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Agrilnfo: An agricultural information system based on a call centre in China

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New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage: Agrilnfo: An agricultural information system based on a call centre in China Gao Wen, Fu Zetian, Li Daoliang, You Longyong, Zhang Jian & Zhang Xiaoshuan To cite this article: Gao Wen, Fu Zetian, Li Daoliang, You Longyong, Zhang Jian & Zhang Xiaoshuan (2007) Agrilnfo: An agricultural information system based on a call centre in China, New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 50:5, , DOI: / To link to this article: Published online: 22 Feb Submit your article to this journal Article views: 109 View related articles Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by: [ ] Date: 28 February 2017, At: 02:12 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2007, Vol. 50: /07/ The Royal Society of New Zealand Agrilnfo: an agricultural information system based on a call centre in China GAO WEN 1 FU ZETIAN 1,2 LI DAOLIANG 2 YOU LONGYONG 3 ZHANG JIAN 1 ZHANG XIAOSHUAN 2,4, * 1 College of Engineering China Agricultural University PO Box 209 Beijing, , PR China 2 College of Information & Electrical Engineering China Agricultural University PO Box 209 Beijing, , PR China 3 Information Technology Laboratory of China Electric Power Research Institute 15, Xiaoying East Road, Qinghe, Beijing, , PR China 4 Jiangsu Provincial Key Laboratory of Information Processing Technology Jiangsu Province, Suzhou University Jiangsu, , PR China *Author for correspondence: Abstract This paper presents research to develop an agricultural information system based on a call centre (Agrilnfo) by Key Laboratory for Modern Precision Agriculture System Integration, China Agricultural University. Based on investigations, we analyse user needs and the difficulties involved in developing the system. User needs, architecture, main components, functions and working processes of the system are described. Last, we discuss the piloted effects of Agrilnfo and draw conclusions. Valuable insights into the use of the call centre as a tele-consultation tool in agriculture are highlighted. A07094; Online publication date 25 January 2008 Received and accepted 10 August 2007 Agrilnfo was piloted in the north of China. It shows that Agrilnfo can remove barriers by transmitting agricultural information to rural areas and provide a multilayer information service to match different farmer demands. Keywords agriculture; call centre; ICTs (information and communications technologies); information system INTRODUCTION As one of largest developing agricultural nations, the Chinese government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and donors (individuals, rich foreign governments, corporations or foundations often play a crucial role in helping NGOs strengthen their financial management and use funds effectively) have recognised the importance of the ICTs (information and communication technologies) in agriculture. They have long supported roll-out programs for these technologies, providing the funding to structure agricultural web-based information systems and to support the expansion of rural telephone services over the past two decades. For example, a project called Jinnong Gongcheng (golden agriculture engineering) was started in 1994, which is to construct an information highway (network) in rural areas (Fu 2003), funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, China. Later, Jinqiao Gongcheng (golden bridge engineering) was also started in 1997 by the Ministry of Science and Technology, China, to build an information and communications system for rural areas. Alongside the process of engineering, many agricultural web-based information systems have been built to provide information services to rural areas and farmers, many agricultural distance education (DE) systems are already up and running, and many agricultural information databases have been structured. However, access to computers and to the internet is relatively low because computers are expensive and are beyond reach for many smaller farmers. 798 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2007, Vol. 50 For example, the average price of a computer is around 4,000 RMB (Chinese yuan) (us$600), whereas the average income of many rural families is only 2,500 RMB (us$300). in addition, the cost of internet access is more expensive in rural areas than in the city. These factors combine to slow adoption and willingness to participate in using agricultural information systems. it is necessary to adopt other icts (information and communications technologies) to structure a new type of agriculture information system so that farmers will be able to collect exact and timely information when computers and internet are unavailable. Telephones (land line and mobile) are widely used in rural areas. There are nearly 500 million telephones in China, with more than 100 million in rural areas. The average prevalence rate was over 63.4% at the beginning of Fees are much cheaper than for internet access being only 50 RMB (US$6.1) per month, including a fixed cost of about 25 RMB (us$3). The telephone has thus become a new channel through which farmers can collect and communicate agricultural information. The agricultural information system should be able to be interfaced with the telephone system and with existing web-based information systems to provide a multilayer information service to match a variety of demands. The user can then obtain information via either the telephone or the internet. The call centre is the newest kind of ict and can integrate information resource databases, information systems, and a web-publishing system with a communication platform, which can effectively realise information transfer and information interaction via many communication means and tools. Call centres have been widely adopted in businesses such as telecommunications, banking and finance, insurance, transport, and customer-relation management (Brown et al. 2005; Zeltyn & Mandelbaum 2005; Richardson & howcroft 2006; Artalejo et al. 2007; Deslauriers et al. 2007; Singh & Sahu 2007). it is evident that an information system based on a call centre approach should be able to meet the present need. Agriinfo, an agricultural information system based on a call centre, has been developed by the Key Laboratory for Modern Precision Agriculture Systems integration, China Agricultural university. it is an intelligence information system which integrates the existed web-agricultural information system with call centre technology as a communication platform. users can access Agriinfo via many alternative means telephone, fax, , internet. in this paper we describe Agriinfo. Below we describe the user needs to explain the relationship between user decision-maker problems and the system architecture by discussing the users and their needs. We emphasise system architecture and then describe the application process of Agriinfo. Finally, we discuss these and draw conclusions. USER NEEDS FOR AGRHNFO To better meet potential user needs, an investigation was conducted to explore user needs for agricultural information and the function requirements for Agriinfo involving human interaction. A questionnaire was used in the investigation. The quantitative and qualitative factors identified and regarded as being most important, were included in the questionnaire (Bryant 2001). A total of 480 farmers and 30 agricultural technicians coming from 15 regions in Beijing, Tianjin, hunan, and Shangdong Provinces were asked to complete the questionnaire. Some interviews were also carried out to clarify the results collected. The main topics covered in the investigation include: The rate of the internet or telephone availability in rural areas. The most suitable means and tools of information acquisition and communication farmers feel they can afford and access easily. The order of importance placed on different categories of agricultural information, e.g., rural and agricultural economy, science and technology, agriculture inputs. expected help and support functions from a teleconsultation system. how an effective Agriinfo can be a valuable and viable tool for facilitating rapid and flexible access to information acquisition and communication. Findings from these preliminary investigations revealed that telephone or mobile phone is available to 76% of rural families, but internet access level, and especially computer access is very low although not totally inaccessible. There are usually one or two internet pubs in towns, where farmers and agricultural technicians can gain access to the internet. each village has an office where farmers can log on to the internet by telephone. The Government normally provides the computers. in addition, 87.5% of medium- and large-sized agricultural enterprises have their own computers and the internet is available to all managers and also to many workers. Gao et al. An agricultural information system 799 other agriculture inputs shop academic and enterprise agriculture promotion 1 village administration paper and magazine broadcast, TV and phone fig. 1 Priority of communication means and tools Information needs of farmers ( other M] trade information work out farm information poicy hformation agriculture inputs and supply information market information seeding and seedling information practicalplant and breeding informaton diseases and pests dignosis and treatment fig. 2 information needs of farmers. Figure 1 illustrates the order of suitable communication means that farmers feel they can afford and access easily in the future. it shows that telephone, radio and TV are the most important means for farmers who want to acquire information. in addition, the interviews showed that while most villagers do not have a computer, they do have experience of internet surfing and are very interested in computers and the internet. Furthermore, some richer farmers are willing to buy a computer. According to the questionnaires, the information needs of farmers are shown in Fig. 2. it shows that the ranking of required information is: plant diseases and insect pests prevention and cure information, practical plant and breeding information, seeding and seedling information. With the gradual 800 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2007, Vol. 50 The architecture of Agri- fig. 3 info. Call Center Platform IVR module Agent Service module CRM module Web-based Information management module Agriculture knowledge base Agricultural information fig. 4 Network structure of call centre platform. bhm wi improvement of the market economy system and the appearance of the World Trade organisation (WTo), 90% of farmers hope to discover rural and agricultural policy information and rural and agricultural economy information including market information and agriculture input and output information. The system should allow multiple users involved via synchronous or asynchronous remote operation. if an expert is available, farmers prefer to receive synchronous help from experts via telecommunications, such as video, audio or text. if not, they are happy to receive asynchronous help via communications or short message service (SMS). An effective Agriinfo should have the potential of providing a multilayer information service to match different demands; collecting all information related to agriculture and compiling this from various sources into a single system; providing a multilayer information service to match different demands; being robust and giving minimal false positive or negative responses. SYSTEM ArchItecture An intercommunicating hybrid system consists of several intelligent techniques, which are implemented as independent intelligent processing modules that exchange information and perform separate functions for problem solving (Goonatilake & Khebbal 1995). This concept is the basis of the architecture of Agriinfo. it consists of two platforms, one is the call centre platform and the other is the agricultural information platform (see Fig. 3). call centre platform The call centre platform is responsible for the interaction between the system and its users and communication between the system and input/out devices. it adopts several advanced techniques, such as computer, telecommunication, computer telephony integration (CTi), digital voice processing and isomerous system information alternation. it can provide thoughtful, timely and all-direction Gao et al. An agricultural information system 801 fig. 5 Software structure of call centre platform. WMlTPHh II trfmm Mt- Iff- N Htab services to customers via the telephone, fax, mobile phone, short message, web and (Zhang et al. 2002). There are two kinds schemes for developing the call centre platform at present. one is based on Private Branch exchange (PBX) and the other is based on a voice card. The former is expensive and suitable for larger and middle-sized call centres whose users number more than 100. The latter is cheaper and suitable for small call centres. We can develop the telephone exchange by a call processing card embedded in a PC. We adopted a scheme based on the voice card and developed the call centre platform which consists of two modules, one is the hardware and network module and the other is the software module. The hardware and network module of the call centre platform The hardware and network module of the call centre platform consists of the following components (see Fig. 4): PC PBX it is responsible for connecting the inner system with the outer one. Automatic call distribution (ACD) it is responsible for allocating user information requirements to the agent backstage according to certain algorithms such as the average allotment algorithm or the algorithm based on service technical ability (Li 2001). Interactive voice response (IVR) it is responsible for providing automatic services for customers via voice or fax when a user logs on to Agriinfo. For example, when the user dials 114 , ivr can provide an automatic voice navigation service to broadcast automatically the welcome and the agent's number. Computer and telecommunication integration (CTI) server it is the core of the call centre and responsible for managing the call centre, which connects with the PC PBX, receives event state messages, and sends commands to the PC PBX. The CTi server offers the unified mutual exchange interface connecting with the computer (Xiao et al. 2001). server it is responsible for replying automatically to s, etc. Web server it is responsible for supporting interaction between Agriinfo and users via the internet, such as information query and chat on line. Agent it consists of call centre service representatives, telephone headset, and computer terminals and is responsible for providing flexible, friendly and thoughtful information services. Database server it is responsible for depositing and managing the data. Software module of the call centre platform The software module of the call centre platform consists mainly of the following (see Fig. 5): Computer telephone system (CTs) it is an open computer telephone server system and responsible for bridging the hardware and network platforms and offering a unified control and communication interface (ChannelSoft 2003). PBX PC Switch embedded on a PC it is responsible for realising the voice input and exchange. 802 New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 2007, Vol. 50 fig. 6 Main interface of the agent service module the example of fish disease. dut -b lulrl Ad. 1 L The PC PBX is different from a traditional PBX. The PC PBX builds on the structure of a general PC or server. Auto telephone service (ATS) it is an automatic telephone application based on the CTs and includes ivr, ifr (interactive Fax Response), ADS (Auto Dialer Service). Unified service middleware system (USM) includes a series of server components, client components, which run at state and service datasheet and provides the strong support root for applications, including call road control, fax connecting, service recording, chat and synchronous browse, mail route, real-time supervision and control, and running statistic. the agricultural information platform The agricultural information platform is responsible for storing, processing and managing agricultural information. It consists of five modules (also see Fig. 3). IVR module The ivr module is responsible for providing the information service 24 h a day via automatic voice service and automatic fax services, such as: Automatic voice navigation service Automatic response Automatic transfer Data search Record and play voice Receive and send fax The user can obtain voice service provided by the ivr module by dialling a special number at any time. Guided by automatic voice navigation, it is convenient that users can retrieve common information (e.g., seed information, market information). if the user wants professional and more in-depth information, the ivr module can transfer the call to the agent service module. in addition, the ivr module has the function of voic to avoid missing user information requests when there is no call centre service representative available. it requires the user to leave information, such as name, telephone number, the question, and a suitable time for call back, then the call centre service representative will communicate the processed suggestion back to the user. Furthermore, this module can receive and send faxes automatically. Agent service module This module consists of the manual transfer process and automatic voice control and is responsible for responding to user requests. it can receive and respond to user requests regardless of how the Agriinfo system is accessed via telephone, fax, mobile phone, web, or . For example, if a user accesses the Agriinfo via telephone, a call pop up and the connection can be established. The user may then tell the call centre service representative what is required. The representative searches for the solution from the agriculture knowledge base or other information Gao et al. An agricultural information system 803 fig. 7 homepage of the webbased information management module. system according to key words of the question, and reports the result to the user, or plays the result through text-to-speech (TTS), or sends the result to the user's mobile terminal. Figure 6 illustrates the main interface of the module receiving the user's requirement via telephone. in addition, all kinds of user information requirements and profiles will be classified and stored in a data warehouse that can be deep-mined to forecast user requirements into the future. This information will be useful to help promote and improve Agriinfo. Web-based information management module The web-based information management module is responsible for interacting between Agriinfo and users via the internet. When a user accesses the module, they need only to click a button and the agent of the call centre platform receives a web call and communicates with the customer via means and tools such as VoiP, text-chat, web-collaboration, e- mail. The homepage of the web-based information management module is shown in Fig. 7. CRM module The CRM module is responsible for interfacing Agriinfo with users via analysing and mining the user's own information requirement and profiles. Many experts consider that good customer relations is essential in a successful information system (Palley 2002; Wang haoming 2002; Serra et al. 2003). This module can also provide a personalised information service to the user via online Analytical Processing (olap) and data mining, which can extract hidden predictive information from large databases and identify especially valuable customers, predict future behaviours and enable users to make proactive, knowledge-driven decisions (Rygielski et al. 2002). Agricultural knowledge base The module is responsible for integrating the agricultural knowledge and supporting expert-level information consu
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