Case Study: Grass Roots

Grass Roots Leverages SmartBear AlertSite to Prove Customer Websites Satisfy SLA Requirements

About Grass Roots

Privately owned and an associate of the WPP Group, Grass Roots Group is a global customer and employee engagement specialist. Since the company’s founding in 1980, Grass Roots has helped thousands of clients achieve their business goals through communication, education, measurement, reward and event programs that inspire employees, channel partners and customers to transact more business. The company employs more than 1,000 people in 16 offices across the globe with world co-headquarters in London and Miami.

Business Need

Grass Roots Group creates custom websites for each reward, recognition, event, shopping and survey program the company deploys for its customers. The performance of the websites is critical in motivating employees, business partners and other constituent groups to participate. As an example, sales reps can register closed deals and then visit an online store to buy things as a reward for their performance.

“The programs we create help generate revenue and goodwill for our customers,” says Tim Rohde, Manager of Information Technology for Grass Roots America. “If end users do not enjoy a positive experience when visiting our customer websites, the programs won’t deliver the value we commit to. The sites are the lifeblood of our company.”

As Grass Roots grew rapidly and partnered with large customers, Tim and the website performance monitoring team realized the need for an automated tool to measure performance and to report on usability issues.  “Previously, when a customer reported a problem, we would ask for screen shots and other information to diagnose the issue,” Tim says.  “Instead of continuing with this approach, we wanted to leverage an investigative tool to proactively tell us when a site experiences an issue.”

In the early years of the company, Grass Roots typically serviced customers with up to a few thousand users. But in recent years, with additional customers coming on board that employ as many as 500,000 people, the need for a proactive website monitoring tool became paramount. “As we grew and expanded our customer base with larger customers, we started receiving many more calls,” Tim says. “There was no way to support our customers properly with our previous method.”

“If a customer reports a site is down or not working well, we don’t have to just go by their anecdotal evidence. With AlertSite by SmartBear, we can generate proof as to exactly how well the site is working and what the cause is of any issue—whether it’s within our control or due to outside factors such as the ISP provider, a Web browser, or an internal corporate network.”
Tim Rohde, Manager of Information Technology

Targeted Solution

When conducting website monitoring product research in 2008, Tim discovered the only viable solution at that time was SmartBear AlertSite. “SmartBear was the first major player in the game for advanced transactional monitoring,” Tim explains.

For the AlertSite service, SmartBear maintains over 80 monitoring stations in data centers across a global network that measures the availability and performance of website applications and transactions. If any Grass Roots customer website experiences a performance issue, AlertSite helps Grass Roots isolate the location of the problem. AlertSite response-time monitoring also shows Grass Roots the page-load times that users perceive based on their unique browser settings. This information helps Grass Roots optimize page and object load times in ways that impact user perceptions of site performance.

Grass Roots found the deployment of AlertSite to be very easy. SmartBear provided onsite training to show Grass Roots how to set up monitoring for each customer website and how to leverage the DéjàClick feature within AlertSite. As the first inside-the-browser Web performance monitoring system, DéjàClick let Grass Roots build testing scripts that follow user click streams and capture selected form inputs.

To provision the customer program websites, Grass Roots relies on several server clusters and programs AlertSite to monitor 10-15 sites at time. “This sampling gives us an overview of how well each server cluster performs,” Tim says. “We typically monitor the sites of our larger customers and apply the fix for any issues those websites experience to the site of other customers on that cluster.”

In 2013, as new alternative monitoring tools emerged, Grass Roots considered switching to a different solution as a way to lower costs. “But SmartBear worked closely with us to understand our concerns,” Tim reveals. “They came up with a way to lower their pricing by pinpointing the monitoring capabilitieswe need—while ensuring we could still measure customer SLA performance. This flexibility demonstrates SmartBear’s willingness to adjust their solutions to meet our specific needs.”

Benefits and Results

SmartBear AlertSite has now monitored Grass Roots customer websites for the past five years to help check for and improve performance as well as to prove Grass Roots meets customer service-level-agreements (SLAs). Grass Roots can easily generate weekly and monthly reports for each customer.

“We don’t alter any of the data, and we leave the SmartBear logo right on the report,” Tim says. “We want our customers to clearly see how their site performance analysis comes from SmartBear—a reputable third party that validates the accuracy of the data. Our customers find the reports easy to interpret, and we can give them high-level views with graphs that make it easy to see the results.”

With DejaClick transactional monitoring, Grass Roots can tell if page time-out issues are caused by a missing image due to network latency. “Receiving granular information such as this helps us determine the scope of the issue,” Tim says. “We know that page time-outs like this one would not apply to other customer sites. We also sometimes receive alerts from an AlertSite monitor based in Asia but can see that website access is working fine in North America. This tells us the issue is related to a particular ISP network.”

AlertSite reports also give Grass Roots the flexibility to create granular reports for internal use when the staff needs to drill down into website performance issues. AlertSite measures user experiences and tells Grass Roots if a customer site is performing as contracted.

When Grass Roots discovers a performance issue, the internal staff knows right away. As an example, Tim’s team identified an application that triggered a database store procedure while another application was accessing the same database, which slowed both applications down. Grass Roots simply tweaked the application code so the two applications would not access the database at the same time.

“This is typical of how we can address issues—thanks to AlertSite—before they impact customers and so we can avoid having customers report the problem to us,” Tim says. “We include notes on such incidents as well as maintenance updates and network connectivity issues that create minor blips on the reports so our customers are aware, but they can still see just how consistently we comply with our SLAs.

Business Challenges

  • Ensure customer websites deliver superior usability experiences.
  • Generate proof of fulfilling service-level-agreement (SLA) requirements.
  • Identify performance issues and pinpoint cause before customers report problems.
  • Provide customers with information on problem causes whether related to their website or outside factors such as Internet service providers, Web browsers and corporate networks.

SmartBear AlertSite Solution

  • Provides website monitoring with 80+ monitoring stations across the globe.
  • Measures availability and performance of website applications and transactions.
  • Documents page-load times as perceived by end users.
  • Includes inside-the-browser performance monitoring following user click streams and capturing form inputs.
  • Offers flexible feature provisioning to lower licensing costs.

Measurable Results

  • Improves ability to monitors customer websites to check for and improve performance.
  • Helps prove conformance with customer SLA requirements.
  • Creates granular reports for internal staff to drill down into site performance issues.
  • Generates proof as to exactly how well websites perform and the cause of any issues, whether due to website performance or connectivity/browser factors.

All company names and/or products referenced herein are either registered trademarks or trademarks of their respective trademark holders.