer Center or BEA''s Product Documentation center.
BEA is running AskBEA on a WebLogic server. For enterprises that do not have the capability or the desire to put it on their own server, answerFriend offers a hosting option.
Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting, owns a 15 percent stake in answerFriend. It is planning to implement answerFriend technology in all of its major clients. The one-and-half-year-old company''s mission is to provide offerings that promote customer service, knowledge management, and customer self-service. It currently has seven patents pending on its natural language search engine.
BEA is the only software company answerFriend has as a client at this time, Gary Mekikian, answerFriend''s chief executive officer, told ServerWatch.