Ask Jeeves buys tools to search databases

Search engine developer Ask Jeeves Inc. said Monday that it has acquired the technology assets of Octopus Inc. and will use the new products to extend the search capabilities of its enterprise software to let users find information stored in a back-end database.

Jeeves Solutions, the enterprise software division of the Emeryville, California-based company, will upgrade its recently released JeevesOne software during the next two quarters to include the new search functions.

With its acquisition of technology from Palo Alto, California -based Octopus, Ask Jeeves will allow users performing so-called natural-language searches on Web sites powered by Ask Jeeves' corporate software to draw information from a back-end database. Such information might include the status of an order from an electronic commerce Web site or an account balance on a banking Web site.

"It gives a user the ability to connect to core business systems beyond the Web," Speer said.

Currently, the Ask Jeeves search technology can only find data that is stored on a Web server or a file server, said James Speer, product manager with Jeeves Solutions.

One key piece of the Octopus technology is that it can tie into authentication services, so when a user searches for personal data, such as an account balance, it processes login and password information.

The enhanced version of JeevesOne will include built-in connectivity to ERP (enterprise resource management) and CRM (customer relationship management) software from SAP AG and Siebel Systems Inc., as well as tracking data from FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc.

The software will also come with a developer toolkit for building custom connectors to other database applications, external Web services and legacy systems so end users can draw information from a variety of sources, Speer said.

After beginning as the host of a Web-based search engine that allows users to perform a search by asking a question, Ask Jeeves has since made its technology available to corporate customers as an ASP (application service provider). Ask Jeeves has about 40 customers using a version of its enterprise software, which is delivered as a service and hosted on Ask Jeeves' servers. They include Nike Inc., Ford Motor Corp. and RadioShack Corp.

In September, the company released a shrink-wrapped version of the enterprise software, called JeevesOne, that a customer can install behind a firewall. The company won't announce any customers for the new version of the software until February, Speer said.

The new database search feature could add a much-needed tool for Web users going through a Web site to find information stored on a back-end database, said Tom Topolinski, vice president of software research at Gartner Inc. One of the biggest challenges for Web sites used by consumers is getting users to perform a "self-service" search for information online rather than with a customer representative on the phone.

"If Ask Jeeves is successful in integrating Octopus' technology with their applications, the potential for self-help capabilities will increase for many of the CRM and enterprise application software products on the market today," Topolinski said in an e-mail interview.

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