IPsoft seeks to grow the 'brains' of virtual assistants

The Amelia virtual help software can assess a body of knowledge and answer specific questions, IPsoft claims

Systems support company IPsoft is testing new virtual help software that it says will help answer customer technical questions much more quickly and thoroughly than today's current crop of online assistants.

The service, called Amelia, is unique in that it is patterned after the IBM Watson cognitive computing service, IPsoft claimed.

Both services are designed to answer specific questions from users by using a large knowledge base of data and by building a taxonomy of terms over time to help understand the context of a given question.

Also like Watson, and like conversational search products such as Apple Siri and Google Now, Amelia can generate follow-up questions to generate better answers.

Automated online and phone assistants have long been a staple of the IT support industry and large businesses in general.

Such software has helped answer customer questions for Ikea, Verizon and thousands of other companies, saving them the money needed to hire live assistants, and possibly even improving the consistency of the answers provided.

Founded in 1998, the New York-based IPsoft specializes in IT management automation software, which is used by many large businesses and IT services providers to help answer questions and automate routine maintenance tasks around IT support. The company's products have been incorporated into systems and services offered by Accenture, BT, Cisco and Infosys.

With the prototype of Amelia, users enter their questions in a command line -- there is no graphical user interface yet -- and the service will ask follow-up questions and provide an answer. The service can work in 20 different languages.

In addition to fielding technical questions for help desks, the service could also be configured to provide information on procurement processing, financial trading operations and field engineering, according to the company.

The service is not being offered commercially yet, though IPsoft has a number of ongoing pilot programs with a number of large organizations. The company expects to sign on its first customers for the new technology by the end of the year.

System integrators Accenture and NTT Americas are also looking at ways to incorporate the technology into their own services, according to IPsoft.

IT research firm Gartner has estimated that managed services technologies, such as those offered by IPsoft, could reduce help desk support costs by up to 60 percent by 2017.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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