Controlling Supplier Selection in an Automated Purchasing System

Pedro Szekely, Bob Neches, David P. Benjamin, Jinbo Chen, and Craig Milo Rogers

We present a system called DEALMAKER that allows users to specify policies that control selection among preferred suppliers in an automated purchasing system. The system gives users control over the automation by providing an expressive language and a convenient, easy-to-use user interface to specify the policies. The interesting and challenging aspect of the problem arises from the context in which the system operates. The end users are contract managers and buyers who are not trained in computers or programming. They enter their new supply contracts and define policy rules to control selection of the best contracts for buying requested parts. They act as their own knowledge engineers, even though the system is expected to have hundreds of rules for hundreds of contracts. The users interact with the system infrequently, perhaps only a few times a month when they begin or modify contracts, or change policies. Along with a moderate turnover rate of users, this makes it crucial that they can easily maintain correct rules with minimal training. In this paper, we describe a rule system and an interactive rule authoring tool designed to address the problems raised by this context. We believe these issues arise in most application domains where rule systems are put in the hands of the end users.

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