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United States Department of Agriculture

United States Department of Agriculture

"Our 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.

Business Advantage

  • 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.

Key Benefits

  • Improved customer service
  • Provides ease of use
  • Enables low maintenance 

Sybase Technology

Industry

  • Public Sector
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 need.

"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 information."

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 maintenance requirements.

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 fairly simple."

"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 process."
 
 
 

 
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