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IBM Driving Efficiency For Cars

IBM's research division unveiled new software that helps car manufacturers and fleet owners sift through a glut of data about their vehicles, sniff out trends and improve warranty coverage.

Called Quality Insight Solution, the software helps workers in the automotive industry search for structured and unstructured data stored on anything from corporate databases to personal computers.

This is a bigger task than it may seem.

Information about vehicles and fleets is gathered in various forms, as warranty claims, maintenance records, call center logs, repair requests and in online chat rooms and blogs.

The problem is that such information, 90 percent of which is text-based, is not put into a central repository and must be searched manually. This is time-consuming and sets users up for mistakes, said Larry Lieberman, research manager for IBM's automotive industry division.

"If you could somehow mine through the unstructured data and combine it with the information from structured data and do analytics against that, you could discover some new insights," Lieberman said, explaining his group's hypothesis.

Quality Insight will bring together information from a variety of sources into a common database, and then develop a sort of dictionary of terms that will help the system find specific files or recurring patterns, said Lieberman. Ultimately, this will help automakers and fleet owners, which deal with a lot of money, better predict the performance of their vehicles. For example, automakers might identify which parts are most likely to fail given the expected wear and tear on a particular vehicle model. This is one way the software can help solve some problems in the supply chain.

The new software comes at a time when warranty claims are costing the market nearly $14 billion per year in the U.S., according to Linda Ban, global automotive lead for IBM. This works out to $700 per vehicle and shaves off one to 3 percent of total automotive revenues.

"That has a ripple effect on the total automotive industry, because the OEMs are now pushing some of those warranty costs they have to pay down to the suppliers and vendors that provide them with design, development and production for components that go onto the vehicle," Ban said in an interview.

The product, which will be priced based on deployment size, is a combination of IBM's WebSphere Information Integrator OmniFind Edition and the Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA). UIMA is IBM's initiative to create applications that can process text within documents and other unstructured content sources, interpreting their facts.

The software is being sold through IBM's Business Consulting Services, and will include perks from Big Blue's DB2 Content Manager and DB2 Warehouse, along with WebSphere Portal middleware.