Sogn og Fjordane Energi (SFE): Demonstrating the quality and value of digital services with end-user monitoring
Sogn og Fjordane Energi (SFE) is a Norwegian regional energy company with three independent divisions at Sandane and Florø which separately handle the production, distribution, and sale of electricity to some 30,000 customers.
Digital services for technical and business needs
SFE’s information technology encompasses business applications (ERP, CRM), office packages (e-mail, etc.) and a Citrix platform (for certain applications and working from home), in addition to industry-specific software used in the office or on mobile devices by technicians in the field (customer and power grid information systems).
These digital tools play a crucial part in every aspect of SFE’s business, from corporate finances to customer services, maintenance, invoicing and more. SFE’s productivity, income, and reputation suffer when those tools do not run smoothly.
The IT department at the main office works with user-side application owners in the divisions to ensure optimal service on all business-critical applications. In all, SFE’s IT department serves a workforce of 260 people, and is also responsible for the operation of the corporate website which offers services for SFE customers.
The IT department at SFE is accountable not only for the quality of digital services it provides, but for the cost as well. As a power utility, SFE is subject to specific requirements governing costs and profits. This is why the IT staff is under pressure to provide application services that are competitive with those available in the open market. Thus their mission is twofold: to ensure smooth, fast application performance and to prove the cost-effectiveness of the application services they provide.
Checking the quality of user experience
In the past, the IT department had three vectors of information about the performance of digital tools: end-user feedback via the helpdesk, indicators from network performance measurement tools, and meetings of a board comprising IT staff plus application owners and super users.
In 2016, SFE took action to approach application performance proactively. It decided to set up monitoring from the end-user side to measure application service levels in real time. The solution SFE chose was Newtest active monitoring from ip-label.
“The benefit of a continuous testing solution is not only to foster a proactive approach to problem management. It also provides an objective way to reflect the service quality that IT is providing internally,” explains Maxime Geffroy, ip-label Managing Director for Northern Europe.
The principle of active or synthetic end-user monitoring is to interact with the applications as a user would. This is done by running scripted scenarios at programmable intervals to simulate the typical transactions that real users perform. As the scenarios run, Newtest measures the response times and availability of the applications. The resulting metrics indicate how long it takes for the application to respond, diving down to each part of each step to provide valuable, end-to-end diagnostic information.
“Newtest identified a problem in our ERP document archive and supplied in-depth metrics for each step, so we could find exactly where in the process the bottleneck was occurring.” Kåre Teigland, SFE Head of Information Technology.
To monitor how fast its applications responded to users logging on, SFE decided to purchase licenses for two robots. SFE started out with one at Sandane and one at Florø to monitor as close as possible to the users at each site.
“We set up Newtest robots at both sites to get the most relevant measurements near the users. We ran the same scenarios at both sites to check differences in performance between locations,” explains Kåre Teigland.
This way, any locationrelated issues could be seen clearly in the response time and availability indicators provided by Newtest robots.
Newtest’s alerting functionalities notify staff in real time of any degraded performance – for example, when it takes too long to connect to an application – and indicates the time, location, and criticality of the problem. The amount of time that is considered to be “too long” is defined by SFE in accordance with its own service quality requirements.
Because performance thresholds and scenarios must be configured accurately to obtain the meaningful metrics, SFE opted for Newtest training. The IT staff also learned to drill down into metrics to see root causes. This is particularly useful when dealing with web hosting companies or Citrix-delivered apps, for example, because degraded performance may be pinpointed to those parts of the application delivery chain.
IT staff uses Newtest reports in meetings with SFE application owners and power users to check specific points in question.
Monitoring may then be conducted to investigate any aspect of application performance. New service quality targets can easily be set, so that the solution remains attuned to SFE’s evolving needs.
An emphasis on value and performance
The ability to define and redefine acceptable vs unacceptable performance levels is essential to establishing meaningful SLAs (service level agreements). This mattered in SFE’s decision to implement synthetic monitoring with Newtest. Dashboards populated with realistic, up-to-date SLA metrics are essential to demonstrating that the quality/cost ratio of the digital services SFE provides are competitive with those of external providers.
SFE had established internal SLAs with its divisions concerning specific services and costs, including information technology, in response to industry accountability requirements. SFE’s aim was to track service levels over time internally to demonstrate the value of the services provided in-house compared to outsourced digital services.
With Newtest, IT staff can keep an eye on how well SFE digital services conform to the designated quality levels, and also produce KPIs to document performance with respect to cost.
SFE (Sogn og Fjordane Energi) is a regional energy group founded in 2003 with headquarters in Sandane, Norway. Operating 26 hydroelectric power stations, it produces, distributes, and converts power, delivering electricity to more than 30,000 customers over 4200 km of power lines.