What is our primary use case?
We have a very small IT shop. I have two helpdesk people, three programmers, and an assistant director. We were running all of our jobs manually. I had a nighttime person and a daytime person in the operations area, and we started getting into more integrations and it was taking a lot of time away from staff to upload data to other vendors.
We also use it for resource monitoring when we are waiting for files to come in from other departments. As soon as they come in, we pick them up and process them and that's been a lifesaver, as well, for both the user department and for our department.
We also use it to monitor emails.
We have the dependency with the Unisys MCP product and two Windows boxes that we have the agent on. So it's for multi-platform dependencies. We're trying to use it to the hilt and get as much bang for the buck from it as we can.
How has it helped my organization?
We now run a dark data center. All of our processing is done at night without anybody there. The majority of our jobs are automated. We couldn't do without it.
We had a sister institution that is on the same platform, the Unisys platform for MCP. I tried to get them to understand the benefits of it because it was just so hard not to have it. If we were to do away with it, it would be crippling.
It has enabled us to do other things. By not having to run jobs and submit data to other vendors, it leaves us with all of that free time so we can work on other projects. For instance, a person who was an operator can now start helping us with developing forms online, with workflows, or with some other integrations. It has changed the nuances of people's jobs. And it really has benefited the college because we don't have to have a nighttime person. We can reallocate those resources in another area.
It has saved IT staff time. It's also monitoring if a job fails and we get notifications immediately so that we can react, rather than having somebody sitting here watching the machine run and worry, "Did I miss something? Did that job fail?" It's actually monitoring all of those jobs, and letting us know if they succeeded or failed. And if you think about the nighttime staff that we don't have anymore, and the other monitoring that we would be doing during the day, it's probably saving us a good eight hours a day.
The automation of manual tasks using the solution reduces human error. Nobody has to think about, "Oh, did I do this check?" It's all within the workflows that we created. If there's an error, it could cost two hours of time in the morning to research and correct the problem. There still are errors, but they're more along the lines of, "I forgot to put it in the correct date," or something like that in the parameters. In making sure that everything runs step by step by step, it probably saves a good two hours, as far as error checking goes.
The Self Service feature is used by the payroll department. When they're ready for a payroll, they have a product called SMA Selector, a little dashboard we created to run payroll proof, and run the final. They can run it themselves when they're ready. That has helped a lot because they don't have to call us up and say, "Okay, we're ready for payroll."
We also have a document management system and the reports go right into it through OpCon, after they finish, because of the automation of moving files back and forth. It's really saved on the payroll process as well. In terms of the Self Service feature reducing the complexity of the technical aspects of the workload automation, we still had to set it up, although that was very simple. And it has eliminated that hand-holding with the payroll department. They have everything at their fingertips. They can create the payroll and then they can run the payroll. Having everything there, they're in total control. They're self-sufficient.
OpCon has increased my department's overall productivity because of all of the things that we're doing through automation, and with all of the integrations with our LMS, our learning management system. We would not have been able to do what we are doing today if it wasn't for OpCon because things were so manual. Users outside my department don't know that prior to having OpCon, back in 2002, I had to have an operator run a job and then submit a file or files to a company every two hours. And each time it would take 15 minutes of their time. The users just knew that we had a schedule of things we we're doing. Now, since 2004 or 2005 with OpCon, that schedule has been automated and they don't know the efficiencies that we had in the IT department. The productivity increase was a good 50 percent.
What is most valuable?
The whole product is valuable to us because of the integrations that it has with the MCP and the Windows environments. You have to have the agent on each one of them that you want to monitor. The integrations that we have created are along the lines of extracting files and sending them through SFTP to another vendor. Those are the things that were taking a lot of time away from my staff.
Also, being able to push files through in different ways to different vendors, including FTP, is helpful.
One of the other features that we have is a smart starter so that users can start their own jobs from a little GUI pad that we developed for them.
But really, the whole product is valuable. If it lost any of the functionality we're using it for, it would be sad. Everything is beneficial to us. Everything that we need is here. There's already functionality for the things that we've wanted to do.
For how long have I used the solution?
We have been using OpCon since about 2004. We're a long-time customer.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
Stability is an area for improvement. We just went to the new release. You have an agent that runs on the MCP, and you have an agent that runs on each Windows environment. You have SAM which is the manager of all of them, and it has to communicate with all of them.
There are FTP agents that run on the MCP and they are there so that we can transfer a file from the MCP to the Windows environment or vice versa. Sometimes, and nobody has been able to figure out why, it just goes down, and all of my jobs that need it are hanging or failing. It happens about once a week. They have not been able to resolve whatever the problem is. If we see that the job failed, we have to restart it. If it happens in the middle of the night, we're not going to know about it until the next morning. It would be very helpful if they could figure out what in the world is happening with that FTP client that's on the MCP.
Also, every now and again, the schedule builder, which builds out your schedule for the next day or however many days you're building it out for, fails. It has something to do with our virus protection. Because their customer service is so good, we're working with them and trying to figure out what the actual problem is, to get a resolution to that. They know about it and have been trying to figure it out, but it's been years and it's just one of those difficult things to troubleshoot.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
We have not scaled it. We haven't needed to add anything to the system. But you can add multiple agents. You have one main server that's monitoring all these other servers. The scalability is there but, of course, it's going to cost you to get additional licenses and to have other servers being monitored.
How are customer service and technical support?
Their customer service is really good. If we have any issues we can email them or we can call for support and they're there. They're our partner. They want us to be successful. Their turnaround time and knowledge are very good.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
I was at a Unite Conference and SMA was there. I went over to their booth and started talking to them and learned that it was cross-platform, which I really liked. We gave it a trial for free for three months. They came out, they installed it, and they trained us. And we found that, wow, this is really great.
I report to the VP of finance. I don't even remember what the cost was back then, but I had to sell him on it. I was going to have to sell him on anything that was going to cost over $10,000. I told him about it and I told him what we were going to be doing with it and he said, "Yeah, let's do it. Let's see what it's like." After the initial three months I said to him, "We have to have this product because of all of the benefits that it has." I shared all of the benefits with him and that's when we purchased it. We were then able to move forward with automating all of our jobs on a daily and monthly schedule, or whatever schedule was needed.
How was the initial setup?
The initial setup was a learning curve. We had that three month trial and SMA sent somebody for three days to come out and train us and to do our initial setup. We told him this is what we want to do and these are the jobs that we want to automate. He sat with us and mapped out a solution. We worked with him and got hands-on knowledge of it.
It was pretty straightforward after we got through the learning curve. I'm a mainframe person and I come from a world where there is a terminal emulator and you're setting up workflows that are writing code, and that's how you would set up your job. When you go to something where you can just point, click, point, click, and add a few lines, that's totally different. So we had to be retrained and retooled when we first went to this product.
They have extensive documentation and training materials, right down to error codes and troubleshooting.
Our initial deployment was a matter of a week and we were running automations. As we moved forward, after we purchased the product, we expanded it and put more automation into the tool.
Our implementation strategy was based on the use cases that we wanted to solve. I saw how bogged down the operations staff were. When we were looking at the strategy of what we were going to put in the automation for the trial period, we focused on our biggest jobs and the ones that were most time-consuming.
What was our ROI?
We have definitely seen ROI. Being a dark data center, we don't have to have nighttime staff and we can reallocate our resources. That's significant, especially when you're talking about a small organization. Our organization has 500 permanent employees and we span five campuses spread out within a 30-mile radius. Running a multi-campus facility is very expensive. Over the past 25 years I have added two employees to the MIS staff. That's it. Having SMA, which costs me $10,000 a year, means I can shut down my nighttime staff and run that dark data center. Then, the people that were doing that night work can move to day and be more productive for me and do other things and improve their skill sets as well. The return on investment is definitely there.
And I had to prove it to my finance officers, too, before we purchased it.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
In my last contract with Unisys, they tried to put SMA underneath my contract with them and I told them I do not want that. I want to deal with SMA by myself. I feel that I can negotiate better with them.
The price is the price. They offer architects and other people to come and install upgrades and such for you. What that has done for us is that it has helped us maintain a good relationship with them and also to get at their technical expertise and ask a lot of questions and such while they're on campus doing the installation and training.
The only cost beyond the standard licensing fees is when we need them to come out and do an install. We have to pay travel costs and for their technical expertise. But I do want that because we get their expertise.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
I did evaluate another option. It was not at the scale of SMA because it was more an automation tool for just the MCP environment. It didn't take into consideration cross-platform dependencies. OpCon was unique in that it not only worked on the MCP environment, but also on the Windows environments, which made it a much richer solution for us.
We haven't evaluated solutions since then. In Florida, you can stay with the same vendor. You don't have to go outside and look for other vendors. Just because the contract may end, say, every two years, you don't have to go out and search for another product. And there has been no reason for me to switch. I'm not unhappy.
What other advice do I have?
Make sure that you know what you want and that you understand what the product does so that you don't purchase more agents than you need or, on the other hand, that you don't purchase fewer agents than you need. Understand what you're trying to solve before you purchase the solution. That way, you know what you want to do. And if they still offer the trial periods or the pilots, take them up on that offer.
The biggest take away from using the solution is, "Why didn't I do it sooner?" when I think about all the time that was wasted. If I had known about it sooner, I would have purchased it sooner and saved even more.
As for integrations with our own products, such as our ERP, those are with our ERP. They don't have to come out of SMA at all. One of the things that we're currently doing is extracting the enrollment information for our LMS and that's through flat CSV files. We create user files, enrollment files, and course files and send them up through SFTP or cURL. Now that we're moving to a new ERP, that integration is going to be more real-time, so we're not going to necessarily need those within the SMA product anymore. It's going to be real-time to the LMS. I'm not saying that OpCon is going away, because it's not. We're still going to need other things that it provides, that our new ERP is not going to provide for us.
What we're going to be using OpCon for will be a little bit different than what we're using it for now. Payroll won't be using the Self Service anymore, once we go live with the new HR payroll system. It's going to be totally different. What we're going to be using OpCon for is more the integrations with other vendors that are not going to be out-of-the-box with the ERP. We're going to be creating command jobs to extract data using their APIs to create CSV files to then send to the vendor through SFTP. It's not going to be as significant on the running of jobs. It's going to be more of an assistance with the integrations that we're going to be running through the new ERP.
Overall, I can't say enough about the company and the product. It's amazing.
Which deployment model are you using for this solution?
Which version of this solution are you currently using?