Attensity and BzzAgent: What’s the Angle

September 14, 2008

Attensity made a splash in the US intelligence community after 2001. A quick review of Attensity’s news releases suggests that the company began shifting its marketing emphasis from In-Q-Tel related entities to the enterprise in 2004-2005. By 2006, the company was sharpening its focus on customer support. Now Attensity is offering a wider range of technologies to organizations wanting to deal with their customers using Attensity’s technology.

In August 2008, the company announced that it had teamed up with the oddly named BzzAgent to provide insights into consumer conversations. BzzAgent, a specialist in word of mouth media. You can learn more about WOM–that is, word of mouth marketing–at the company’s Web site here.

The Attensity technology makes it possible for BzzAgent to squeeze meaning out of email or any other text. With the outputs of the Attensity system, BzzAgent can figure out whether a product is getting marketing lift or down draft. Other functionality provides beefier metrics to buttress the BaaAgent’s technology.

The purpose of this post is to ask a broader question about content processing and text analytics? To close, I want to offer a comment about the need to find places to sell rocket science information technology.

Why Chase Customer Support?

The big question is, “Why chase customer support?” Call centers, self service Web sites, and online bulletin board systems have replaced people in many organizations. In an effort to slash the cost of support, organizations have outsourced help to countries with lower wages than the organization’s home country. In an interesting twist of fate, Indian software outsourcing firms are sending some programming and technical work back to the US. Atlanta has been a beneficiary of this reverse outsourcing, according to my source in the Peach State.

Attensity’s technology performs what the company once described as “deep extraction.” The idea is to iterate through source documents. The process outputs metadata, entities, and a wide range of data that one can slice, dice, chart, and analyze. Attensity’s technology is quite advanced, and it can be tricky to optimize to get the best performance from the system on a particular domain of content.

Customer support appears to be a niche that functions like a hamburger to a hungry fly buzzing around tailgaters at the college football game. Customer support, despite vendors’ efforts to reduce costs and keep customers happy, has embraced every conceivable technology. There are the “live chat” telepresence services. There work fine until the company realizes that customers may be in time zones when the company is not open for business. There are the smart systems like the one Yahoo deployed using InQuira’s technology. To see how this works, navigate to Yahoo help central, type this question “How do I can premium email?”, and check out the answers. There are even more sophisticated systems deployed using tools from such companies as RightNow. This firm includes work flow tools and consulting to improve customer support services and operations.

The reason is simple–customer support remains a problem, or as the marketers say, “An opportunity.” I know that I avoid customer support whenever possible. Here’s a typical example. Verizon sent me a flier that told me I could reduce my monthly wireless broadband bill from $80 to $60. It took a Web site visit and six telephone calls to find out that the lower price came with a five gigabyte bandwidth cap. Not only was I stressed by the bum customer support experience, I was annoyed at what I perceived rightly or wrongly as the duplicity of the promotion. Software vendors jump at the chance to license Verizon a better mousetrap. So far, costs may have come down for Verizon, but this mouse remains far away from the mouse trap.

The new spin on customer support rotates around one idea: find out stuff * before * the customer calls, visits the Web site, or fires up a telepresence session.

That’s where Attensity’s focus narrows its beam. Attensity’s rocket science technology can support zippy new angles on customer support; for example, BzzAgent’s early warning system.

What’s This Mean for Search and Content Processing?

For me that is the $64 question. Here’s what I think:

  1. Companies like Attensity are working hard to find niches where their text analytics tools can make a difference. By signing licensing deals with third parties like BzzAgent, Attensity gets some revenue and shifts the cost of sales to the BzzAgent’s team.
  2. Attensity’s embedding or inserting its technology into BzzAgent’s systems deemphasizes or possibly eliminates the brand “Attensity” from the customers’ radar. Licensing deals deliver revenue with a concomitant loss of identify. Either way, text analytics moves from the center stage to a supporting role.
  3. The key to success in Attensity’s marketing shift is getting to the new customers first. A stampede is building from other search and content processing vendors to follow a very similar strategy. Saturation will lower prices, which will have the effect of making the customer support sector less attractive to text processing companies than it is now. ClearForest was an early entrant, but now the herd is arriving.

The net net for me is that Attensity has been nimble. What will the arrival of other competitors in the customer support and call center space mean for this niche? My hunch is that search and content processing is quickly becoming a commodity. Companies just discovering the customer support market will have to displace established vendors such as InQuira and Attensity.

Search and content processing certainly appear to be headed rapidly toward commoditization unless the vendor can come up with a magnetic, value add.

Stephen Arnold, September 14, 2008


2 Responses to “Attensity and BzzAgent: What’s the Angle”

  1. Fluorescent Lamp : on October 31st, 2010 9:01 pm

    Duplicity is a good movie and i really love the graphics and the story –

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