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3.2.4  Call-Center Applet


 

call-center interfaceTopics Covered:

  • Custom intranet for call-center
  • Java applets using Java 1.2 / Java 2.0 / Java Swing Classes
  • XML
  • 4th Dimension web solutions
  • Integration with Mitel phone system

 

Business Objectives:

In the first half of 2000, a medical communications company found their meetings/projects business expanding rapidly. To increase the productivity of the division, the company took steps to implement a call-center to answer the many routine calls that were received each day.

Given the nature of the business, traditional call-center applications were insufficient because the company's corporate database contained the information necessary to answer the callers' questions. Yet, the solution required many of the advanced features found in call-center applications:

  • The application needed to be integrated with a Mitel phone system. Specifically, an appropriate page had to be displayed to the operator based on CallerID information known by the phone system.
  • The application had to be extremely simple to facilitate use by unskilled administrative workers.

In addition, the application required tight integration with the company's existing database systems, and it had to offer interfaces that were qualitatively better than those in the existing database application. The hope was that the work done on the call-center interfaces would serve as a springboard for redeveloping the existing front-end application.

 

How Objectives Were Met:

The founding partners of Slicksurface led the project. Jay Harper acted as software architect and project manager, and he also did some database and middleware programming. Dan Wong was responsible for graphic design and production. A freelancer was hired to program the Java applet.

The application architecture was fairly straightforward:

  • Mitel would write a small application that would run as an NT service on each call-center computer. This application would receive information on the call from the Mitel server, and compose a URL. The application would then instruct the user's browser to open the URL.
  • The browser would use the URL supplied by Mitel to request a page from the existing corporate intranet server, which would be enhanced to return a page appropriate for the call.
  • Those pages would contain links to various pieces of information — typically people, places, and events/meetings.
  • The detail pages for each item would use 'smart' interfaces that would adapt themselves to the particulars of each person, place, or event. These would be based on well-structured, object-oriented, Java applets.
  • The Java applets would retrieve data from the company's database via XML-formatted data files fetched from the intranet server. The intranet server handled all database connections. No JDBC was required.

Given the effort required to program Java applets, it seemed prudent to take time to properly design the interface. The interface that was designed is stunning. The elements and colors of the interface were loaded from external files and could be adjusted, allowing different departments to reuse the Java applets without any additional programming.

The middleware server, which handled database connectivity and the serving of dynamic HTML pages, was written in 4th Dimension v6.5 and ran as an ISAPI under Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) on Windows NT 4.

The database server was a 4D Server running under Windows NT. The middleware application and the database server ran on the same box — a dual-processor Compaq Proliant 1600. Communication between the 2 applications was via 4D Open for 4D.

The Demo:

At this point in time the demo is a single, static screenshot showing the interface.

call-center interfaceView Meeting Detail
Page Interface

 

Notes on the Demo:

In the future, the working Java applet used for the proof-of-concept will be available as an interactive demo for those who have Java 2 installed on their computers.