What is our primary use case?
There are quite a few things that we use Synthetic for:
- We use it for error checking and geo-protection checking because we are very regulated since we are in gaming. Basically, if it doesn't see X text on a page, the geo-protection is not firing properly for blocked areas. This checks all our maximized databases.
- We use it for timings in making sure the web page is optimal so we can tell if someone accidentally seeks a large image up through the CMS site.
- For the load test side, it is pretty much obvious what it does. It is load testing outside through journeys what we have through Synthetic. It checks the API back to the login services and so forth.
That's a great overview of what we use it for. We use probably around 75 checks on Synthetic across our three verticals that we do per casino.
How has it helped my organization?
Accuracy is probably around 98 percent. Sometimes, there is a false alert on one of their pops, where it is just loading slow from their architecture and that affects the timing involved. However, that is nothing major. The alerting is pretty accurate. It does show you the correct results. While it may have some false alerts, that is few and far between. If we do see a false alert, we just report it back to them and they fix it.
It helps with releases because we monitor them in staging. We can tell if something is critically wrong before it gets into production, e.g., if it was load related or function related and also what was different in the dev stage. It then alerts us straightaway inside of our production monitors once it has been released. Therefore, it has improved how we run our systems since we monitor multiple environments.
What is most valuable?
All their pops: They have locations all around the world. Having all the locations around the world is very useful, especially when you're in a license market.
Their alerting system: The way their systems alert you is top-notch.
Its flexibility is pretty high. You have all your points of pops where you can go to Ireland, Sweden, or X location. I don't think they really need to improve on their flexibility. There are so many settings, different optimizations, and scripting options that you can do.
The way you script Apica is probably the easiest way of working that you've ever seen. For a QA person, it is very easy because they have the understanding of the tools and what they have to offer. From the complexity side, it is very possible to do pretty much everything on Apica: down to logging in and up deposit, doing other processes inside your website, and loading slot machines to make sure external providers are loading correctly. Because in the world of gaming, you don't buy all your own slot machines. You have the likes of Pragmatic, Betsoft, NetEnt, where you have to make sure all their services are up as well.
What needs improvement?
The initial screen on their dashboard could have a bit more data, but this is a small thing. It could have more data, so we do not need to drill down to a screen behind that initial information. I would like them to get a little better on the user interfaces that we need to go into.
For how long have I used the solution?
With PokerStars, I was using them for two years before I left. Since working with GraySnowPoker, I have used them for almost three years (coming up in October). In total, I have used them for around five years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
We have never had a major problem, and there has never been a major outage at all. Your monitors are constantly monitoring. Stability-wise, the system is constantly up. It has few errors. It is a very stable company with a very stable technical staff as well. You get the best of both worlds
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
Scalability is huge. You can ask them technical queries, then they will adapt their scripts. There is scalability for having as many monitors as you like. Load test capabilities are there as well. As much as I've ever needed to load test our site, they have been able to assist with it. It pretty much has everything.
Three or four developers use it from the technical teams. On the reporting side of it, the management uses it. For errors, the QA team uses it. Everybody uses alerts because we all get mobile phones. There are probably about 10 to 15 people in our small organization who have touch points on Apica. It even sends alerts to my customer support people in their channels, saying, "We have a problem here. Be aware that if a customer rings up that we can say 'We're already working on it.'" There are multiple touch points around the company because of how the system reacts and how the system generates recalls and alerts. It covers a wide amount of groups who can use it. It doesn't have to just be techies.
At the minute, the solution is being 100 percent utilized. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we were meant to go up to 180 checks this year. When my new budget comes out, we will have to stay at the same level because we own land based casinos that are in the USA. Our budgets are basically being taken down a little. Because we have no revenue coming through on land based casinos, even though its coming back, it's probably only at 50 percent of the revenue now. Expansion-wise, we would love to expand and sell more checks. From a money point of view during COVID-19, it is very hard to justify increasing checks, even though that actually gives you massive discounts. From a strategic point of view, we can't justify doing that at this point in time until the situation gets a bit more stable with America. It's unfortunate, but it's not very stable there at all, as you can read on the news.
How are customer service and technical support?
They are always adapting and improving the product. If you ask something from them, they will do a custom script for you. If you get stuck on any scraping for a specific check, they will jump in. Their support team will jump in, guide you through it, help you write the script, and so forth. The flexibility of their system and staff are huge. It's really good.
Don't be worried about asking your account manager for assistance because they will always be there to assist you. From the support side, I can ring my account manager up. My account manager will basically go to a technical contact who gets on the line straightaway (within reason). With another company or ESOP servicer providers, if you ring them up, then you have to set up a ticket. That ticket has to go through second line support, which probably goes through third line support and so forth.
Apica's gurus are very good at answering questions quickly. If you need to escalate to your account manager, they will go directly through to your technical leads. Your technical leads will then jump on the Slack group or phone. From a support and ease of use perspective, it's amazing.
The vendor has supported every need that we had, which is good. There are very few vendors who are able to do because they don't all support your needs, where Apica does. They go the extra mile as well. They are not just trying to take your money, as they're there to support you. They make that very clear in their ways of doing stuff and their support. They are pretty clear that these are good guys and they want to support you with whatever it takes. Especially during this COVID-19 time, they have been extra supportive and have really looked after us as a company. Many providers aren't doing that and just want your money every month.
In their tiered system of how they produce their areas, we know which ones are Tier 1 providers, etc. It is very clear from a technical level as to the ability of the company. I don't think they're going anywhere because they have a very good team. I have had the same case manager coming up on five years along with the same technical support. Thomas has been there from day one.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
Before I was at GreySnow, I was using NCC Group (now Eggplant Monitoring). We moved away from them because we saw the ability of Apica's product. I did quite a bit of research at the time. The main differences for NCC Group at the time was they didn't have different regional pops nor did they have the coverage that Apica has.
Looking back at PokerStars, when we migrated from NCC to Apica, their support wrote all the scripts with Apica. They duplicated all the NCC scripts to Apica, which was a massive cost savings.
With my current company, we started off with Apica.
How was the initial setup?
The initial setup is very straightforward. Ease of setup is amazing because they assign someone to you. From our point of view, it was less needed because I have been using them for quite a long time, but they even offered to help the likes of me if I get stuck. At the end of the day, due to the amount of times I've used them, I pretty much know how their systems work. If I was going to give it a scale, where one was very hard and 10 was very easy, I would say it was around an eight or nine. It's that simple to set up. You have multiple different contact points to go to. If you struggle, you'll be assigned an account manager and a technical contact. Those technical contacts can be invited into your site groups. They will use Slack and other mechanisms as well. It's pretty much spot on for setup. Everything is documented to a very high level, which is very good.
What about the implementation team?
They assign you with a support agent who can help you with scripts, etc. From the point of view of time consumption, it is time consuming to set up multiple scripts, but that is not a negative. It is to make sure you get the content for right journey and user flow.
You could do deployment and maintenance with a minimum of one person if you're talking about just writing the script. If you're talking about deploying one of their internal things, I would say two people. The whole point about monitoring in Apica is cutting down the resources you need. In general, we can get alerts back sometimes quicker than the provider can get alerts back because of the way the system is functioning.
What was our ROI?
The alerting saves a vast amount of money for us in gaming. Because when your site is down, it alerts you. If it is something that you can fix, or alert another team to fix, then the gaming sites are backup the quicker that it's fixed. There have been occasions where something has broken through a release that we weren't aware of. It shows you that issue. Then, you get a developer to fix that issue and you're back online. If you didn't have alerts then you would have to wait for the customer reports. If you wait for customer reports, then you could be waiting X amount of time because customers are very good about complaining when they are losing money, but they're not so good about complaining if the site is not up. They just go somewhere else and play, then come back later and play on our site. We will lose money in that instance. It saves thousands of pounds if you look at the rewards it has against its setup costs. It saves us more than the license.
You have our QA team implementing all the scripts to track everything, but this far outweighs the rewards because it's so cost effective and saves a lot of money if there are errors on the site. The alerting is definitely there for a good reason: To prewarn us if there are any problems that we can then get fixed quickly.
We use scripts to compliment Apica or write Selenium scripts to prove points to see exactly the job Apica is doing. This has definitely saved us resources. We have one person looking after Apica with inside our team. If we were self-scripting it or doing our own monitoring system, we would need multiple different servers or a dedicated team of Synthetic people to be able to generate exactly what Apica has produced. Staffing-wise, it will save you a couple of head counts. Therefore, you are looking at probably saving about 120,000 pounds a year in head counts for what it's doing.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
The pricing and licensing are very reasonable. At the end of the day, you are using their technology/software and getting X amount of checks for a very decent value. As for discounts, they try to meet your budgets as much as they can. For example, if you need 100 checks and you have X amount of budget for it, then they will try and get down to that price. Costing-wise, it is a reasonably cost product. They will always try and come down to your price if you need them to come down to it by knocking off certain areas.
We haven't actually had to pay any additional costs for anything. We fit into their model quite nicely.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
I have used multiple monitoring solutions throughout my career. Apica is one of the best. The Apica system is leaps and bounds above pretty much everything else out on the market, especially from Eggplant. The scripting tools at Apica are a lot easier than NCC Group (Eggplant) and their reporting is incredibly sophisticated in comparison. Also, their alerting system is more complete. It basically gives you alerts and shows you what asset has failed. It shows you timing for failing assets.
In general, you can do login routines with Apica. The deposit routine of a poker table (or many of our systems), we wouldn't be able to do with other monitoring systems.
Apica is a complete package. You can monitor every single touch point that can fail inside a user's journey. With NCC, it was very hard to script the journey, point out different APIs, and different failures of suppliers. It would just alert on one individual thing, and it wouldn't really show you where the main error was. It would just show you there was an error with that journey. With Apica, it shows you exactly where the error is, even if it's a misloading asset like a Google Analytics tracking script. It will then show you that missing asset so your developers then don't have to worry because they can see that through Google. Obviously, we can't influence if Google or Google Fonts is up and down. It puts your mind at rest, showing exactly where the failure points are for many other systems.
I would recommend researching what is out there to see just how good Apica really is. Apica is top-notch and probably one of the best monitoring companies.
What other advice do I have?
There are multiple different things you can take off of the solution:
- Your code is not correct.
- Your image optimizations are not correct.
- Your geo-blocking has a fault, which means you're in breach of your license.
- How your system is working, e.g., the speed, performance, errors, and missing assets.
There is a lot of in-depth content.
They do meet our security requirements because we are not sharing any private data with them from a software-as-a-service point of view. With on-premise, we had one or two licenses that folks tell us that we could install on our platforms, monitor, prime routines, and so forth. However, from where I am now, the security is fine because you are not injecting anything. If we were injecting any usernames into it, they're test users and marked as test users within it because it's a back-end system.
Even if someone got our Apica password, it would be pointless anyway because we're not exposing player data. We have specific users set up for specific tasks that we monitor, and they're marked as test. They don't go on any revenue streams.
From a simple point of view, their security is top-notch. They offer different security platforms for different use cases. If I was a bank, then I would have it on-premise and it would meet their security profiles as well. So, I am aware of their security and appreciate the efforts they're going to, but we are just fine with software-as-a-service because we're not declaring any personal information.
I would rate them five stars out of five.