The Spokane Valley company that created “Ask Jenn,” Alaska Airlines’ virtual travel concierge, was sold this week for $30 million.
Next IT Corp. and its affiliate, Next IT Innovation Labs, was purchased by New York-based Verint Systems Inc. in an all-cash deal. The sales agreement includes the potential for an additional $21 million in payments, if certain milestones are achieved over the next year.
Next IT was founded in 2001 by local entrepreneur Fred Brown. The company uses artificial intelligence for customer service applications.
In addition to Alaska’s “Ask Jenn,” the company is perhaps best known for the U.S. Army’s “Sgt. Star” interactive guide. Since its 2006 launch, the “straight-talking virtual assistant” has answered more than 16 million questions from recruits about military life at GoArmy.com, the Army’s Facebook page and mobile apps.
Sgt. Star answers questions on topics such as pay, ROTC benefits and living arrangements. The product uses word recognition software that identifies concepts, then produces text or recorded vocal answers.
“Sgt. Star has become the face of Army recruiting, with a viral popularity that is even spreading outside of the U.S.,” Next IT stated on its website.
Other clients include Amtrak, Charter Communications and BECU, the website said.
Verint Systems plans to keep Next IT’s 114 workers in the Spokane Valley office, along with a Brazil office serving South America, said Anne Patton, a Verint spokesman.
“Verint is investing as much in the people at Next IT as the products and solutions themselves,” Patton said in an email. “We will continue to thrive in the Spokane community.”
Brown was Next IT’s chief executive officer until June. He remained active in the company as a board member and shareholder through the sale, which closed Tuesday.
As a result of the Next IT purchase, Verint expects its 2018 revenue to increase by $10 million, according to a company news release.
The Nasdaq-traded company uses artificial intelligence for customer service, security intelligence and fraud and risk management. Verint is projecting revenues of $1.2 billion next year.
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