Cox Automotive is a global company with over 40,000 auto dealer clients across five continents. The company, which houses Kelly Blue Book, Autotrader, and 25 other brands, was built through acquisitions. Its IT Operations team is tasked with bringing them together under the Cox Automotive umbrella and ensuring “a good, consistent experience” for its customers worldwide.
The last year has led to both great challenges and great opportunities for online retailers. The surge in digital commerce has meant that retailers have needed to “turn their attention to taking their customer experience to the next level,” (The Harvard Business Review). For IT teams tasked with ensuring optimal performance for the end user, this has meant maintaining high expectations around availability, reliability, and performance under frequently challenging circumstances.
To find out how online retailers at scale are ensuring a good service for their online customers, we spoke with Charles Conley, Manager of IT Operations at Cox Automotive.
Charles Conley, Manager, IT Operations
A Career Journey: From the Dotcom Boom To Cox Automotive
When Charles graduated from Georgia State University, it was right in the middle of the dotcom boom. He started working for an Internet startup and had the good fortune of learning all aspects of the trade, from installing applications on the company computers to setting up the networks they relied on.
“It gave me a really good feeling for how applications work and function,” he shares.
He worked at two more startups following, then joined Cox Communications as a monitoring specialist. From there, Charles was promoted to developer. When his former boss moved to Cox Automotive, he brought Charles with him, and Charles moved into a management role.
Today, Charles runs the Cox Automotive engineering team that supports IT Operations through the implementation and support of application performance management tools. They work with the company’s application developers to ensure that health and monitoring checks are in place for their applications, and that those applications are bringing in the KPIs from across the different platforms.
“I love the monitoring space,” Charles shares. “You get to work with the newest applications coming out and the teams working on them, as well as the service teams. I enjoy helping them to understand what’s involved in moving from development to operations, and helping those teams develop their DevOps strategy.”
Managing IT Operations At Scale
Today, Cox Automotive has a portfolio of over 700 different applications, 27,000 employees, and about $7 million in revenue.
“Our organization grew through a lot of acquisitions,” shares Charles. “Many of these acquisitions had different operating models, different support teams, different support models, and different technical stacks,” he continues. “Bringing it all together and putting it under the Cox Automotive umbrella, it’s important that all our customers have a good, consistent experience.”
Using Digital Experience Monitoring To Stay One Step Ahead Of The Customer
At Cox Automotive, Charles stresses, “we deliver good service.” Monitoring is “critical to the reputation of the company,” he says, “because it helps you figure out if you’re providing the services you think you’re providing. Then, when you’re not meeting that customer expectation, if you have good monitoring in place, you can fix it before they report it.”
For Charles, this is crucial. By setting up the right monitoring strategy, you can “understand what your customer is experiencing without them telling you,” which “puts you that little bit ahead.” A robust monitoring setup, he says, can help IT Ops find out when a code deployment or something else fails at night, leading to a break in a system.
“With good monitoring in place,” he says, “you have the opportunity to fix it before your customer notices there was a problem.”
“The number of testing locations and the ability to cycle through those testing locations is very rare. It’s so helpful to get an idea of how a service is performing all across the country without significantly driving up testing costs.” Charles Conley, Manager, IT Operations
Meeting SLAs to Avoid Financial Penalties
“Our company has certain SLAs with our customers,” says Charles. “This means there can be financial penalties if their sites are not available as much as we promise them or commit to. And the best way to meet those goals is by identifying issues quickly. We've had major incidents, you know, things do break in IT. I think everybody knows it. And being able to detect them, repair them, and get them back up and running quickly, is critical to our success.”
Monitoring From Beyond The Cloud
“One of your competitors was changing the way that they did synthetic testing,” Charles tells us. “They were moving to a cloud-based model, but our customers aren't really in the cloud. However, our applications are in the cloud, which means we were testing from where the application is - basically going straight across their backbone.”
He says this meant that “it wasn't telling us whether or not the experience in a certain town in California was experiencing an issue.” Instead, “it was telling us whether Amazon to Amazon was experiencing an issue.” This was problematic for Cox because “we've had issues that were caused by carriers and not having any visibility to that because from our internal testing, we thought everything was working fine. And from our location to the cloud, things seemed to be fine as well.”
Being able to see the different carriers and “how their experience is working or not working, helped us eliminate options or problems.” It means that “we can actually look and say, no, it's just this zone that's having an issue and everybody else is fine. You're seeing what your customers are experiencing.”
“We have major incidents multiple times a week, and being able to detect and repair them, and get back up and running quickly, is critical to our success. It’s not just about the dollar value, but about our reputation.” Charles Conley, Manager, IT Operations
Why Catchpoint Synthetic Monitoring Is Mission-Critical To Cox Automotive
One aspect of Catchpoint that Charles most values is the “fantastic support” from sales and customer service. In particular, he says he appreciates the continued follow-ups to share new features as they’re coming out and “to make sure we’re getting the best use out of the product.”
“Catchpoint also has fantastic alerting tools and does really great customization and visualizations,” he says. “One of the features I like quite a bit are the smart dashboards that bring all the information together. Comparing today’s experience to a previous time is really helpful because then you can see what normal behavior is versus what you’re currently experiencing. That can be very valuable when troubleshooting an issue.”
Synthetic testing “is critical,” Charles says, so that you know if “people can reach our applications over the network and the paths they’re taking to get to our network.” Synthetic monitoring allows the Operations team to “identify where there may be problems outside of our control, but which we may be able to open up with a network provider, for instance. Catchpoint is recreating the user experience and telling us if our customers can actually reach our sites.”
To find out more about how Cox Automotive is ensuring a consistent, high quality customer experience, watch the full story below. And if you’d like to learn more about how you can use Catchpoint’s Synthetic Monitoring solution to improve your business’ digital experience, click here.