Spokane Journal of Business

Next IT’s avatars set for use in human resources industry

Conversational software apps touted to cut costs

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Next IT Corp., the Spokane-based natural language software company, says its Alme conversational platform, in which virtual assistants interact with users, is now available for human resource management uses.

The company, founded in 2002 by veteran Spokane entrepreneur Fred Brown, develops software-guided avatars that companies and organizations use to interface verbally with their customers or employees. One of its better known virtual assistant avatars is Sergeant Star on the U.S. Army’s website, who answers questions from prospective recruits.

The application for human resources presents a big opportunity for the company, says Jen Snell, the company’s senior director of marketing. 

“There are so many global companies with thousands of employees across the globe, in different time zones,” Snell says. “And they typically have some of the same types of questions.” 

Snell says the avatars, or virtual assistants, can provide a user experience that mirrors the skill and expertise of a live agent across all communication channels—smart devices, social media sites, and online. 

Unlike Apple’s Siri, a voice-automated program that answers individual questions, Next IT’s software can process and understand context, she says. 

On average, during a one-year period, an employee might have six 30-minute interactions with their human resource department, which can translate into thousands of personnel hours, Snell says. She says Alme is trained to understand what employees need to know, helping them with accurate, consistent answers faster than a person could search for them.

Questions that a human resource avatar can answer typically will be those involving retirement planning, company benefits, health and wellness, and time off, she says. 

Personality and tone are key when connecting with people, she says, adding that the best avatars typically have personality traits that stand out, whether quick, funny, polite, or empathetic. “But always helpful,” she says. 

“There is a basic core persona that Alme is equipped with that can be tailored to fit the tone and needs of a business,” she adds.

Next IT announced last week that it plans to relocate from its current location in the Paulsen Building at 421 W. Riverside, in downtown Spokane, to larger quarters in Spokane Valley. It will move later this year to a building that’s being constructed in the Pinecroft Business Park at 12809 E. Mirabeau Parkway. Snell says the new building will accommodate 25 to 30 more employees. Currently Next IT has about 160 employees, and it says it has plans to add the new employees sometime this year. 

Alme for Health Care, Next IT’s flagship product, continues to be popular, Snell says. The health care product was developed using a natural language model with an avatar, which can drive interactions with users around disease management and preventive health care. Next IT wants users of its software to establish a relationship with the avatars, empowering them to control and manage their own health care. 

Next IT’s first mobile application, released in 2012, was a handheld version of its U.S. Army Sgt. Star virtual assistant. 

Next IT also has developed interactive assistants that answer questions for customers of Alaska Airlines, Aetna and Amtrak, among others.

Judith  Spitzer
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Reporter Judith Spitzer covers technology, mining, agriculture, and wood products for the Journal. A vintage-obsessed antique collector in her off hours, Judith worked as a journalist in Colorado and Oregon before joining the Journal.

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