Case Study: U.S. Energy Firm

SmartBear AlertSite Pinpoints Causes of Website Performance Issues in Real Time While Also Proactively Identifying Opportunities for Improvements

Business Need

A U.S. energy company—which provides electricity and natural gas in multiple deregulated states through a direct sales channel of independent consultants—employs an IT team that consists of more than 100 personnel including developers, project managers and business analysts. The team is responsible for the technology infrastructure, databases and the application architecture as well as the websites through which customers interact with the company. The team develops all software in house, including applications for customer service agents in the call center, and manages a website from which the independent sales consultants sell energy services to customers.

Ensuring all the websites function optimally 24x7 is one of the IT team’s key missions.

“We must know at all times if our websites run the way they’re intended so our customers, agents and consultants can always access information,” says the company’s IT Manager.  “Whether it’s a customer who needs information on their bill or a sales rep who needs information to open a new account, our sites must be available around the clock.”

If performance issues occur, the IT team needs to document any abnormalities and inefficiencies, and then report them to the internal software development team to get the issue corrected immediately. “The more information we generate, the easier and faster is it is to solve issues,” says the IT Manager. “Ideally we want to discover and remediate issues before our end users experience any problems.”

Adds the company’s Project Management Director: “We provide the sales consultant website to help consultants facilitate their businesses, so making sure the applications function correctly at all times is critical. The website enables us to help our consultants manage prospects and customers—whether it’s analyzing how our energy services can reduce customer costs or how we can help our agents enroll more customers and generate more revenue.”

One of the website monitoring challenges the IT Team faced was that its previous tool produced false alarms on a regular basis. The alarms would typically occur when the company website made a call to another website, and that website would then take too long to respond. When the time period exceeded the response threshold, an alert would occur, and that’s when IT had to spend time to investigate the issue.

“We would immediately check our websites to see if they were running normally but often found no issues,” says the IT Manager. “While we need to know if our websites are active, we also don’t want to waste time looking for problems are that aren’t really there—particularly on nights and weekends.”

“Since switching to AlertSite, we are now able to determine what causes blips right away so we no longer spend so much time trying to look for something that has nothing to do with our site. AlertSite eliminates all the false alarms we previously received—instead of red lights showing up all the time, we almost always see green.”
IT Manager at U.S. Energy Firm

Targeted Solution

To research possible performance monitoring and alerting tool solutions, the IT Manager and the Project Management Director conducted online searches and talked to their peers at other companies to see what worked well for them. SmartBear AlertSite kept coming up as the smart choice.

“Everyone we talked to strongly recommended the solution,” says the IT Manager. “We then tested that AlertSite could monitor all of our workflows and the clicks our end users normally make, and then took the results to our CIO. After hearing our presentation, he immediately signed up.”

The energy company utilizes AlertSite to generate an overall picture of how the customer, service agent and sales consultant websites perform, and then drills down into the errors to determine the causes of problems. Customizable AlertSite reports and graphs make it easy to compare time periods and user experiences.

“Since switching to AlertSite, we are now able to determine what causes blips right away so we no longer spend so much time trying to look for something that has nothing to do with our site,” says the IT Manager. “AlertSite eliminates all the false alarms we previously received—instead of red lights showing up all the time, we almost always see green.”

In addition to relying on AlertSite to identify when website performance issues occur, the company also analyzes AlertSite logs to understand exactly what end users experience. “We try to stay ahead of issues by identifying developing problems and then contact our developers to let them know what we're seeing,” says the IT Manager. “This allows us to correct small defects right away—before end users are affected.”

Benefits and Results

By providing factual and empirical data, the IT team gains to two key capabilities:

  • On the tactical side, IT receives real-time alerts when site performance problems occur due to a malfunctioning protocol, a broken trace route, a hanging screen shot, a database issue, or other causes.
  • On the strategic side, AlertSite generates weekly, monthly and yearly system logs and stats so IT can prove to senior executives that the websites perform as required by the company.

The combination of real-time alerts and log analysis has enabled the company to ensure high up-time 24x7 for all of its websites. This is critical because energy is a commodity that everybody can shop for at any time. There could be a potential customer logging onto a website at 3 a.m. to sign up for services, or an existing customer trying to pay a bill. If applications aren’t working, customers may go elsewhere for their energy service provider.

“Real-time website monitoring has become even more critical for us as we have accelerated our application release cycle from monthly updates to the point where updates now come out on-demand,” adds the Project Management Director. “We average about 10-12 deployments or updates per day, and despite all that we have to monitor along with the many changes and variables, AlertSite helps us make sure our customers as well as our service agents and sales consultants all have 24x7 access with 99.99% up-time.”

Using a tool like AlertSite is particularly helpful when end users make subjective comments such as reporting that a site was down for twenty minutes or that they couldn't execute an enrollment. The IT team can’t be sure what was truly happening at that time, but the AlertSite data is always accurate.

“The empirical data generated by AlertSite allows us to investigate situations such as when an alert occurs but no users complain, or when users from three states experience an issue but not the users from other states,” explains the Project Management Director. “We can also investigate involvement flows.”

Achieving nearly 100% uptime is necessary due to all the money the energy company has invested in hardware, software and the databases to run the websites. “AlertSite allows us to establish a solid baseline and then improve on that baseline—we're always looking at how many clicks users need to make and how we can advance to the next level,” says the Project Management Director. “We want to keep improving and looking at the stats to determine why things are happening. AlertSite plays a significant role today and will continue to do so the future— even if we expand into mobile and cloud applications.” 

“We first focused on up-time, but we’re now starting to also push for performance to make sure all of our applications and sites are snappy,” adds the IT Manager. “We don't want users to sit there on a page for thirty seconds waiting for their name to appear. We want to make sure that the experience of our customers is top-notch.”

“We also want to insure we spend our dollars wisely,” concludes the Project Management Director. “With AlertSite pinpointing areas in which our websites need improvement, we review every incident with our CIO on a weekly basis to make sure we proactively take the right steps to improve the experiences of our customers, service agents and our sales consultants.”

Business Challenges

  • Ensure websites function optimally so customers, service agents and consultants can always access information.
  • Document abnormalities and inefficiencies when performance problems occur.
  • Discover and remediate issues before end users experience problems.
  • Avoid reacting to false positive alerts on website performance.

SmartBear AlertSite

  • Produces accurate alerts on website performance issues based on preset thresholds.
  • Eliminates false alarms to keep IT from wasting time investigating issues.
  • Enables IT to analyze and understand end-user experiences.
  • Generates overall picture of how customer, service agent and sales consultant websites perform.

Measurable Results

  • Helps ensure high up-time 24x7 for all websites.
  • Provides real-time alerts when issues occur and drills down into errors to determine root causes.
  • Provides customizable reports and graphs to compare time periods and user experiences when analyzing long-term trends.
  • Enables IT to present factual information to senior management to prove how well websites perform.

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