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User experience analytics tool helps Graybar improve support

Electric supply firm Graybar improved help desk operations and app performance for its SAP Suite on HANA system when it got the real story on usage from Knoa analytics software.

Part of the problem with providing effective help desk support lies in human nature, especially on the part of those asking for help rather than providing it. You see, much like eyewitness testimony in a criminal trial, the help seekers are not always that reliable in recounting the situation that has caused a problem.

Graybar Services Inc., an electrical supply firm based in St. Louis, faced challenges in trying to support its deployment of SAP Business Suite on HANA before it found a user experience analytics tool from Knoa Software. The company used Knoa's data to improve both help desk operations and its supported SAP applications by providing a more complete picture of what users are doing when problems occur.

The need for user experience analytics software like Knoa was crucial for Graybar, as it runs constantly and doesn't miss a thing, according to Ashton McDaniel, Graybar application programming manager. Before running Knoa, getting a help desk call about an issue, like a slow transaction response time, was tough.

"When I was on the service desk and I got that call, no user remembers what they were doing," McDaniel said. "And even if they remembered parts of what they were doing, they can never give you the exact substance to replicate the issue."

User experience analytics keep track of user activities

To counteract this unreliable witness conundrum, Knoa's user experience analytics uses a workflow that runs through each user's activities throughout the day. When a user contacts the help desk to report a problem, he can stop the workflow right at the point where the problem occurred to see what was really happening. This is valuable not just for resolving the issue for the user right then and there, but it also helps with identifying problems and taking preventative and corrective actions.

"The ability to go in and pull the workflow for that user and see every step that they did, what errors they got and when, really helped me take the emotion out of it," McDaniel said. "Then, when I went and talked with my business development team and told them that we have this problem, I wasn't just saying that this user reported it; I could show them the steps and what the user did to create this issue."

Hours of investigation time reduced to minutes

As an example, McDaniel said that he once received a call from the company CIO who was receiving complaints from a number of users about the response times when performing certain transactions.

Using only the job titles of the users, McDaniel was able to pull detailed activity logs and see what screens they were on when they were getting long delays, what actions they were taking and what they were doing when they took those actions. Without Knoa's user experience analytics, this would have taken hours of investigation time.

"I was able to get all that information in less than 30 minutes and hand [the CIO] detailed reports, detailed users, detailed times of day [and] transactions for him to look at," McDaniel said.

Inside information leads to application improvements

That was only part of the benefit, however. Once it was armed with the data about the slow transaction response time, Graybar was able to fine-tune and improve the transaction.

"It's one of those things where the business side was able to say 'Do we really need to be doing that? What benefit does it have?'" McDaniel said.

Knoa came bundled with Business Suite on HANA when Graybar migrated a few years ago, but merely having the tool available was not a panacea, as McDaniel said they had to understand the data before they could act on it.

"For a while, we weren't really doing anything with the data, and nobody really knew where it should land," McDaniel said. "The insight it gives you is phenomenal, but you've got to act on that information. Once you start digesting it and looking into that information, [you find] simple tweaks and simple changes.

"I manage the ABAP team, and when we get a dump in the system, I can go and see exactly what that user was doing to get that dump."

The ability to diagnose and understand user experience analytics proved very helpful after Graybar upgraded to SAP HANA. McDaniel was able to pull all of the top transactions, or t-codes, prior to HANA and compare them post-HANA to see if the response times changed. They were not only able to determine if response times improved, but by how much. And they could see which transactions were the most taxing for the system.

"It's instant feedback where, before, we would have to go to our [SAP] Basis guys, and they'd have to pull reports," McDaniel explained. "You're getting stuff hours after the fact, but I can get it on the fly, and we can trigger alerts within the system when somebody hits an error message.

"We can then contact that user right then and there and find out what they were actually doing [and] consult with them at that point in time, as opposed to days after the fact or weeks after the fact." 

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