Every day, hundreds of NetApp technical support engineers (TSE) troubleshoot customer cases on the front lines. They are superheroes who handle 15,000 cases each month. Yet these heroes were using “swivel chair” processes to navigate among nine separate systems to find and capture case data, support bulletins, known bug information, and knowledge base articles. They had to manually retrieve and consolidate this information to provide a solution to our customers.
To capture customer support knowledge in real time and produce technical solution documentation, my solution delivery team—working with our Customer Support Delivery business partners and Service Management peers—rewrote the case management system. We built the new system by using our new DevOps framework, CloudOne Business Resilient Applications (COBRA). Leveraging our internal platform called CloudOne, we built COBRA to provide the templates, libraries, methodologies, and processes to manage cloud-based microservices-based architectures.
We found that treating every microservice as its own software was a key first step, and although each provides a separate service, they all must work together. Microservices scale better and are easier to manage and test. They allow us to optimize resources and have multiple teams work on independent services, enabling us to deploy more quickly—and pivot more easily when needed. As a result, our work velocity is three to four times faster; code deployment happens in seconds, not hours; and bug fixes can happen almost immediately.
A solid UI design was also important to the success of this project. With COBRA and continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) capabilities built on top of CloudOne, the team was able to quickly tune UIs in response to user feedback. The application was rolled out in phases with weekly releases to iterate on improvements based on user feedback.
The new case management system has nine microservices that retrieve data from SAP, NetApp® Active IQ®, troubleshooting tools, and knowledge base systems. All data is delivered through a custom-designed UI to eliminate swivel chair processes and increase the TSE team’s productivity.
Implement Knowledge-Centered Service
One of the project’s objectives was to help our Technical Support Center transform by implementing an industry-leading Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) v6 practice. KCS methodologies increase the speed of creating and publishing knowledge to customer self-service, reduce the time to proficiency for new TSEs, and decrease time to resolution for cases with known problems. Specifically, we integrated our knowledge management and search systems into the support engineer interface so that TSEs could apply KCS service delivery methodologies. This kind of integration was not previously possible.
A Smarter, Faster Support Center
Today, our TSEs can engage in real-time knowledge capture that moves at the speed of conversation with our customers. The NetApp Support Center has increased its rate of adding or updating knowledge tenfold, contributing over 1,500 adds and 5,000 changes per week. The system has many embedded data validation points that proactively look for proper conditions. It validates situations like ordering a part that doesn’t fit the customer’s installed base or processing a customer case that isn’t entitled to support. Another benefit is that it’s easier to find customer-specific instructions for on-site part deliveries and field service, helping customers with limited data center staff.
The new system has enabled automated case creation based on inbound caller data. When a call comes into the Tech Support Center, the system uses an algorithm that automatically enters information from the telephony system to aid call routing or populate the initial ticket. All this has improved the productivity of our TSE community.
We were fortunate to have an SAP expert on the team who knew how to take full advantage of the SAP feature sets and UI microservices architectures. His expertise and knowledge had a significant impact on our success and ability to make improvements.
We learned to spend extra time on the UI when building an app with very specific designs. Although our DevOps framework made it easy to change the UI, a good first pass was important to address requirements, because we were dealing with massive amounts of data that came from the former spreadsheet dashboards. This approach was especially important in building a system for technical engineers who love information-intensive screens.
It was challenging to rewrite a system for a user base that is technically savvy, highly opinionated, and enamored by details. Although we found the TSEs reticent to give accolades, they did express appreciation of the single data-entry screen, embedded knowledge articles, predefined templates and pulldown menus, and the training videos and instructions on the new system.
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