Removing the threat of unwanted communications.
By Terrie Lloyd / Photos by Andy Rain
That's Sigmund from Tokyo, not Mr. Freud of Vienna. But you could say that the Tokyo version's purpose is similar: to analyze a threatening trend or unwanted communication with the intent of removing or understanding it.
Sigmund is, in fact, a piece of software, the latest brainchild of serial Tokyo-based entrepreneur Tim Romero. Created by Romero's team at Wizaz, his third company in Japan, the Sigmund Engine does statistical pattern matching to identify wanted and unwanted content-such as sorting mail, knocking out spam, and analyzing and reporting on customer response trends. Here at Japan Inc. we have been using Sigmund on a trial basis and have found the software accurate and easy to use.
Some of our readers may already be familiar with the career of Romero, who has spent 15 of his 39 years in Japan. He most recently headed a successful e-commerce company called Vanguard, which was acquired by publicly listed Digital Garage, and he served on their board as a director. However, Romero found that after the excitement of building a business from scratch, life at a listed company was just too political. Thus, in April 2004, he founded Wizaz to put to work several ideas he had brewing for some time, including Sigmund. We recently interviewed Romero to find out more about how Sigmund works.
What is Sigmund?
Romero: Sigmund Decision Agents are lightweight software processes that learn how to imitate simple human judgment and decision-making. Sigmund does this by discovering and correlating the digital patterns in raw data. You train Sigmund simply by showing it examples of the kinds of documents or information in question rather than by programming, and Sigmund is astoundingly accurate at answering queries like, "Is this a sales inquiry or a support request?" or "Find me all the information on the server related to this proposal," or “Show me all the email from customers who are upset at us." And since Sigmund relies on pattern-extraction rather than keyword or linguistic analysis, it is equally effective in all languages.
How long does it take for Sigmund to learn a new task and/or new environment?
Romero: We're tuned Sigmund's core algorithms to ramp up quickly. For most business uses, Sigmund will achieve 90 percent accuracy with only about five examples and accuracy will continue to increase with additional training.
We're been impressed with the demo version running next to our mail server. Just how accurate can we expect Sigmund to become?
Romero: Sigmund pretty consistently achieves accuracy above 98%, but of course, the final accuracy of any given implementation depends largely on the decisions Sigmund is required to make. The 98% level is an interesting one in that 98% is also pretty much the limit of human accuracy for making such classification decisions. In fact, once trained, Sigmund tends to outperform humans in real-world tasks.
When we first heard about the product, we immediately thought of spam catching, but you mentioned that it has a wider range of uses.
Romero: Sigmund Email Agent is a comprehensive email routing system based on Sigmund technology. You show Sigmund examples of the email your organization receives-support requests, resumes, sales inquiries for your products or whatever-and Email Agent develops a detailed understanding of the entire gamut of your email. Email Agent examines the actual content of incoming email and then routes, copies, archives, alters, responds to, or forwards that email based on your organization's rules for handling specific kinds of email.
For example, an inquiry about a specific product comes into the general info@address. Email Agent would recognize the email for what it is, send an automated reply specific to that product and then route the original email to the salesperson in charge of the product line cc the sales manager.
Another example is based on the fact that Email Agent can also develop an understanding of the kinds of email that each employee considers urgent. This is useful for prioritizing tasks and also opens up a lot of new possibilities for email. For example, when someone is sick or on vacation, the urgent email, and only the urgent email, can be copied to a co-worker for immediate action. So we can make Email Agent take an urgent email and send a summary of it to your cell phone for immediate action, then send the entire original communication to your office computer. It's interesting that we take such functionality for granted in corporate voice communications, and so it's really about time businesses start demanding the same flexibility in email communication.
Sigmund Email Agent also provides detailed, comprehensive and searchable reports on all corporate email use. These reports list every email that comes into your organization, and explain what type of email it was, to whom it was addressed, to whom it was finally delivered and why. Optionally, the full email content can be archived and retrieved.
Now, we know that Sigmund is not really a spam filter, but we imagine that most people will probably use it as such. How well does it handle spam?
Romero: Well enough that you won't worry about spam again. Most products on the market block only about 90 percent of English spam at best and much less of the Japanese spam. In real-world use Sigmund Email Agent consistently achieves accuracy above 99 percent with a false-positive rate of less than 0.1%, and we see similar performance in both English and Japanese.
Again though, the real gains come not just from eliminating spam, but from streamlining workflow - by turning email into a structured, controlled communications medium appropriate for business use.
How do the client testimonials look so far?
Romero: We're doing well. We already have a number of companies using Email Agent and a few have integrated the Sigmund Engine into other commercial products and internal processes. So far, the results have been very positive and no one has returned for a refund.
Is Sigmund bilingual - meaning does it handle both English and Japanese?
Romero: Sigmund technology is completely language independent, so it can process information effectively in any human language. The user-interface and documentation for both the Sigmund engine and Email Agent are in both English and Japanese.
What does a Sigmund installation cost?
Romero: Email Agent starts at JPY300,000 per server. However, we also have a spam-protection-only version that starts at JPY150,000 per server. Those interested in licensing the Sigmund engine for other purposes should contact us directly for pricing.
Is installation complicated?
Romero: Email Agent is double-click installable and is configured through an easy-to-use web interface. It runs on both Windows 2000/XP/2003 and Red Hat Linux. Email Agent acts as an SMTP proxy. This means it sits in front of your email server and examines and redirects email as it arrives. Since it is all server-side, there is no client software to install and most people get the whole system up and running in a matter of minutes.
You will need a network engineer to set up the servers and install the
software, but this is not overly difficult. Our sales vendors could handle this. [Ed: Contact details follow this article.]
Can it be customized? Can users modify it?
Romero: Email Agent is designed so that it can either work directly with an email server or act as just one link in an SMTP proxy chain. An organization may, for example, wish to use another SMTP proxy to check for viruses.
The Sigmund Engine itself has a fully documented Java API with numerous use examples in both English and Japanese. More than just being customizable, it is designed to be a toolbox that can be completely integrated into other applications if desired.
Sigmund sounds like the kind of product that should come out of Silicon Valley or MIT. Do you find that it has credibility, having been developed here in Japan?
Romero: Certainly there haven't been many successful software products emanating from Japan and so there is a bit of skepticism to overcome. However, the proof of Sigmund's capability is in using it. And for the purpose we made it for, we haven't found a comparable product anywhere else. Indeed, we are already being noticed internationally. Back in the USA, Wizaz has a number of interesting conversations going on which, if the deals come through, should put to rest any doubts about Sigmund's capabilities. JI
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