Safeguarding the Customer Experience

By Jo Lee Hayes  |  Posted 2010-04-08

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.

A Smarter Response

Integration is just one of the key components needed for effective ITSM and a lean IT department. Automation is also fundamental. With CA Service Desk, we benefit from both automated workflows and notifications.

With a help desk that receives more than 50,000 contacts every month, it’s essential to optimize the time of our analysts. The longer it takes to respond to a request, the more likely it is that the customer experience will deteriorate. CA Service Desk provides management, customers and help desk analysts with greater visibility of incidents and enables us to prioritize our responses based on potential customer impact and service-level breaches.

To help provide a faster response to user queries, we are gearing up to provide some self-service support options. Using CA Service Catalog, we will provide our staff with direct and immediate access to core IT services via a portal.

The incident and problem management solution enables us to capture a range of metrics that aid both the IT department and the business. For example, the solution enables us to see the IT services that prompt the most help desk calls, the incidents caused by a major release of software and IT’s compliance with service levels negotiated with the business. This information is supplemented with key metrics captured by our other IT management tools, which enable us to drill down as far as loan application transaction times on our Website.

All this operational data helps Sallie Mae make better-informed business decisions and IT investments. Like most organizations, we have a limited amount of money to invest in new initiatives each year, so we must ensure that we achieve the best ROI.

Before adopting ITSM, the IT department relied on anecdotal information about how services and systems were performing. Now that accurate data is available, IT can provide the information the business side needs to make the right decisions.

Decreased Costs, Better Service

In addition to helping maximize future investments, ITSM has also freed up about $1.6 million a year for investment in business initiatives. By using CA Software Change Manager, there is less chasing after information during compliance reviews and less scrambling during changes.

Because better information is available on our Forward Schedule of Changes, fewer people need to attend our weekly Change Advisory Board meetings. Since only changes with a medium or high implementation risk need to be reviewed, the weekly meetings are also much shorter.

CA Service Desk has helped Sallie Mae save $2.4 million annually by reducing the complexity and cost of break-fixes. Once the

CA Service Catalog goes live near the end of 2010, we expect further savings through call avoidance. For example, by allowing employees to request an IT service via self-service, the need to call the Solution Center and request a service can be eliminated.

As well as helping to keep our IT operation as lean as possible, these solutions have also simplified compliance. We now have an audit trail of activities, which enables us to validate the business owner and driver behind specific system changes and demonstrate that the right authorization and testing processes were followed. Since Sallie Mae’s operations are now subject to the Federal Information Security Management Act and Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, this visibility is increasingly important.

Although simplified compliance and improved cost control have had a considerable impact, the greatest benefit is our ability to deliver a consistent customer experience, which is apparent through our operational reports. With IT linked to the process of granting and servicing loans, any performance improvements we make have a direct impact on our customers.

By taking an integrated approach to ITSM, we can identify where and how the customer experience needs to be improved.

As a result, we can maximize our ability to convert credit approvals into loans, ensuring that Sallie Mae remains competitive and profitable during this time of change and uncertainty.

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.