Student's search engine wins major business award

Nazmul Hussain
Pictured: Nazmul Hussain

7 April 2016

A new ‘intelligent search engine’ created by an Aston student to answer specific questions with relevant and in-depth responses has won a major business award. 

Nazmul Hussain, a PhD student in Aston’s Computer Science Research Group, was named a ‘Santander Creative Thinker’ and awarded £5,000 by the Santander Big Ideas competition for his invention. 

The competition was set-up by Santander to identify transformative ideas to overcome key technological issues and bring innovation to the financial industry. Participants this year were challenged to provide solutions to certain problems surrounding virtual banking, digital authentication and the future of search engines. 

Many financial organisations employ traditional search engines for use on their websites. Traditional search engines often use keyword-based searches, with little provision for the formulation of very specific enquiries. This can hamper staff dealing with customer enquiries, as they struggle to search for and find particular information amongst a large quantity of data. 

For the competition, Nazmul developed a prototype semantic search engine, capable of understanding the multiple meaning of words in a variety of contexts. The system can recognise the ambiguities of keyword-based searching, improving search accuracy and relevancy. Semantic search systems have been utilised by companies such as Google but have yet to be adopted by the financial services sector. 

The prototype mapped the language and concepts used in the mortgage domain of the Santander website before being put to use in that area. The trial run of the search engine was based on the example of a typical customer journey. It was found to accelerate the process of finding relevant and accurate information and was deemed to provide a better search experience for ordinary users. 

Nazmul said: “It was very surreal when they announced me as one of the winners. I couldn’t quite believe it. The competition was a great opportunity to prove myself and gain valuable experience. I learned to apply academic theory to real business challenges and it was a pleasure to work with Santander Innovation team.” 

In this year’s Santander Big Ideas competition, 200 students from 80 UK universities submitted creative solutions to longstanding technical issues in the finance industry. Their proposals were assessed by an expert panel of judges, including Juan Olaizola, Santander UK’s CEO. 

The competition award ceremony took place in the Santander UK offices in Central London. Fellow winners included students from the University of Lancaster, the University of Surrey and the University of Strathclyde. They were each awarded £5,000. 

Matt Hutnell, Divisional Retail Director at Santander Universities said: “It’s vital that we encourage and reward entrepreneurial students to dare to challenge and innovate. Nurturing young talent and ensuring the right support and opportunities are in place are essential to successfully fostering innovation that will ultimately add value by creating more choice and convenience for our customers.”