REVIEWER: Larry Moores, senior manager of marketing for Illuminet.
BACKGROUND: Illuminet delivers advanced intelligent network, database and billing services to the communications industry in both wireless and wireline markets. Customers include interexchange, wireless, local exchange and next-generation carriers.
PLATFORMS: Standard PC hardware running Windows 2000.
PROBLEM SOLVED: Illuminet competes with specialized telecommunications services companies similar to itself and large, full-service telecommunication companies (such as Verizon, Qwest, SBC, etc.) with excess capacity. The prices (tariffs) charged for many of these services vary widely for numerous reasons capacity, infrastructure availability, incumbency, bundling opportunities, etc. The prices for these services are available from various public information Web sites; however, it is buried deep in large documents (usually downloadable PDF or .doc files) with inconsistent and somewhat cryptic product descriptions. The task of keeping abreast of competitive pricing by downloading and eyeballing these documents was too enormous with existing staff. Illuminet was considering the addition of a full-time pricing analyst just to do this job. In March of 2001, Illuminet discovered WebQL Enterprise Edition from Caesius at a trade show and considered its powerful Web harvesting and document parsing capabilities as a potential alternative to a new hire.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Using WebQL, Caesius developed a custom solution for Illuminet that automatically discovers these documents. WebQL automatically downloads them into a large flat file (approximately 1GB) of unstructured text. Using powerful pattern-matching technology, WebQL crawls this file of unstructured information looking for the description of services competitive to those offered by Illuminet. Once found, the descriptions, prices and other information are extracted and automatically reformatted into an Excel spreadsheet. This is just one of many formatting options provided by WebQL. Eventually Illuminet may reformat this information into a database for pricing trend analysis or to a competitive information portal directly accessible by its salespeople.
STRENGTHS: WebQL supports a wide variety of parseable file formats and output options. It is also capable of discovering and pinpointing information located in deep crevices of Web sites not reachable by search engines. It does this by automatically discovering and following links, filling out forms, performing downloads and other advanced Web harvesting functions. Once extracted, WebQL's powerful automated programming interfaces facilitate automatic reformatting to a presentation of choice.
WEAKNESSES: The power of WebQL is very impressive; however, the queries must be written by a technical professional or, as in the case of Illuminet, contracted to Caesius. It is not an "ad hoc" query tool you can put into the hands of nontechnical users. The finished WebQL queries are flexible enough so the query parameters can be variable and input via a GUI interface for use by nontechnical users or, alternatively, directly input from another file source. Caesius is planning to simplify the query development process in upcoming releases.
SELECTION CRITERIA: Illuminet wanted a solution that would completely automate the manual process of retrieving competitive prices from the lengthy and cryptic documents filed by the service providers to public agencies. Such a solution would save Illuminet the expense of hiring a full-time pricing analyst. Many of the products considered by Illuminet automated part of the process, but things such as downloading the documents from Web sites and performing file conversions were still manual. WebQL automated the entire process.
DELIVERABLES: Currently, WebQL finds and extracts the service description, service provider, price, source document and applicable geography and reformats it into an Excel spreadsheet for use by marketing and pricing analysts. Not only does WebQL enable Illuminet to gather timely competitive pricing information for reactive purposes, but Illuminet can now proactively target geographical areas where its pricing structure gives it huge competitive advantage.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Caesius strived to understand the business application of the solution and make suggestions beyond what Illuminet specified. Caesius personnel have been very communicative, responsive and flexible.
DOCUMENTATION: Because Caesius developed a turnkey WebQL solution for Illuminet, there has been limited exposure to the documentation. Nonetheless, it appears thorough and easy to understand.
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