Inquira speaks in tongues with new release

San Bruno (CA) headquartered InQuira Inc. has unveiled the latest version of their InQuira product, and is making much of its multilingual capabilities.

San Bruno (CA) headquartered InQuira Inc. has unveiled the latest version of their InQuira product, and is making much of its multilingual capabilities.

I spoke with Chris Hall and Peter Tebbenhoff ahead of the announcement, to learn a little more about the company and its solutions. Hall is VP, Product Marketing, and Tebbenhoff the company's Senior Director for Product Management. Both are relatively new hires and operate from the US eastern seaboard, remote to the company's main offices in San Bruno and Los Angeles (California), Orlando (Florida) and Shanghai (China). InQuira employs approximately 125 staff at those four offices, servicing more than 80 companies and reporting some $30million in revenue from software sales.

Hall and Tebbenhoff stressed InQuira's roots in Natural Language Search, and talked about the way in which they (like Amplify, which I covered recently) focus upon analysing text in order to extract 'metadata around the searcher's intent.' This deep analysis of the way in which searchers submit queries, and the relationship between what they want and the words they use to describe it allows InQuira to surface content from across a wide range of resources. The company does not produce CRM software of its own, but partners with solutions such as Oracle's Siebel to enhance the capabilities of that product.

InQuira is used in a variety of contexts, including customer-facing web self service, within corporate call centres, and in powering internal knowledge bases, although Tebbenhoff suggested that

"web self-service is our sweet spot"

Hall echoed sentiments recently outlined by Burt Helm in a BusinessWeek article about Pittsburgh-based PNC, suggesting that

"Generation Y likes online self-service"

He went on to say that large corporations are seeing effective self-service as the next big opportunity to cut costs, following the last round of savings that led to the rise of their call centres. Effective self-service is in its infancy, though, and 50-60% of InQuira revenue still comes from call centre applications, with c.30% from self-service and the remainder from internal knowledge base and help desk sales.

In an interesting change of direction, I was told the story of a 'major UK bank' that is closing their impersonal and much-maligned call centres in an effort to save money. Instead, the bank is seeking to redirect customers back to the branches, and InQuira is being installed in the branches to provide staff with ready access to information that will enable them to support customers. The tool will also encourage branch staff to add content of their own.

Oh, the irony. So is my bank branch going to start opening longer hours, too?

Given the rise of non-English markets outside the US (and the increasing importance of Spanish in certain States), there is an increasing need to provide multilingual support, and it is this that InQuira 8.1 seeks to address.

The previous focus on understanding intention brings value here, making it easier to take the next step and begin to extract meaning from queries and documents in different languages. As the press release describes;

"According to ByteLevel Research, in 2003, very few global websites supported more than ten languages. In 2008, the average number of languages supported by all 225 sites reviewed in their Global Web Report Card is twenty, up from eighteen last year. Although most global companies have contact centers all around the world, the bulk of the knowledge content tends to be written in one primary language, and then translated to other languages, making content disparate and out-of-sync from region to region. InQuira’s cross-lingual search and retrieval enables consumers and agents to return context-relevant results regardless of either their native language or the content’s original language. For example, a query would first find intent-driven content in the same language as the search, then search automatically in English, and if specified, any or all of the supported languages. The cross-lingual features extend to authoring and translation support, which empowers companies to distribute the workload for authoring solutions by encouraging the authoring by frontline customer service agents, in their native language, at the moment of customer interaction."

Sue Feldman, IDC's VP for search and discovery technologies, is quoted as noting that;

"The ability to understand a question, and then find the answer in any language is an important requirement for any customer support site or intranet. Customers and service representatives operate today in a multilingual environment. So do global enterprises. Single language applications have hamstrung them, and waiting for translated materials to catch up with the original information is not a good option. In a flat world, cross-language capabilities are critical to working with multilingual users."