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To Weed Out Irrelevant Government Bids, Tech Company Turns to AI

The company, Periscope Holdings, also thinks it can use the technology to help government procurement officials find cooperative purchasing opportunities.

Periscope Holdings, which makes technology for the government bidding process, is turning to artificial intelligence to help match up vendors with public buyers.

For now, that means the company has rolled out personalized machine learning algorithms in a retooled version of its BidSync platform. But in the future, according to CEO Brian Utley, the company will be looking to apply its new capabilities in artificial intelligence to other areas of work — for example, helping government procurement officials find opportunities to buy something through cooperative purchasing.

Or to compare prices and arrive at a better understanding of how much a procurement will cost.

“So if one person’s buying off U.S. Communities, another is on ValuePoint, how can I do that and get all of that into one catalog so I can really compare [across] one market?” Utley said.

But that would happen in Periscope’s BuySpeed platform. BidSync, which is geared toward vendors, is getting its AI dose first.

The software now asks users to answer a series of questions about whether keyword search results are relevant to what they were looking for.

“While you’re doing that, the algorithms are learning about you as a vendor,” Utley said.

The companies using the tool are effectively self-training a machine learning algorithm to cater specifically to them. Utley said the company isn’t generalizing those results between similar vendors, because businesses are all so different from each other.

And BidSync casts a wide net for government bids. Using Web-scraping tools, the company picks up procurements from virtually all areas of government work.

The search results now show up ordered by how relevant the algorithm thinks they are to the specific vendor. Less relevant results will also show up, but users have to click through to them.

Utley thinks the time savings from cutting out irrelevant bids could be significant.

“You either hire somebody for 40 grand or you have a bunch of salespeople that have to sift through it,” he said. “You’re running a small business and you’re having to sift through all this crap.”

And if companies can in fact save money on finding bid opportunities, he reasoned that that could translate into savings for government buyers.

“If I’m bidding on something as Periscope, if the process is efficient and it doesn’t cost me 100 grand to do it, I’m going to pass that along and lower my prices because I want to win the bid,” Utley said.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.