Context-based search: predicting procurement’s needs?

Peter Kinder
9 September 2014

Peter Kinder is chief technology officer at Wax DigitalThe ability to search for practically any piece of information on the internet has radically changed our lives in a very short space of time. Looking back it is sometimes hard to understand how the world worked when information was so much less readily available.

But whether or not you think the ability to search and find so much information is a good thing, there’s no denying that the best part of the developed (and increasingly the developing) world’s population does it. In 1998, Google’s first official year of existence, some 3.6 million searches were recorded by the company. That number had risen to more than 2.16 trillion 15 years later in 2013.

But now there’s a new type of search on the horizon called context-based search. This is about taking the human decision to look for something out of the processes and intuitive machines finding stuff that should be highly relevant to you.

Context-based search could have some key applications within the world of business buying. Consider an incoming email from a member of staff to their manager requesting replenishment of a key supply. Rather than the manager then having to manually search and requisition the goods, a context search engine could pick up on the request and pop-up the product options, current offers, and of course the ‘click to order’ button. As an integral part of a purchasing process this technology could remove significant administration. Similarly think about where location may impact the ordering of particular products. For example a field engineer filing a fault report onsite could trigger information about the specific parts required and where they are available locally.

Context-based search could also be integrated into traditional search. For example when someone searches for a product within a purchasing catalogue, this could be linked to general internet shopping, whereby comparative internet prices for the same product could be offered as comparisons. There may be retail offers that beat catalogue prices at certain times of year and these would only be flagged when this was the case.

And the possible benefits are not just related to general buying, they could help procurement professionals in business too. For example, apps which flag locally-based suppliers who could be paid a visit, or which monitor key markets of interest and flag information about the right times to buy (highlighting low commodity prices for instance).

During a roundtable discussion hosted by Wax Digital in June, the procurement panel declared context-based search will definitely have a place in the procurement toolkit of the future. But the main reservations were the potential for too much information or a lack of control in the buying process. These issues flag the valid point that such search technology must be open to personalisation, not only intuitive so that it learns more about your behaviour as it evolves, but also ensuring that the user (or company) is still in control. Integration with core procurement technologies is also important so that the value of search is fed straight back into the efficiency of the buying process.

☛ Peter Kinder is chief technology officer at Wax Digital

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