The war on terror is yielding a surprising benefit - new software packages that are being used by automakers and suppliers to cut warranty costs.
Some of the same tech companies that provide intelligence software to government agencies are helping lower what is estimated to be a $14 billion warranty problem this year.
Text-mining software allows automakers to analyze comments written by customers, quality-control engineers, dealership service technicians and others. The software can analyze written text typically found in warranty claims, satisfaction surveys, repair orders and e-mail messages.
Among the companies providing this software are ClearForest Corp. (clearforest.com) of Boston and Attensity Corp. (attensity.com) of Palo Alto, Calif.
The companies could be big winners as automakers and suppliers invest more in this emerging field.
Automakers are using text-analysis software in a limited way, says Pat Snack. Snack is a General Motors (gm.com) executive on loan to the Automotive Industry Action Group (aiag.org). She acknowledges that GM is one of the automakers using this software.
"GM would not be interested if they didn't see a significant advantage to it," Snack says. "And they are interested."
ClearForest is vague when it describes what it does for federal intelligence agencies.
"We provide early warning for federal intelligence agencies by analyzing free text, the kind found in e-mails, phone conversation transcripts and the like," says Leslie Ament, marketing director at ClearForest.
The FBI is a ClearForest customer. It uses the company's software to analyze the FBI's repository of more than 1 billion documents. Information gleaned from analysis is shared internally at the FBI and with the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies involved in fighting terrorism.
FBI analysts have ClearForest software on their desktop computers. That gives them access to information including field reports, immigration records, Web page content, e-mail and news feeds.
So what does that mean for an automaker?
The software can help detect vehicle component and system failures faster than by just analyzing numerical problem codes commonly used in repair orders and warranty claims. And by automating the process, an automaker no longer must manually sift through warranty claims and other documents to read text.
ClearForest says its early warning software goes beyond what an Internet search engine can do. It tags and extracts information, recognizing types of information such as complaints.
"What we provide is the ability to potentially avoid product recalls, or minimize them," Ament says. "We can analyze information from e-mails, PDF files, Power Points, MSN Word text documents, content and knowledge management repositories. If it's electronic, we can source it."
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