Informatica Corporation, Redwood City, CA

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Company: Informatica Corporation, Redwood City, CA
Company Description: Informatica is the world’s top independent provider of data integration software and services. Informatica provides data integration software and services that enable organizations to gain a competitive advantage in today's global information economy by empowering them with timely, relevant and trustworthy data for their top business imperatives.
Nomination Category: Customer Service & Call Center Awards Achievement Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Best Use of Technology in Customer Service

Nomination Title: Streamlining the Recreation of Software Issues/Defects for Accelerated Problem Resolution and Increased Support Engineer Productivity

Tell the story about how technology has improved your customer service initiatives since the beginning of July 2013 (up to 650 words). Focus on specific accomplishments, and relate these accomplishments to past performance or industry norms. Be sure to mention obstacles overcome, innovations or discoveries made, and outcomes:

Problem

Industry sources estimate that 37% - 50% of a support engineer’s work is devoted to dealing with software defects. These percentages are likely conservative. Complex issues/cases, multi-vendor involvement, intense time-to-solve pressure, and rapidly evolving customer requirements all contribute to this drain on time and resources. Informatica was no exception, given the variety of product offerings and technologies involved in customer deployments.

One particularly time-intensive task facing software support organizations is the recreation of issues and defects so they can be systematically addressed.

Challenges include:

• Collecting enough information to fully understand the issue
• Up to 24 hour delays between QA and Development in geographically dispersed organizations
• Lack of access to QA test environments
• Multiple attempts at resolution
• Difficulty in recreating user load, network and database conditions

In Informatica’s case, the company’s products work across all middleware, databases and operating systems. 4000 different combinations of these need to be supported across all products and versions, making it impossible have a problem-reproduction environment running on physical hardware for all these permutations. Moreover, it took 4 -15 hours for any working reproduction environment to be physically set up.

Consequently, Informatica Global Customer Support set its sights on solving the problem of reproducing support issues, with the goals of increasing support engineer productivity and morale, and improving overall time-to-resolution of support issues and product defects.

Innovative Solution

The first step was to introduce a virtual infrastructure, named Hardware-on-Demand, and make it available to Informatica support engineers as a self-service option for efficiently reproducing customer issues. The infrastructure hosts pre-configured templates with the “most common” customer scenarios. Using these templates, support engineers deploy sandbox instances and are able to get a problem-reproduction environment up and running in minutes as opposed to several hours.

That was a giant step forward but, as Informatica’s product portfolio grew and support issues became increasingly complex, the template model was not sustainable. The next move was just as giant, and even more successful. Step two centered on a move to an automated framework where Informatica Global Customer Support created scripts and packages that its support engineers can use to accurately reproduce complex scenarios. Now it is simply a matter of selecting the right package and deploying the sandbox instance to almost instantaneously effect a customer repro.

Further, these sandbox instances are easily shared with Development and QA teams to help hasten the defect resolution process. Engineers can also share these sandbox instances with other engineers with similar issues.

Additionally, adding new products and software version to this new model is remarkably simple with the use of a few home grown tools, and is now done as a routine part of the new version release readiness process.

Technologies Used

A variety of off-the-shelf technologies were combined to create the infrastructure as it now stands, including:

• VMware for underlying virtualization
• Chef for the automation framework and to create custom recipes for faster deployment of complex customer scenarios
• Dell MCM for the web interface to select and deploy sand box environments.

Results

The solution is working better than even expected and has led to:

• A 200% increase in the adoption of the infrastructure by Informatica support engineers y-o-y
• An average 60% reduction in time to set up customer environments
• 10% faster resolution of support issues across all products
• 5% faster defect resolution and Improved collaboration across support and R&D
• Greatly increased engineer productivity, with a 90+% engineer satisfaction rating
• With a potential saving of ~450K by taking a conservative global average of $60 per hour, and close to 3500 VM’s launched and an average of 4 hours saved per case , minus the maintenance and license cost of the infrastructure

While impressive, these results are just the start. Informatica is now enhancing the solution to allow customers also use this same infrastructure to test-drive new Informatica product releases, and as a test bed to discover and provide feedback on any defects prior implementations.

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