April 21, 2011, 11:03 AM

How Bon-Ton gets a better handle on web pages

The retailer can now see within seconds what’s slowing online performance.

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When department store chain Bon-Ton Stores Inc. decided to take its e-commerce technology platform in-house last year, one of the reasons was to gain more control over the operation of its web presence.

“We believed we could do it better and more cost effectively,” says Dan Gerard, divisional vice president of technologies and web services.

Bon-Ton is now managing its own IBM WebSphere Commerce e-commerce platform and quickly saw the need for a tool to effectively address site performance issues, such as when it takes more time than usual to call up content when clicking an online promotion. Without an advanced application performance management system, it could take days or more to identify certain problems and fix them, Gerard says.

But with a new application performance management system from dynaTrace Software Inc., Bon-Ton can now routinely identify the source of slowly responding online pages and take immediate action to fix them, Gerard says. The dynaTrace system’s strength, he adds, is in its ability to both quickly provide information on which pieces of software code or database links may be causing a slowdown, and present that information in an easy-to-read graphical interface that lets him immediately click into details on the software code causing a problem.

“In other performance management tools the information we need is there, but you have to dig and hunt for it,” Gerard says. “But the dynaTrace system has a graphical interface that tells me at a glance where I need to look and reveals the details of the transaction. I can instantly see if it’s a slow database connection, too many database calls, or a web service causing the slowdown.”

One of the major wins with dynaTrace was in solving an issue related to Bon-Ton’s online promotional strategy, which runs large numbers of “e-spots” or online promotional displays for its many brands on several web sites. The custom design of these e-spots exposed a performance issue when the site went live, Gerard says. Using dynaTrace, Bon-Ton was able to quickly discover the problem and apply a fix, he adds. Bon-Ton operates stores and web sites under the brands Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers.

Gerard says it took minutes for the initial installation of the dynaTrace system, though Bon-Ton will continue to customize it to take full advantage of advanced features such as dashboards for monitoring performance. It also didn’t take long for him to realize that the new system would be user-friendly. “Within the first 15 minutes of the proof-of-concept webinar, I was texting my manager, saying ‘Wow, this is so easy to use,’” he says.

Bon-Ton did not comment on its cost to deploy the DynaTrace application performance management system, which the retailer licenses and runs on its own infrastructure. But a dynaTrace spokesman says the cost of the system ranges from about $100,000 to over $1 million depending on the size and scope of a retailer’s operations.

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