IBM Looks Into the Future and Sees Language Analysis Systems; What Else Does it See?

IBM announced today that it is acquiring Langauge Analysis Sytems (LAS). I interviewed LAS co-founder and CEO Jack Hermansen just a few weeks ago for the March issue of Global By Design and came away very impressed with the company.

LAS helps the government and companies such as banks and retailers analyze and manage names across a variety of languages and cultures. They’ve analyzed more than a billion names and can use this information to prevent scams, improve personalization, dedupe lists, and so on.

IBM and LAS partnered back in December and I guess IBM felt it needed to pounce — a smart move.

“The global economy is outpacing our clients’ ability to keep up with a changing world of customers, competitors and partners, and can impede their ability to capitalize on emerging opportunities…” said Ambuj Goyal, general manager, Information Management at IBM.

So what else does IBM see on the horizon that will help its clients keep pace? Will IBM see the need to acquire a language services provider like a Lionbridge or someone smaller? Or what about statistical machine translation via Language Weaver?

Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Jack Hermansen:

    Q: Why do corporations need to invest in your software in addition to their existing CRM and commerce software tools?
    A: Quite simply, corporations invest in LAS software to get the most out of the names in their databases. Whether the ultimate reason is risk management, fraud reduction, or improving customer relationships — and whether the processing is data cleansing, name matching, gender identification or cultural classification — it comes down to having the best software available to manage databases of names, one of the most valuable assets that an organization has.

    People don’t often think of names as compact databases of knowledge about a person, but that is precisely what they are. In our multicultural society, understanding the components of a person’s name can provide valuable information about the name’s origins, its cultural variations, and the meanings of the different elements within a name. To date, names have been treated as no more than character strings, when in fact they are full of information.

    Maria Luz Rodriguez v. de Luna, for example, is the widow of a Mr. Luna. Most people — and all systems — in the data world are simply unaware of this kind of potentially valuable information. Access to this vital layer of data awareness has never before been more necessary; nor has it ever been as readily available as it is today, the result of decades of research and development.

    As consumers, we are growing more and more irritated by the insensitivity with which companies (and their computer systems) treat our names. Every person, no matter how common or unfamiliar their name may seem, has experienced this mishandling of his or her name. And, until recently, we have all grudgingly put up with it. But now, people are throwing away mail that has garbled their name in address labels, and are dismissing salespeople who mispronounce their names.

    Until LAS products became available, corporations could not effectively personalize much of their correspondence because — outside of familiar Anglo names — there was no accurate way of identifying an individual’s proper surname or even the gender of an individual in order to create a respectful salutation. This is especially frustrating to marketers, who know that everyone, particularly those from cultures with unfamiliar names, are much more receptive when they hear someone address them appropriately.

    At last, there are products available to make this easier for everyone to do. Smarter searching and locating, more effective customer communications, fewer gaffes with people’s names: these improvements to fundamental business processes should be attractive to any company that deals with personal names.

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.