LPA Application Brief #4

ApplicationSales Modelling
CompanyAdvanced Sales and Skills Training

"When you crash a program in Prolog, you don't crash the system, the program just fails"

Dermot Bradley, of Advanced Sales Skills Training, lists among his customers some of the top international corporate players, including Unisys, Rank Xerox, BT, Data General, Mercury Communications, Hoskyns, ICL, and Tandem, to name just a few. The software that Bradley has developed is unique. It helps sales teams navigate their way through the politics involved in really big sales for large capital equipment.

The first project which Bradley undertook with LPA Prolog was Machiavelli, a rule-based system that captures his expertise and knowledge of planning large sales. The system models the complex relationships between products, requirements, and people in both organisations. "Where this tool is useful," said Bradley, "is when someone has a really big sale, and they want to plot their way through the politics of it." The kind of sale that Bradley refers to is something along the lines of winning a contract to install a computer system, or selling a big pension scheme.

The crucial relationships in such a venture Bradley says, typically involve who can provide access to key decision makers, what aspects of the decision they can influence, as well as who might want to deny that access. Some relationships however may be more complex, or even personal. Where a single sale might be up to twenty or thirty percent of a sales person's target, managing these political constraints is crucial.

But handling such complicated relationships can blur the real issues, and this is where Machiavelli can help. The system not only provides a model of the organisational politics of the sale, it reasons about what should be done to manage potential conflicts and meet the perceived requirements of the target organisation.

This not only lifts the burden of physically mapping the details from the sales team, it also gives them a basis from which to plan a clear strategy in order to meet their objectives. Some time ago Bradley decided to port the system to Object Pascal in order to build in more flexibility through object oriented technology. Two years later he returned to LPA Prolog as his implementation language.

Bradley argues strongly that Prolog allows you to see more of the program on screen at any one time. The high level nature of the code means that the functionality of the process being encoded is expressed, without the usual morass of low level resource management routines. This he argues makes it easier to spot and prevent potential error. When errors do occur Bradley believes that these qualities make LPA Prolog easier to debug.

"When you crash a program in Prolog, you don't crash the system, the program just fails." He says that asserted data also remains intact in the dynamic database. "Every time you recompile in Pascal you've got to go back to your test data open the file and reload it."

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