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Safeguarding the Customer Experience

By Jo Lee Hayes  |  Posted 2010-04-08 Print this article Print

Sallie Mae achieves a higher quality of service for its 10 million customers at a lower cost.

As the nation’s leading provider of student loans, Sallie Mae has helped millions of Americans achieve their dream of a higher education. Jo Lee Hayes, Sallie Mae’s senior vice president of enterprise technology, explains how an integrated approach to IT service management enabled the company to safeguard the customer experience while saving $4 million a year.

Customer loyalty and satisfaction can make or break a company. The larger and more dispersed the customer base, the harder it is to maintain a consistent experience.

Sallie Mae currently manages $180 billion worth of education loans for 10 million students and their parents across the United States. The quality of service experienced by these customers is heavily influenced by technology, and, in turn, the process of lending, servicing and collecting student loans is highly dependent on our core IT systems.

This situation influences our approach to IT service management (ITSM). In addition to focusing our best-practice efforts on the IT services we deliver to our internal customers (Sallie Mae’s 8,000 employees), we have also extended ITSM to key external business processes underpinned by technology.

This end-to-end approach will be vital in the months to come because Sallie Mae and the student-lending sector as a whole are undergoing massive changes as a result of government reforms and the country’s difficult economic conditions.

Throughout this period of intense change, we must maintain the quality of service for our customers in the most efficient and cost-effective way. As a private credit organization, Sallie Mae not only faces increased competition from other providers, but must also demonstrate high service levels to retain its education loan business.

Since technology underpins all of our core business processes, the performance of our IT services and systems can have a massive impact on both competitive advantage and profitability. A problem with an IT system, for example, might prevent completion of the loan process, resulting in a dissatisfied customer and a lost business opportunity.

Driving Efficiency Through Integration

Integration is key to achieving efficiency gains in any business function, but especially within IT, where processes can easily become disconnected during the development and delivery life cycle. Our ability to deal with such IT issues has been dramatically enhanced thanks to our integrated ITSM processes and technologies.

We currently use more than 25 integrated solutions from CA, which provide us with a single view of our core IT services. We can also see how these technology solutions link to the business.

For example, any idea—such as new functionality for an existing application—is logged in CA Clarity Project & Portfolio Management (PPM). Once it is approved as a project, a change request is opened in CA Service Desk. After approval has been obtained to proceed with the change, a package is automatically created in CA Software Change Manager to revise the application source code. Once the new code is released, the Service Desk ticket is closed automatically. At any point in the process, application changes, releases and incidents can be linked to the original request from the business.

As a result of this integrated workflow, we have been able to enhance our approach to portfolio management, change management, problem management and release management.

We use CA Clarity PPM to manage more than 5,500 concurrent projects and 3,700-plus ideas. About 1,500 members of the IT team also track their time in this program, with each entry linked to a project and to the original change request from the business.

Once a change has been executed, it can be evaluated against the original business justification and ROI. In 2008, CA Clarity PPM tracked 5,000 changes across our IT infrastructure, which includes hundreds of custom-built applications, an IBM mainframe, about 2,000 servers (including a large number of virtual machines), several Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle databases, and 10,000 Hewlett-Packard and Dell desktops.

Our ability to manage change across such a diverse infrastructure and more than 10 locations will be critical as our business—and the student-lending landscape—continues to evolve.

Jo Lee Hayes is senior vice president, enterprise technology, at Sallie Mae, where she manages strategic technology deployment. She has championed numerous application development and infrastructure/operations initiatives, and has been responsible for several post-merger integrations.
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