What do NASA and e-business solutions company Software 911 have in common? They share a similar rule-based system that diagnoses problems during NASA missions, as well as serves as the foundation for Software 911's online interactive inquiry system, WEXpert. WEXpert was designed with the same complex language used to run expert systems on space shuttle missions by replicating human dialogue.
Michael Compton, senior technologist at Software 911 and formerly an employee at the artificial intelligence branch of the NASA Ames Research Center, used the C-Language Integrated Production System in the early 1990s for NASA. He then licensed it, reconfigured it by adopting it to the Web, and sold it to Software 911 in 1996. Now the e-business company offers Web-based communication and knowledge management to 18 clients through the system.
"The benefits are clearly available," says Software 911 CEO John McAughtry. "It's much more cost-effective. Clients can handle more calls offline, as opposed to having customer support representatives." The cost savings result from the elimination of human interaction, which is replaced with automation that mimics human consultation sessions.
Using CLIPS as a starting point to create the Software 911 technology, Compton redeveloped the rule-based system for the Internet by creating a new programming language for CLIPS that eliminated the need for cryptic code originally required by NASA. E-service portals allow Software 911 enterprises to alleviate heavy loads of incoming e-mail and telephone calls because the portals organize knowledge-based information into FAQs in document, audio and video formats. Software 911 also tracks and routes e-mail inquiries, enabling management to document how visitors use the company's knowledge base.
Using FAQ technology, the system customizes advice to the user's situation by first asking questions about the dimension of the interest. It then creates dialogue with customer service. Shailesh Patel, director of testing and support at Innomedia, a Voice-over Internet Protocol company that uses WEXpert, says his support agents can produce FAQs and access information because the system distributes e-mail to varying representatives.
Innomedia recently completed a large round of financing and a deluge of inquiries poured in. Patel says without WEXpert his company would have been forced to hire two additional people to sort the inquiries, costing Innomedia personnel funds.
"It's saving us time and money," Patel says. "You have control over inquiries, you know each one has been answered and you can see how much activity is going on."