Business Management

Belinda Yung-Rubke (US) - Grocery Shopping and Application Performance Management

Imagine my surprise when my weekend chore of grocery shopping has a tie in with application performance management. In the U.S., customer loyalty programs are the red hot items in retail, particularly in the grocery business. Chances are most people have signed up for loyalty cards for grocery coupons and discounts for gas in their neighborhood nationwide grocery store chain.

When you swipe that card at the checkout stand, amazing things happen in the background. The digits that are your account number may travel several hundred miles or thousands of miles, through the data center firewall to the authentication server to be authenticated. That process kicks off a request to the loyalty program application server, which in turn fires off a request to the database to determine which coupons you are eligible to use. The loyalty card application then goes to the coupon application to retrieve the coupons and returns them to the checkout stand. All the bits and bytes traveling around have to be completed in less than 9 seconds or the checkout stand would timeout and checkout the customer without any discounts. I don't know about you, but I would be really annoyed if I knew I was eligible for grocery discounts and not able to get them. Feeling cheated, I would shop somewhere else!

Such was the case with a large nationwide grocery store chain with over 1400 stores across the U.S. Their customers have complained over a period of 2 years about not getting the discounts they are entitled. It didn't happen all the time, but intermittently. Throughout this time, the IT team had been tearing their hair out trying to determine where the problem is located. Is it network congestion causing the timeout? What about the time it takes to authenticate the account? The 20 milliseconds response time from the database looks reasonable for a 9-second window. Measuring the response time of each part of the "chain" did not yield any insight to the problem. Besides, it would go away by itself.

This all came to a head over the Labor Day weekend Grocery/Gas discount promotion. This is the last holiday weekend in the U.S. that signifies the close of summer - last summer barbecue & beers parties, heading home from vacation! Imagine the angry customers at the gas station who thinks they are getting a discount on a gallon of gas only to find out at the pump that they are not eligible. Using Visual Performance Manager's APM solution, the IT team was able to see that an increase in the response time at the backend database, even though it was only 20 milliseconds, caused the checkout stand to timeout. It is not measuring and viewing each part of the delivery infrastructure individually that provided the answer, but being able to see and correlate the increase in response time of the database with the timeout window of the checkout stand live!

The story has a happy ending. The increase of the response time was due to caching. As soon as the cache cleared, the problem disappeared. Easy fix for the database team.

It's time to load up my coupons for weekend shopping.

By Belinda Yung-Rubke, director of marketing, Visual Network Systems


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