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Serena Dimensions Provides Control in a Highly Complex Environment

Executive Summary

GSI Commerce, a leading provider of outsourced e-commerce solutions, faced constant change driven by a growing customer base and an increasingly complex IT infrastructure that included more than 200 development environments and 1,000 IT devices. They needed effective change management to prevent service downtime and its resulting revenue loss and customer dissatisfaction.

GSI Commerce implemented the Serena® Dimensions™ solution to manage web site software and services changes, as well as the underlying IT infrastructure.

Serena Dimensions enables GSI Commerce to visualize, orchestrate and enforce policies to manage change in their diverse environment. The flexibility of Dimensions allows the company to enforce their own change process model to monitor change and its effect, forecast for peak loads, measure and manage capacity, and maintain stringent 100% availability service level agreements (SLAs), all while lowering IT and support costs.

“There’s no doubt that effective change management and impact visibility improved our bottom line with a direct cost impact and demonstrable return on investment.” - Joe Romello, Vice President of Infrastructure, GSI Commerce

Challenge

GSI Commerce is a leader in helping “brick and mortar” retailers succeed in e-commerce. The Pennsylvania-based company develops and operates online businesses for retailers, branded manufacturers, entertainment companies and professional sports organizations.

GSI Commerce aggregates multiple web commerce sites on a single, integrated and shared platform that includes technology, professional services, and a supporting infrastructure including merchandising, drop shipment, fulfillment and customer services.

To support this expansive offering, GSI Commerce has a large integrated IT and operational infrastructure that includes more than 200 development environments and 1,000 IT devices, along with two fulfillment centers and a 24/7 customer service center.

With more than 50 online stores, GSI Commerce has learned that implementing multiple, interdependent changes without bringing down a site can be a precarious undertaking. In e-commerce, downtime is deadly to revenue and customer satisfaction. If an infrastructure change causes a service outage, the costs can quickly run into the thousands of dollars. Unpredictable downtime can also increase personnel costs as more staff is needed to monitor devices, respond to errors and restore services. In addition, unreliable service limits the ability to add stable capacity.

GSI needed effective change management to prevent these and other issues that result from service downtime.

Solution

GSI Commerce found that most conventional change management (CM) products focused on managing software development—not IT infrastructure—and were typically built for a waterfall type of process.

“Our service changes don’t occur according to a ‘waterfall’ process model,” said Romello. “The infrastructure is exposed to constant change, at multiple points, in reaction to and in anticipation of demand. If we can’t accurately predict the impact of these changes, then we can’t prevent change errors or confidently expand our capacity.”

Serena Dimensions was the only solution among four tested that could capture and model change impact for hardware components of a system, as well as software. In addition, GSI Commerce liked the flexibility within Dimensions that allowed them to enforce their own change process model.

With the help of Serena Professional Services, GSI Commerce deployed Dimensions in just six days.

Results

GSI Commerce’s return on investment from Dimensions includes overall improvement
in stability and uptime of the IT infrastructure, decreases in personnel cost, quality improvement in delivery of service, and the ability to add revenue-generating capacity with less risk.

“The metrics with the Dimensions Effect were phenomenal. You have to look twice to believe the results,” said Romello. “There’s no doubt that effective change management and impact visibility improved our bottom line with a direct cost impact and demonstrable return on investment.”

For example, the number of devices that IT could manage per administrator improved dramatically, from just over 80 in 2002 to approximately 180 per administrator after Dimensions was installed in 2004. This translates to more than 1,200 different devices, along with all their unique attributes and relationships. Proactive interception of change-related errors also increased, despite leaner IT staffing, to keep services running, which in turn reduced loses due to downtime.
 
“The bottom line is that Dimensions was the only tool that would track hardware as well as software changes, provide dynamic insight into the impact of change anywhere in the infrastructure, and help us reduce change-related downtime while documenting the process and effects every step of the way,” said Romello.

“The number of devices that IT could manage per administrator improved dramatically, from just over 80 in 2002, to approximately 180 per administrator after Dimensions was installed in 2004.” - Joe Romello, Vice President of Infrastructure, GSI Commerce