Business broker LP Lammas Asia has set up a website to serve the financial and strategic needs of small to medium-sized companies, primarily in the Greater China region. For now, the site, Opphunt.com, is effectively a free advertising board, serving buyers and sellers of assets/businesses, seekers and providers of finance, franchisees and franchisers and companies in need of joint-venture partners. LP Lammas has a monopoly on advertisers' details and hence ensures itself a slice of the action if any deals are struck.

LP Lammas chairman and managing director Louis Pong says the site will become a more powerful tool once Artificial Intelligence and SoftBoard technologies have been implemented in 18 to 24 months time at a cost of around HK$20 million ($2.57 million). Artificial Intelligence will be used to register new visitors to the site, ascertaining their needs and the type of business they are in. "We're going to ask probably 20 to 30 questions, which are automated. We will probably at the end of the day have [a pool of] 100,000 questions for different industries for different reasoning for different situations," says Pong.

SoftBoard technology will be used to find counterparties for transactions. Instead of maintaining a database, says Pong, Opphunt.com will have around 100 softboards (computerized web searchers) searching the entire internet for parties that might be interested in providing, buying or selling whatever a client is after. This would eliminate the need for LP Lammas' employees to go through the tedious and time-consuming search process. "The website would fix that part for us so we only concentrate on the actual detailed analysis and negotiations to complete the deal," says Pong.

"In the next 10 years we don't think the computer or the internet will be able to replace our job, it will only help a business broker but it's not going to totally finish the deal. It will do a third to a half of the job," he adds. "Opphunt.com is not a separate entity, it is one of the tools that help us to speed up our deal process û it shortens the deal cycle."

Pong is hopeful the volume of deals handled by LP Lammas will rise sharply with China's entry into the World Trade Organization. In particular, he is targeting mid-sized companies from North America that may want local business partners in mainland China and vice versa. The firm has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing and San Francisco and a fourth office in Vancouver is in the pipeline.

In 1999, the merger and acquisition deals LP Lammas worked on involved considerations of HK$10 million to just under HK$300 million.