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Network Telephony.GIF (10600 bytes)
November 1999


Extra, Extra: HEALTH CARE COMPANY WEBIFIES CALL CENTER!

BY ROGER WILLCOCKS

One of the largest health care companies in the mid-Atlantic region was seeking a quick and simple solution to a problem that had plagued the company for years — how to more effectively utilize the desktop PCs of more than 150 customer service representatives (CSRs). The company wanted to enhance workflow by developing a system that would be easier for CSRs to use, thereby increasing their productivity and accuracy.

With the call center fast becoming the central communication and knowledge hub, many businesses are striving to build systems that provide quick, easy access to information. The Web is becoming a key component of this process, allowing organizations to access data stored away in legacy databases.

The health care company in question turned to Intelligent Environments' ScreenSurfer, an integration tool that quickly and easily "Webified" their applications. ScreenSurfer provides developers with a gateway that uses HTML and JavaScript to deliver CICS 3270-based applications and information to clients via any standard Web browser.

With ScreenSurfer, the health care company can bring legacy data from its 3270 screens to a Web browser through dynamic HTML code, based on templates within the product. The back-end data is accessed via CICS screens, and the resulting host 3270 screen data is presented on the browser in any format the designer prefers.

According to the company's Internet consultant, the most important characteristic of ScreenSurfer is that it is user-configurable at both the server and the client level. In addition, all of the software resides in a central location on the server. There is no need to maintain the software on the clients, or worry about the sorts of problems that might arise at individual workstations, that is, problems related to the incompatible software.

Now, employees use a Web browser and pop-up menus to access any of the 300 customized screens that were created through this project, as well as any of the other 700 plus transactions that were not customized. CSRs can now view and select input choices in English text instead of the countless codes they had to memorize previously. Most of the screens are automated, so that navigation is done via simple point-and-click, and much of the data input is eliminated altogether.

Since ScreenSurfer has been operational for less than a year, the company has not yet calculated its return on investment in terms of training and employee retention. But the CSRs report that ScreenSurfer makes it easier to maneuver and navigate through the system. Since the amount of information they have to key in has decreased dramatically, accuracy rates have improved. In addition, since they can more easily navigate through the screens, CSRs can service customers more quickly.

It is not only the CSRs who are reporting gains: the benefits are notable from a development standpoint as well. ScreenSurfer makes it easier for developers to create new applications or to change existing ones. Application changes can frequently be made by simply changing or adding a one-line function call. Such ease is possible because much of the application was designed around reusable JavaScript functions. Another benefit is provided by the Web-based administrative tools, which help developers and help desk personnel to service user problems.

Although the project currently runs purely in-house, there is a high probability that as the health care company rolls out e-business applications to the Internet, they will reuse much of the infrastructure code for new applications that tie directly to the live back-end systems. As for future challenges, the company sees the need for a message-oriented middleware approach to bridge the gap between the 24 x 7 nature of the Web and the operational business hours of the back-end online systems. To that end, the company has begun preliminary architectural discussions with Intelligent Environments to see how best to utilize the existing product in that scenario.

Roger Willcocks is chief executive officer of Intelligent Environments. Intelligent Environments specializes in the deployment and management of high performance, scaleable, and server-centric business applications which integrate legacy systems — especially mainframes and mid-range computers — both with the Web and with new distributed object services. For more information, please visit their Web site at www.ieinc.com.







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