The Bon-Ton Stores Improves Guest WiFi, User Experience With AppNeta
- Cooperative of seven family-owned businesses
- 260 stores in 26 states
- Annual revenue of more than $2.8 billion
The corporate network team at Bon-Ton Stores is responsible for the wireless guest networks at all 260 of the company’s stores, along with the applications that employees use every day.
After they rolled out new guest WiFi networks in all of their stores, the network team started hearing more user complaints and getting an increasing number of service tickets. Retail employees were experiencing periodic slowdowns or downtime and putting in tickets that weren’t received until days later, sometimes.
Bon-Ton’s corporate network team realized they had no visibility into the performance of those networks. On top of that, their business-critical application performance was also a mystery. Employees use mostly homegrown web apps (developed using .NET) and third-party apps for point-of-sale activity, back-office time keeping or daily sales calculations. Users sent in help desk tickets for productivity issues, like not being able to clock in or out, but the IT application team didn’t know why they were happening or whether it was the app or the network to blame.
When a help desk ticket was submitted, it usually went to the network team, who would try to triage the request and determine the root cause. It was often difficult for the network team to prove definitively that the issue wasn’t on the network. The issue, if not diagnosed, would be passed to one of the application teams. Without historic performance data, it was nearly impossible to pinpoint the moment when a problem started.
It became clear that Bon-Ton’s corporate network team needed a solution for monitoring user experience at the retail locations, as well as monitoring the performance of those business-critical web applications and networks.
How Bon-Ton Chose AppNeta
One key requirement for the Bon-Ton’s monitoring solution was that it would allow them to act quickly when a retail store experienced slowness or downtime. They needed proactive and historic monitoring and alerting.
“With AppNeta, we immediately saw that this tool was not only going to allow us to monitor the guest network,” says Paul Crist, Bon-Ton’s network services manager, “but we’re going to be able to do everything we have ever wanted to from a visibility and troubleshooting standpoint.”
Bon-Ton’s network team implemented AppNeta to proactively monitor each of the guest networks, giving them hop-by-hop visibility across the WAN and into the last mile at the retail location to the user, allowing them to uncover issues and latency while proactively alerting the team before end users are even affected. AppNeta synthetics allows the teams to monitor the experience of their top in-store business-critical applications, both homegrown and SaaS, from the end user’s perspective.
“We can now log on to a specific guest network the same way a customer in the store would and experience it from their perspective, which we haven’t been able to do with any other tool out there,” Crist says. Further, using AppNeta has allowed the network team to understand which applications were using the most bandwidth, and take steps to resolve them.
The Benefits of Using AppNeta
Bon-Ton’s IT teams have seen a lot of improvements since implementing AppNeta:
Quick root cause detection. The network team is now able to pinpoint whether latency or outages were caused by the network or application within minutes. If the issues are on the application side, AppNeta is able to help diagnose which application is experiencing problems, and inform the appropriate team.
Time saved on troubleshooting. Crist also found immediate value by cutting the amount of time and resources he spent troubleshooting, which has reduced the mean time to resolution. The network services team now has the AppNeta dashboard on a large screen in their NOC. If a network path turns red, the team knows there is a problem with the network, and can quickly fix it before it affects their end users. They also customized proactive alerts based on network and app SLAs to inform the team when performance begins to impact applications and user experience. They also email reports with information for application teams when there is a specific issue with one of their homegrown applications.
Data to back up findings. Before implementing AppNeta, Bon-Ton’s IT team often thought that user experience issues or application slowness at retail stores was due to the network, but could only guess at the cause. “Now we say ‘it’s not a network problem and here is the report that shows why’ and have full confidence,” says Crist. “Sometimes it is a network issue. And when it is we know that it is from a bad hop, or that we’re losing packets. We can see the weak link in the chain, and get it fixed.”
Using AppNeta has allowed the network IT team to save time and free up resources, as well as hugely improve employee and customer experience. They’ve become a lot more strategic and valuable to the business in the process.