TransAction Solutions Reduces Risk Through Automation


Taking risks is often part of running a successful business; taking risks with customers’ sensitive financial information is not. TransAction Solutions of Sydney, Australia, is an award-winning managed services company, specializing in providing hosted, managed services to small and medium-sized companies, and technical services for larger companies. Their 24-hour data centre consists of 200 servers, which run 72 different applications in 140 configurations, and employs 34 people. With their business growing at a high rate, they needed to expand operations workload capability, while reducing the risk of error.

TransAction Solutions faced several challenges as their business grew. Bryan Coker, the Operations Manager, explains these challenges. “We needed to expand operations workload capability, maximize system resource utilization, and minimize batch processing windows. Daily variables were typed in manually, so as the workload increased, so did the risk of error. Errors have an impact on subsequent jobs, are hard to isolate, can create scheduling issues, and lengthen the batch window. In our business, we must be doing the same thing the same way, every single day.”

Weighing the Options

Bryan proposed several solutions for dealing with the increasing risk of error. The first option was to add additional staff. As Bryan explains, “This option would create higher management overheads, workload capacity, training requirements, and add additional salaries to our budget. Most importantly, it did not address the risk of human error.”

The second option Bryan proposed was to write their own software in-house. “This option would give us exactly what we wanted, but it was uncharted territory for our company. And, we would require two full-time programmers, and all the costs associated with them, such as sick leave, holidays, and support coverage. We would also need time to develop the product, and would need to redevelop it for future OS/400 releases and emerging requirements. Our lack of development experience, the ongoing costs, and slow lead time are not part of our core business.”

The third option that Bryan considered was to hire a contractor to develop software. As Bryan explains, “Hiring a contractor had all the same negatives of an in-house developer, with the added negatives of having no continuity of the developer, intellectual property issues, and higher ongoing maintenance costs.”

Choosing Automated Operations

After weighing all these options, TransAction Solutions decided an existing software product would be the best solution. They selected the Fortra Robot Automated Operations Solution. “We chose the Robot solution for many reasons. We could automate batch schedules rapidly, we didn’t need to spend time programming, and we didn’t need to change any of our existing applications. Robot SCHEDULE provides greater visibility and security, while Robot CONSOLE reduces message volume. Most importantly, they reduced the need for manual intervention that was responsible for the high risk for error.”

Implementation of the Robot Automated Operations Solution took two months. This was the same amount of time it would have taken just to write a design specification if they had designed their own in-house software or hired a contractor to write the software. Bryan realized they might have several issues when upgrading their legacy system, but Robot SCHEDULE made the transition easier. “Automating the legacy schedule required thinking about the complexity of dependencies and reactive jobs, setting up job reactivity between platforms, and how to FTP files between servers and platforms. To solve this problem, we completed a detailed review of each step and job dependencies, documented the entire batch process and escalation procedures, and ensured that adequate training was available.”

Automating the legacy schedule also had several benefits. According to Bryan, “Inefficiencies in batch processes have been ironed out, and all steps and dependencies are now documented and updated within Robot SCHEDULE, so we can react quicker to customer requests. As a result, fewer operators are needed to do the same job.”

Dealing with Job Dependencies

Robot SCHEDULE was helpful for managing their IBM System i™ job schedule, but TransAction Solutions also had to deal with the complexities of job dependencies on other servers, and how to automate them. “The schedule needed to react to events on multiple servers, and the reactive jobs needed to be part of the regular schedule. For example, we needed to transfer spooled files from the System i to a document management solution on another platform, once a job had finished. We also needed to be able to check if a server was available so scheduled transfers didn’t fail, and notify the operations team if there was a problem.”

To address this concern, they used Robot SCHEDULE to define and manage reactive jobs. “We have Robot SCHEDULE set up to ping the server. We also scheduled a CL command to PUT the file. Now, an operator isn’t needed to manually FTP files across the network. If there are any problems, the operator is notified. This has resulted in greater reliability and lower risk.”

In addition to managing their schedule, TransAction Solutions needed to find a way to deal with the 2,000 monthly messages they were receiving. “Manual monitoring was exposing the company to risk. We needed to find out which messages were being received, including what type they were. Also, were there messages we didn’t need to spend operator time reading? Could they be suppressed or answered automatically?”

Managing System Messages

With the Robot CONSOLE reporting function, TransAction Solutions was able to easily manage their console messages. “Now, nine out of ten messages are answered by Robot CONSOLE automatically, at a minimum rate of 2,000 messages per month. This has freed up our operators to be more customer-focused and lessened the risk for human error, thus lowering the risk to the company.”

By automating their operations, TransAction Solutions was able to address one final problem: The role of the operations team in the company. “Some operators were happy just manually monitoring the system, but this didn’t fit our business model. Also, our company wanted our IT department to be more customer-focused. By automating our operations, our operators now fulfill more of a help desk role for customers. We are able to answers customers’ questions quicker and offer advice quicker. Now our operators have a more rewarding job, which has improved staff retention and career prospects.”

Thanks to the Robot Automated Operations Solution from Fortra, TransAction Solutions now avoids the risk that human error introduces during manual operations. As Bryan sums up, “When dealing with someone else’s money, and the lion’s share of the risk is yours, safer is better.”