Worldspan, a technology provider for the travel industry, processes more than 50 percent of all online travel agency bookings globally. The Atlanta, Georgia company serves 20,000 travel agencies, 1,100 corporate customers, and eCommerce sites including Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline worldwide.
Worldspan needed the ability to monitor its Web performance through the eyes of its customers--no easy task. But the company was able to do so by outsourcing with good results: reduced down time, fewer trouble tickets and an enhanced customer experience.
Kim Collison, director, quality engineering, for Worldspan, realized in 2000 the company had limited first-hand knowledge of system performance from the customer's perspective. "We had used internal tools that measured from inside the Worldspan Data Center. We realized that we also needed to measure performance from the customer experience. We needed to make it a real transaction as a customer would to make a booking."
Worldspan looked at existing products and determined that Topaz Managed Services, the fully managed monitoring service for internal and Web-based business applications, from Mercury Interactive, had more functionality than other options. Worldspan was already familiar with Mercury Interactive since it had purchased Mercury's LoadRunner software prior to deciding to outsource. It was a natural fit to have Mercury Interactive also provide outsourced Web application monitoring.
Outsourcing to Mercury Interactive, based in Sunnyvale, California, offered an additional upside, according to Collison. The company could use a single scripting engine for both products so its employees would not have to learn other scripting languages.
Deploying Before the Holiday Crush
Time was of the essence because of the upcoming Christmas holiday crush that starts with Thanksgiving. "We needed a way to get up and running fast to service our customers for the holiday season, which is a very busy traveling period," says Collison. Calling the deployment "painless," she said Mercury had the system operational in less than 60 days, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Mercury Interactive did a proof of concept or trial run in August 2000 with the Worldspan corporate booking application. Worldspan signed the contract in September of the same year.
The keystone to monitoring is in building the scripts -- sets of instructions that determine what to measure and define the increments of measurement -- for establishing alert thresholds. Alert thresholds define the boundaries of acceptable performance. Customizing the scripts to meet the individual needs of the client is the focus, according to Dione Hedgpeth, vice president of APM hosted services for Mercury Interactive. "We don't script in a vacuum," she says. For example, Worldspan wanted to know what the server customers were having a problem with. So it embedded a tag into the application to identify the server and Mercury embedded that tag into its error message.
Topaz Managed Services provides 24/7 real-time monitoring that reports any outage plus points to any server performing improperly. This is of tremendous value, said Collison. "Real-time visibility increases our efficiency because we can determine problems before our customers or the data center do." Jeannie Allen, quality assurance manager for Worldspan, adds, "We can determine if there is a performance problem on a server that our internal monitors wouldn't normally pick up."
Allen says Worldspan has also benefited from additional capabilities resulting from outsourcing the monitoring to Topaz Managed Services. "We have alerts from customized scripts that look for unique conditions in detail. It can capture snapshots of what actually happened. In one case, we had a non-reproducible occurrence that we were able to track and capture in a snap shot to use as hard evidence in negotiations with a vendor on the SLA."
According to Allen, Worldspan reaps additional value in the ownership of the scripts. "Mercury did a great job and offered a turnkey solution to customize our scripts. We own the scripts. This enables us to leverage the code to LoadRunner to make it a better product for us." Mercury Interactive gives clients ownership of their scripts; their outsourcing relationship thus adds value to their other licensed Mercury applications.
Glenn O'Donnell, program director for META Group, a research firm headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, explains that "Mercury Interactive has a number of points of presence (POPs) throughout the world to launch these tests. It is attractive because you want to test the applications from the real Internet, not an internal network. Most companies do not have the luxury of establishing their own points of presence."
O'Donnell views Mercury Interactive as a progressive leader in the field. "You have to have insight into the applications and this is something that Mercury Interactive has. This is not an easy thing to do. We see these efforts going up the food chain to better relate to business processes from a business perspective. This is clearly where Mercury is headed."
Hedgpeth explains the proactive approach involved in meeting the needs of the client. "We provide ongoing guidance. We can emulate their site for the user experience. We get all of the alerts and can be proactive in helping our customers. We can then change the scripts if we notice a trend."
Mercury Interactive constantly upgrades Topaz Managed Services. There is no pain for the clients, according to Allen. "They are very good about informing us of upgrades. Worldspan has not experienced a negative impact or down time as a result of these upgrades. If there are any modifications necessary to the scripts, their staff handles it."
Enhancing Performance for Enhancing Customer Interactions
Worldspan is glad it traveled down the outsourcing path. "Topaz Managed Services protects the revenue of Worldspan and our travel agency/eCommerce customers by ensuring we have more up time. We also reduce costs because we do not need a staff member on site to do the scripting. It is vital for us to know the process from the customer's point of view. Our customers need us to be up 24/7, all year around."
Through the efforts of teaming up with an outsourcing service provider, along with other internal company initiatives, Worldspan has seen a marked improvement in Web application performance. The company saw an 82 percent reduction in the number of minutes of system disruptions in 2002 over 2000. In addition, there was a 32 percent reduction in the number of trouble tickets opened in 2002 versus 2000. Worldspan customers can now fly through the Web to book flights.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing provides proactive core competencies in performance management with a quick start up, which Worldspan required.
- Outsourcing Web performance monitoring can provide proof of third party service level agreement discrepancies.
- Outsourcing enables greater Web performance for online customers.