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May 8, 2018

Lucidworks Puts AI at the Heart of Customer Experience

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are key to delivering high-level experiences that customers now expect, according to Lucidworks CEO Will Hayes, who says it’s capable of delivering Google-like experiences as an out-of-the-box feature of his company’s Fusion search and discovery suite.

“I want customers to reach this realization that their ultimate user experiences are driven by their data experiences. That’s what makes Google Google and Netflix Netflix,” Hayes says. “Really, every one of the Global 2000 can deliver the same level of sophisticated experiences by using Lucidworks and our suite of products.”

Those would be big shoes to fill if Lucidworks was just a search company, but Lucidworks today is much more than a developer of search engine technology. While it is a commercial distributor of the Apache Lucene/Solr search engine, which forms the core of its Fusion Server offering, much of the company’s success is tied to additional capabilities it’s wrapping around that core. That includes graph analytics, Apache Spark, and SQL/NoSQL capabilities built into Fusion Server, as well as machine learning capabilities in Fusion AI to automate the delivery of personalized recommendations, next-best-actions, and make other predictions.

Fusion is coming off a very good year. Hayes says Fusion generated about 50% more subscription revenue in 2017 than the company’s product managers and bean-counters expected. Since the product suite first shipped more than three years ago, the company has attracted 300 paying customers among the Global 2000, and the CEO is bullish that the same arc of customer adoption for Fusion will continue into 2019.

“We’ve just seen incredible results,” Hayes tells Datanami. “We have overwhelming evidence and proof that this is something that not only are people interested in and striving for, but are actually getting a massive return once they’re successful with leveraging their data as it pertains to the customer experience.

Topped Off

Last week Lucidworks announced a $50 million investment round, led by Top Tier Capital Partners. Hayes says Lucidworks will use the Series E money to fund an aggressive expansion, including “doubling down” on R&D, tripling the size of the US salesforce, and new offices in Asia Pacific.

“We acquired [TwigKit] last year and have been integrating that this past year,” he says. “Now that we’re fully integrated, there’s a lot more resource investment that we want to make in expanding the profile and footprints of the product.”

Search forms a natural entry point for customer interaction, and Lucidworks aims to leverage that position as the purveyor of a search engine to drive better interactions with customers through the use of machine learning and AI.

“It comes down to how customers are using their data to curate and drive experiences,” Hayes says. “Somebody gave you an explicit intention of ‘I want something’ [with search]. Let’s make sure that they find the thing that they want [so] they can maximize the value of the visitor.”

Giving better search results is one form of a better experience, but it’s not the only one. It could be generating an email with suggested articles from the company’s knowledgebase that pertains to the products and services that a customer is interested in, Hayes says. Or it could be promotions based on personal preferences and customer behavior that are offered in real-time as they browse a website.

Custom Plates

Some customers tried to build this customer interaction machine on Hadoop but failed, Hayes says.

“We’ve see a lot of Hadoop replacements this year,” he says. “Where the Hadoop vendors tend to fall flat is when you’re trying to provide a toolkit and you’re providing it to a very sophisticated end user. So a data scientist can go to something like Cloudera and become marginally successful in certain areas and that’s great if you can find those resources.”

Lucidworks CEO Will Hayes

The goal for Lucidworks, whose search technology is OEMed by Hortonworks for its Hadoop distribution, is to provide a much targeted set of tools that companies can utilize to improve the customer experience without involving data scientists and data engineers, Hayes says.

“Our goal is to give you AI and ML that really any organization can implement today, assuming they’re trying to solve one of the many challenges that we focus on,” he says. “We’re not giving you just another toolkit for your data scientists and your imagination to go run wild. We’ve seen how well that’s worked out for a lot of vendors in our space, and we just think being much, much more applied and much more operationalized is sort of our key to success.”

Hayes says that, while Hadoop remains valuable platform for storing large amounts of data at a very affordable price, the idea of Hadoop as a centralized data operating system didn’t pan out in the way that many users expected. With Fusion, Lucidworks aims to drive better customer experiences for specific use cases in a targeted manner.

“‘We’re not a kitchen sink,” Hayes says. “We don’t try to do everything for everybody. When it comes to AI and ML, we have these very tightly developed components that are sort of operationalized to do very specific things: help me to understand…which of my shoppers are thrashing, and by identifying that thrash, we can inject what we think are going to be more productive data experiences.”

AI Warming

While some data science projects takes months or years to bear fruit, Hayes is confident in Lucidworks’ capability to make a big impact in a short timeframe. “What’s been really successful for us is just getting it deployed,” he says. “Let us show you. Give us a metric you’re trying to solve for, and let us come in and demonstrate how we can obtain that.”

Hayes says he was hesitant to call what Lucidworks’ does as “AI,” but he’s warmed to the term as a way to explain what the company does.

“Everybody is using some form of it or another,” he says. “But when it comes to customers experience today, thinking about data and thinking about how you’re going to deliver a more productive and frankly a more fruitful or profitable experience for the for the organization, there are not really any other providers that we’ve seen that have something so purpose-built as Fusion. There’s a whole lot of DIY. There’s a whole lot of dead elephants.”

Lucidworks isn’t the only vendor chasing this space. Hayes and company face significant competition in the form of Elastic and Splunk, both of which are experiencing success and growth, among others. But with $50 million more in the bank and a several-hundred-strong customer base, Lucidworks should not be overlooked as a formidable player in this growing field.

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