new application has reduced the time each specialist spends following
up on calls and has enabled us to improve our customer service. Working
with Sybase Professional Services was a wonderful experience."
Linda Eckrich Management Analyst
Food Safety and Inspection Service
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and
Inspection Service needed a new, Y2K-compliant meat and poultry hotline
application making it easier for food safety education specialists to
focus on customer service and capture important data from callers. With
Sybase technology and expertise, they got greater flexibility,
functionality and performance.
With the new application, USDA can get whatever information it
needs in a matter of seconds, and the information captured by
specialists is now entered directly into SQL Anywhere, so the company
can get a real-time picture of its activity and any developing trends.
The Food Safety Hotline
Most people have had the worrisome experience of wondering how long
food in refrigerators will keep during an extended power outage. Or
they have heard of a food-borne illness and wanted to know where to get
complete and reliable details to protect themselves and their families.
To answer questions related to the safe storage, handling, preparation
and overall safety of the nation's meat, poultry and egg supply, the
FSIS created a toll-free hotline in 1985. Callers can use a
24-hour-a-day automated service or speak directly to a food safety
education specialist during business hours. Each year, FSIS specialists
field 35,000 to 40,000 calls.
The FSIS created a meat and poultry hotline software application to
keep track of information gathered in these calls and to facilitate
follow-up. The application was upgraded in 1990, but in mid-1999 was
still a 16-bit, DOS-based system that was not Y2K compliant. Knowing
that it needed to address the Y2K issue, the FSIS decided to create a
new Windows-based, client/server hotline application that would provide
greater flexibility, functionality and performance. To do this, the
agency turned to Sybase.
"As the hotline service has grown over the years, and as it has become
more important as an indicator of potential problem areas, our database
has become invaluable," says Linda Eckrich, management analyst for the
FSIS. "Our old system, though, was not very flexible. It required our
education specialists to walk through conversations in a very
prescribed order so they could gather and input the information we
"At times, this meant they had to pay more attention to the application
than to the caller. We wanted a system that would be easy to use and
maintain, and flexible enough that our specialists could focus on
callers' questions and needs and still easily capture the required
After consulting with the USDA's information systems staff, which was
working with Sybase Professional Services (SPS) on several other
projects, Eckrich decided to engage SPS to build the new application
using Sybase PowerBuilder and SQL Anywhere Studio.
Ease-of-Use and Low Maintenance Key Requirements
Over the next five months, SPS consultants worked with the hotline
staff to develop the application. It features a tab-based graphical
user interface (GUI) operating on Windows-based PCs, which are
connected to SQL Anywhere Studio running on a Windows NT server. The
tab-based interface was designed to make it easy to organize the
application's numerous screens by topic and for specialists to toggle
back and forth between areas while speaking with callers. SQL Anywhere
was chosen for its functionality, robust performance and near-zero
The new system also enables the FSIS to run a number of standard reports and to create and run ad hoc queries.
"With the new application, we can get whatever information we're
looking for in a matter of seconds—much faster than with the old
application," says Eckrich. "Also, the information captured by our
specialists is now entered directly into SQL Anywhere, so we can get a
real-time picture of our activity and any developing trends."
With the old system, information was collected on each specialist's computer and uploaded to the server at the end of each day.
"It's a classic client/server, but we designed it with an eye to the
future," says Lynn Gregory, senior consultant for SPS. "We separated
all the business logic from the presentation logic so that if the
agency ever wanted to port the application to the Web it would be
"A Wonderful Experience"
Once the new hotline application was completed, SPS spent about a day
training each specialist. Finally, just two weeks before the new
millennium, FSIS threw the switch and cut over from the old system to
the new. Because the hotline staff worked closely with SPS throughout
the application development process, they were already fairly familiar
with the new system, which made for an easy transition.
"Our new application has reduced the time each specialist spends
following up on calls and has enabled us to improve our customer
service," says Eckrich. "Working with Sybase Professional Services was
a wonderful experience. They made every effort to get to know our staff
and to involve them in the process. They also brought a range of skills
and experience to the project that were key to its success.
"We originally thought about developing the new application on our
own," she added. "But working with Sybase Professional Services, we got
a wonderful product, developed on time and had a lot of fun in the