Siri, Procurement and Natural Language Search: Zycus Horizon 2015

big data

When building out broad capabilities, vendors often fail to play to their core strengths across the range of capabilities on offer. Zycus is hoping not to make the same mistake as it incorporates capabilities from the artificial intelligence and auto-classification technology that it pioneered in procurement going back well over a decade ago in the spend classification area.

Leveraging and extending these capabilities, Zycus is building natural language capability into procurement-centric search. Think of it as Siri for corporate procurement.

For example, to search for expiring contracts within the Zycus suite, rather than clicking around to navigate based on traditional search and navigation, why not write into a search bar, “Show me all contracts that are expiring.” Or what about asking for other items, such as invoices and payments, in a similar free text manner?

It seems so simple. But few vendors have moved down this path — which is why this type of free text search is uncommon today across procurement suites. There are numerous technical hurdles to enabling free text search in an enterprise environment. For one, the application must not only interpret user intent but also govern what is returned based on permissions and security layers.

As part of a roll-out process, for example, administrators might decide users should only be able to see their own contracts under such a search or, potentially, contracts also from projects they’re currently working on.

The contract search example, as well as associated configuration, language processing and permissions and security requirements, is a simple illustration of where search is headed. Imagine the ability to search in the requisitioning process and to have a highly customized search return based on role. As an example, “What is the best notebook configuration for me?”

Or what about a similar free text query from a spend reporting perspective – which could serve as the basis of launching into a customized spend cube to drill into data and savings opportunities.

Natural language search is a game changer on many levels for procurement. We believe that Zycus — and others, such as IBM with its Watson technology — will be able to differentiate itself compared with others in modular and suite evaluation processes once this technology goes mainstream.

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