Gambling company William Hill is using New Relic’s application monitoring technology to ensure its betting and gaming services are up and available for customers.
Stephen Wild, Engineering Manager for Observability and Automation at 888 William Hill, recognizes his IT team is under immense pressure to manage customer demands, maintain a seamless gaming experience, and keep transactions flowing. Any downtime can damage customer trust and lead to a downturn in profits.
To help monitor system issues, William Hill, which was acquired by betting company 888 last year, is using New Relic’s cloud-based observability platform. The company has been using the technology for the past four years. Wild’s team continues to hone its observability strategy and has even developed a bespoke tool to track system performance and prioritise high-cost concerns.
Making a change
Prior to implementing New Relic, William Hill’s IT team relied on two monolithic monitoring systems for on-premises infrastructure and application performance management. Because of the limits of the technology, Wild’s team was unable to take a proactive approach to performance issues and spent too much time firefighting:
I had a team of eight and 60% of their time was spent keeping the existing infrastructure working. As you can imagine, that work was boring because they were doing the same thing over and over again. We were getting called out in the middle of the night as well to make sure everything was working. It was untenable, really.
Wild says this legacy way of working was starting to impact customer experience and it was clear that a new approach to application and infrastructure monitoring was required:
Because we couldn't detect issues, it was the customers who would inform us of problems, which is a worst-case scenario. As soon as it affects your customers, you start to lose them. And sometimes those customers just disappear and never come back. So, we had to do something.
His team undertook an RFP process in September 2018 that took four months to complete. They scanned the market for an established product and went through a proof-of-concept study with five suppliers before selecting New Relic:
They really shone from a support angle. Their people were great.
William Hill had a hard go-live date for system implementation of September 2019. Following the selection of New Relic, Wild’s team had seven and a half months to complete the project. Those deadlines were met and, once the system was up and running, it provided a big improvement compared to the legacy monitoring systems used before. According to Wild:
If the company is blind, you just haven't got a clue what's happening with the customer base – you don't know what's going wrong. So, everything's urgent and you can’t prioritise issues. The advantage of New Relic is that we don't have to worry about any of that anymore. It just works.
Reaping the rewards
Wild’s team has created federated access to the observability platform for product owners across the business. Making this shift to federated access was a big challenge – more than 400 people had to be trained to use the system. However, New Relic played a big part in this training process, which was completed effectively, he says:
We've got a well-trained set of people across the board – we call them our product champions. They are then responsible for any detailed training later on. And New Relic has carried on with workshops when they introduce new products – and they don't charge for any of that, either.
The system can be scaled up on-demand for big events, such as the Grand National, which is William Hill’s single biggest trading day of the year, when the company processes 13,000 transactions per minute online. Most crucially of all, the New Relic system has had a positive impact on day-to-day performance monitoring. Wild explains:
We used to have a mean time to resolve where 60% of issues were resolved within the hour. And you can imagine, that's not good for a company that relies on a constant feed of transactions. With New Relic, that's improved to over 85% – and we're working our way to 90%. We're now proactive. We see problems way before the customer.
This proactivity has been aided by Nerdlet, which is a capability within New Relic that supports the development of applications for the platform. Wild’s team used Nerdlet to build an Impact Listener. This application was developed in-house and allows the IT team to prioritise service issues according to their potential cost to the company. According to Wild:
It gives us a real-time context with actual cost, so individual business teams can see how much individual problems are costing. A betting application or a gaming system, such as poker, might be down and it tells us what we were making per hour previously and how much each minute of downtime will cost us.
One of the other key benefits of New Relic is that the IT team now has more time to work on developing new ideas, such as the Impact Listener. Rather than having to concentrate on business-as-usual activities, the IT staff can work on more innovative areas, which Wild says helps keeps staff happy, interested and motivated:
I've got quite a young team and they absorb things like sponges. If you can keep your staff motivated by using a product such as New Relic and, allow them to concentrate on the sexier stuff, that's a good thing. It's improved my staff retention.
William Hill originally signed a three-year all-you-can-eat contract with New Relic. Wild says the service was so popular that the business was ingesting 1.4 petabytes of data per month. Maintaining that level of usage outside the all-you-can-eat contract would have cost several million pounds. When the contract ended, New Relic stepped in and helped provide a cost-effective route forward:
They helped us lower ingestion. They told us what we were doing wrong. They educated us – and, as a team, we cut down ingestion by 60%.
That experience leaves Wild feeling positive about New Relic:
Everything they promised us, they've done. I can't say that for every company. We deal with a couple of other big companies and they don't necessarily deliver on the same promises.