OpCon Review

Four connectors work with KeyStone and allow us to automate every batch-processing task

What is our primary use case?

We use it to run our core system, Corelation KeyStone, as well as all of our batch processing and file movement, automation, and extract processing.

How has it helped my organization?

It's important to keep in mind that OpCon and KeyStone, together, are a completely different animal than Spectrum and UC4. They are separate systems. They work differently. What we gained with OpCon was the ability to continue to automate everything. That was the real key for us. It's not that we got better at it. We were just able to continue that level of service, which was our goal. I can't tell you what it would be like if we switched from another automation tool to OpCon for the same core system. That's not what we did. It's just that OpCon happens to work so well with KeyStone. I don't think there's another automation tool out there that's going to be able to touch it.

Total automation is our key and Corelation, which delivers the KeyStone product, is not looking at automation. I think they know they have a good partner with SMA, so they don't think about it too much. Their point of view is that they want you to do the batch processing from within the core. SMA's perspective is, "No, you want to automate all of that." Of course, that's what we wanted as well. SMA's vision was the same as ours. What OpCon really gains for you is the ability to have total, lights-out processing in a way that the core vendor doesn't quite understand or have experience around. And it's okay the core vendor doesn't have that experience because SMA does, and that's where its real value is. It will get you to the place where you can have complete, lights-out automation.

We've automated everything that runs in the batch or customization-batch updates for KeyStone. A typical day for us has 70 schedules and 496 jobs. At our credit union, we haven't had an operator since 2003. An operator is in the role where, when someone at a certain time of a day is running a batch job through the system, they're watching to see what happens with it. They're making sure the files are in the right place and the output goes where it's supposed to. We replaced that in 2003 when UC4 it started doing all that for us. OpCon has just picked up where we left off. It handles everything. And whenever it comes time to implement something new at the credit union, we're going to make sure that OpCon's driving the batch-automation on the backend.

If we're running 70 schedules and almost 500 jobs every day, we can't watch all that. There's no way. And we shouldn't have to. Automation tools are so robust, and they have been for 15 or 20 years now, that automation is a given. Any credit union is going to be automating as much as they can.

In terms of freeing up employees through automation, we've also been automating processes for other departments, not entirely with OpCon but with other solutions as well. We haven't eliminated positions as a result, but we've helped free people up to do other work by taking away repetitive tasks. OpCon allowed us to do that. They have been freed to do more challenging tasks. We would never get rid of a position because their stuff has been automated. We would just free them to do other more valuable tasks. By using Solution Manager in OpCon, we've been able to automate tasks for seven departments. Each one of those represents a task that was repetitive that we were able to automate, at least somewhat. We don't look at it as individuals or FTEs, but rather as departments that have we helped become more efficient by our automation process.

What is most valuable?

It's the entire automation landscape that OpCon provides which is valuable. The way it works with Corelation KeyStone is probably unmatched for that core system in the credit union industry. SMA has created four connectors that work with KeyStone in a way that allows us to automate basically every batch-processing or back-office task. That's the true value.

In addition to that, there's also a self-service solution manager, I believe it's called Solution Manager, that allows us to enable staff to run complex automation tasks by clicking a button and entering some information. They don't have to have access to the OpCon environment to kick off those kinds of events.

What needs improvement?

It would be great if you could create physically separate "clients," as I call them. I wish I could have a production client and a testing client and that they would be separate.

I know that SMA is making a push to move everything into Solution Manager, a web-based interface with OpCon. Frankly, I will be sad to see the Enterprise Manager go away. Enterprise Manager is difficult to learn at first, but once you learn it, it's very powerful and very quick to get solutions in place, to troubleshoot, and to observe your production. I really like it.

For how long have I used the solution?

In a production environment, at our credit union, we've been using it since October 2017.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

OpCon has been rock-solid. It works day in and day out and is very robust. It runs on Windows Servers, but it is a very high-availability, robust scheduler automation engine.

In two years, we've had one OpCon database issue that woke people up overnight. It halted production and SMA had a fix for it pretty quickly. That's one time in two years.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

I haven't seen any concerns about scaling OpCon to automate what we need. It's been very robust and it can handle whatever we throw at it. I'm confident that as we continue to add processes into our core system, OpCon will be available to drive whatever automation we need.

We don't really plan to increase usage, but as we add new products to our core system, by default, we'll use OpCon to automate whatever we can. For example, we added mobile check deposit last summer as a product for our consumers. I realize that most financial institutions have had that for a long time. On KeyStone, our new core system, that became possible. OpCon has automated quite a few pieces of that for us, such as eligibility and sending restriction lists to the different vendors, picking up posting files, etc. We never thought otherwise, that we were going to use something else. We just said, "Okay, how are we going to get this into OpCon?" 

That's how we approach every new product that we add to our KeyStone system for our members. How are we going to automate it? Anything we can put into the automation tool, we're going to.

How are customer service and technical support?

Their support is excellent. It's one of the best I've worked with, for an automation tool, in my career. They'll pick up the phone when you call them. If you've got a simple question they'll answer it. If it's more complex, they pass it along to the right people. If you have a technical production issue, they jump on that really quickly. They do have after-hours support that we've taken advantage of. All of those things have been very valuable for us.

With UC4, our prior core system, we had to go through a core vendor and, if there was a software issue, it would take a little while for UC4 to have a fix. I don't know if that's changed with Automic, but support definitely felt once or twice removed, whereas with SMA it's very immediate.

In addition to that, SMA's development is also aggressive. They're very good. If you've got something that you want to automate, they will help you get there. They'll make a connector for it. They will enhance the connectors they do have. They will come up with a solution. That's where I think they are definitely best-in-class: their support and their development.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

I wanted to see if Automic was going to work with KeyStone, our core system that we were converting to. Automic pledged to help us support that and come up with a connector for it. But in doing my due diligence, I read over what OpCon provided for KeyStone and, just by reading the documentation, I realized that we probably should go with OpCon, even though it wasn't something that I knew and it wasn't a bench strength for our organization. I realized that we weren't going to find a better partner, with robust features for KeyStone, and that we should switch.

How was the initial setup?

If I had been coming into automation cold, and OpCon was the first thing I had seen, I think I would have found it a little complex to understand. But since this is the third automation tool in my career, it was a matter of just applying what I already knew, as fundamentals, to how OpCon does things.

One thing that really helps is that SMA sends a technical account manager onsite to help you do the installation and do your configuration. They give you a block of days and you can split that up so that they will come back. Our technical account manager came out three times and, each time, we did something a little more complex with OpCon. By the time he left, the third time he was here, we had not only the basic stuff installed and ready to go, but the more sophisticated stuff, like LDAP integration, the Solution Manager, Self Service, Resource Manager — the different pieces of OpCon that were more complex or more subtle. The value is that SMA guides you through that. They provide that kind of onsite assistance.

Our deployment started in February of 2017 and we went live in October of 2017. After the initial deployment, it took us just a couple of minutes to automate our first process.

What was our ROI?

We've definitely seen return on our investment by going with SMA. When we went live with KeyStone back in October of 2017, all of our batch production was automated. In fact, we had to convince Corelation, our core vendor, to let us turn it on. They wanted us to run things manually and I said, "No. We're ready. Let's turn this on and let it do what it's supposed to do."

These are ballpark figures and the ones for Automic are pretty old. Back in UC4, we converted to version 8 in 2012, and that cost us on the order of $50,000 to upgrade. 

OpCon cost us $80,000 in 2017 money, and that included everything: support, installation, onsite assistance during the conversion, etc. It's been a worthwhile investment by far. I don't recall how much our yearly maintenance is, but it is worth the money because, when it comes time to do an upgrade, we can do it ourselves and they'll support it. We don't have to pay anything extra for it. And training is included. If I want to send some of my team members to go to training, I just have to pay for travel and expenses. So the cost of ownership has been very worthwhile.

The only additional cost with SMA would be if we need additional licenses for agents. They provide 10 licenses with the standard installation. We're using seven of them. We have three left to use. After that, we'll need to buy additional licenses for agents. We haven't gotten there yet.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

In my career I've used three automation tools, going back to something called Maestro made by a company called Tivoli, and then UC4, which is now called Automic, and now OpCon. Of the three of those, UC4 was probably the most intuitive and easy to use. OpCon, once you learn it, is easy to use, but it's a little bit of a harder interface at first. If you've come from an environment like UC4 or Automic, you don't quite have that ease of adoption that you might have had with that tool.

Once you get to know OpCon, you realize that it does all the fundamental things an automation tool should do. It does all the things that UC4 does. The fundamentals are there, and it's the same thing with Maestro.

Something that UC4 does better is something I've told our technical account manager at SMA when he came up to visit. During our implementation, our technical account manager asked, "What does UC4 do that OpCon doesn't?" One of those things is that it offers logically separate clients for doing production. UC4 allows you to set up a production client and a test client and a training client and a development client. These are all physically separate logins with separate containers. What that means is you can point your production environment to entirely production agents, and you can point your testing client to entirely testing agents. And then you can make a logon such that you can't ever cross over between areas. So there's greater safety when it comes to non-live environments.

OpCon is one database. Everything exists in one bucket, so testing schedules are there alongside development and production. So we have to be much more careful about where a given schedule is running. SMA's solution to that is that you buy a separate server and separate licensing and do that same thing. Why? I could do that with UC4 by spinning up a separate client. That's one area that UC4 has a better design than SMA, in its architecture for the system.

Another area is running processes in an ad hoc fashion. UC4 was better at that. I could execute a job plan or a job any time I wanted to, outside of regular production and it was not a big deal. I could execute it and say, "Don't run until two days in the future at 1:30 p.m.," and it would sit out there and wait and then run. UC4 did that better.

On OpCon's side, it does all the same things that UC4 will do but its connectors to KeyStone are the real keys for us in our environment. That's what makes it so valuable for us. The best differentiator is SMA's support. Their support is unlike any support I've had with an automation tool in my career, so that is the real advantage.

It's been a while since I've used UC4/Automic. That was the last automation system we used with our prior core system. It matched our core system, at the time, very well. It was all script-based, script-driven, so if you are comfortable writing scripts that drive programs, UC4 was the solution for you. We were very adept at writing script-based solutions with it. That's definitely one of is pros. I have no idea about its support. We didn't really have to contact them very much, but then, of course, we were using a static version of UC4 for five or six years. Whereas with OpCon, we can take advantage of what they're developing every year if we choose to. Some of those advantages would be such things as connectors directly into the SQL database. That's something that's new that SMA is working on. It's a pretty valuable connector.

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson I have learned from using OpCon is that it is perfectly suited to Corelation KeyStone. There isn't a better automation tool available right now, because SMA has four proprietary connectors and I don't think anyone else does.

On my team, we have seven people and all seven are at least familiar with logging in and observing production with OpCon. Three of them are tasked with implementing new solutions into OpCon and supporting configuration and troubleshooting of existing solutions. We've also got seven departments using it through Self Service, with multiple people in each department using OpCon. One department has almost everyone in there. That's a lot.

SMA has a real vision and they support it. They've got the development team and the support team behind it.

I give it a nine out of 10. That one issue about a blurry line between production and development and test is the one thing that might slow us down a little bit when we are testing. We have to be very careful. Otherwise, the product itself is rock-solid. It's got everything in there that you need. Their support is excellent. Their development is aggressive. There's really nothing more that you could want from this vendor. It really is one of the best out there that I've seen in my career. It's perfectly suited for KeyStone. Now, if I looked at Automic for DNA, I might have a different opinion, but those are completely different systems.

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**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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author avatarCynthia LaRue (SMA Technologies)

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