Automation in Cyberspace Is the Answer to Your Prayers

Sunday Business (London, England), January 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

Automation in Cyberspace Is the Answer to Your Prayers


WHILE automated telephone systems infuriate users as much as they make savings for companies, the automation of websites looks set to make life easier for both business and the consumer.

Transversal, one of the latest companies to emerge from the Cambridge area, hopes to succeed by delivering the answers that people really want out of the internet.

Like Cantabrian Autonomy, Transversal's metaFAQ software is based on Bayesian mathematics, a hitherto obscure branch of maths currently bestowing the Midas touch on anyone with a working knowledge of it. Indeed, so crucial is the science that Microsoft has assembled a research team entirely made up of Bayesian experts.

MetaFAQ is the brainchild of physicist David MacKay and internet specialist Davin Yap. The system was initially developed by MacKay to answer some of the more frequently asked questions from students and is producing massive cost savings for companies simply by doing the same thing for them.

"Around 60% of the questions that a company gets asked can be automatically replied to," says Yap, pointing out that retaining people to answer those simple questions can result in significant costs.

It is an argument that has convinced the Department of Education, Railtrack and Proctor & Gamble, which have already signed up for the service Transversal offers on a rented basis via the internet.

According to recent findings from Forrester Research, the cost of responding to a query by phone averages out at about pound sterling20, but using systems such as those developed by Transversal cuts the cost of answering a query with internet technology to about 70p.

Yap uses the example of the airline industry, currently trading on wafer-thin margins. "For an airline, two simple queries cost around pound sterling4 a time and that can wipe out the profit on a ticket," he says.

This fact has not escaped British Airways or Lufthansa. Both companies recently decided to adopt interactive web technology developed by RightNow, another company using Bayesian technology to give people instant answers via the web.

"Our technology was developed because we recognised the web was a place that people were going to be taken care of," says Didier Guibel, vice president of RightNow. "But we saw that there were very few tools there to give them an on-the-spot answer. Because the web is about instant gratification people would not get an answer, log off and ring the call centre."

Bookmakers William Hill was suffering a 30% abandonment rate when clients were looking for answers to queries on its internet site, a situation which led to it implementing RightNow technology - adding to its 1,200-strong client roster. …

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