Autotask Hits Speed Bump With New UI Rollout

Many Autotask customers in the Eastern Time Zone encountered a slow or unresponsive website Thursday as the company transitioned to a new user interface.

Technicians at eXcerta Network Services in Ontario were asked to come in 15 minutes early Thursday to get accustomed to the new UI, said company Founder Robert St. Germain.

But for more than an hour, all St. Germain and his employees could see was a message telling them "Autotask is currently not responding."

[Related: 10 Cool New Features In Revamped Autotask]

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"I essentially lost three hours of labor," St Germain said. "We went to pen and paper with customers."

The hosted IT management platform provider knew its new user interface -- which consumed 80 percent of the development team's time for more than a year -- would require additional data center resources, said Adam Stewart, vice president of engineering.

But a Nov.18 limited release failed to suggest just how many customers on America's East Coast would be clicking around the new UI after it went online, resulting in outages or delays just before 9 a.m. for roughly half of the company's Eastern Time Zone customers.

"It was beyond what we had estimated," Stewart said. "We didn't mitigate enough."

Technicians at PC Help Services in Indianapolis found Autotask's website was unavailable for 30 minutes Thursday morning, prompting an error message.
The site also was running slower than normal for during parts of the morning and midafternoon, said David Szpunar, the company's vice president of technology services.

"It's not surprising that when big changes are made, a few hiccups come up along the way," Szpunar said.

Prosource Technologies also experienced a little bit of a slowdown in the morning, said operations manager Kim Drumm, but was able to work around that by accessing the database through Autotask's mobile application.

"We got by just fine," she said.

To accommodate the spike in user activity, Stewart said the East Greenbush, N.Y.-based company added more virtual servers to its web tier and gradually shifted things over. By 10:30 a.m., he said the problems had subsided.

"Within a reasonable amount of time, we were completely out of the woods," Stewart said. "We've learned from it, and we've added the additional capacity now."

America East was the first wide-scale rollout of Autotask's new UI. The system, which Autotask expects customers to find more efficient, accountable and intelligent -- will be introduced Jan. 7 in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Jan. 21 in the U.S Central, Mountain and Pacific Time zones and Jan. 27 in Australia.

The America East rollout gave Autotask a better sense of what the demand load will look like in other regions. Stewart said Autotask plans to increase its data center server capacity for the subsequent rollouts to 50 percent above what the new model projects.

NEXT: Customers Sound Off On New UI

As for the user interface itself, which was first unveiled in June, customers have given it mostly favorable reviews.

"This was as well-received as we could have hoped," said Pat Burns, Autotask's vice president of product management. "Users are really finding value in this."

As the co-founder of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Ember IT, Matt Toto likes to keep an eye on the company's sales, financials and tickets. With Autotask's new customizable dashboard, Toto said all of that information is now available to him on one screen.

And St. Germain said being able to create his own tabs rather than using ones predetermined by Autotask will allow him to be better organized. The dashboard has 12 persona-based profiles and 180 prebuilt widgets that users can shape and use as they please, Burns said.

Prosource has always been one of the more sophisticated users of Autotask's system, Drumm said. She's pleased that the new customer portal has more advanced features, provides notifications based on workplace rules and allows templates to be organized by department.

"Autotask has managed this complexity beautifully," Drumm said.

Szpunar said he found the presentation and visibility of data to be much better under the new UI, but said his technician wasn't impressed with the workflow for new tickets since he still had to open up a lot of them.

Burns said Autotask tracks metrics on everything from service and project activity to revenue to utilization, with efforts on the new UI to make data more digestible and easier to internalize.

He also said the custom task bar on the UI should eventually make it easier for users to multitask and work on several tickets at once.