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City of Helsinki: Providing efficient, reliable public services on the internet

The City of Helsinki (Helsingin Kaupunki) administers public services for the inhabitants of the city and greater Helsinki Region. Helsinki and its suburbs are home to one and a half million people.

The need
An accurate view of how fast and available critical data and services on the web and real-time awareness of issues in order to address them proactively.

The scope
Round-the-clock synthetic monitoring of the response times and availability of services on the internet.
Load testing as the need arises and during website overhaul.

The benefits
• tracking of user quality of experience
• immediate notification of service disruptions or poor performance
• professional analysis and guidance

Public administration and services on the web

The City of Helsinki has the task of providing access for its population to such essential services as education, health care, transportation, government, culture, safety, resources for businesses and families, and more.

An essential vector of communication and interaction for all of these public services is the City of Helsinki website at www.hel.fi. Because the services it provides are vital to Helsinki inhabitants, the City is strict about the quality of experience the website delivers to users, and investments and technical evolutions are carefully planned.

Within the five-person Application Management Team, three staff members are dedicated to managing the technical platform of the City of Helsinki website, overseeing and ensuring the operation of all website services. They are responsible for the quality of experience delivered to end users.

Measuring critical public services

The City of Helsinki decided over a decade ago to monitor its website in order to best serve the public. Since then, it has been a historical customer of ip-label, a leading European provider of application performance management (APM) solutions.

The initial need was to assess the quality of experience that the website delivers to people who connect to use the many services offered by the City of Helsinki. For this, ip-label specialists prescribed synthetic monitoring with its Datametrie solution.

“Datametrie alerts us to incidents before users complain, so we are ready. And because our maintenance providers receive the alerts too, they are already working on fixing the problem by the time we call.” Kalle Mikkolainen, Website Technical Manager

Synthetic monitoring for 100% quality

While the technical team had tools for monitoring various aspects of the site, they didn’t have proactive visibility into application-level issues that affect end users.

“There is an absolute need to monitor the availability and response times of page content and sign-ons,” says Kalle Mikkolainen, the City of Helsinki’s Website Technical Manager.

This need is addressed by synthetic (or ‘active’) monitoring with Datametrie.

Datametrie from ip-label monitors applications from the user’s standpoint. Programmable scenarios or ‘scripts’ simulate real user activity (‘transactions’) on the application. While user transactions run, Datametrie measures availability and response times against customized quality thresholds.

City of Helsinki Datametrie dashboard

These real-time metrics show the quality of experience delivered to the public 24/7. The technical team can rely on diagnostic information from Datametrie to help them get any problems under control proactively.

Alerts & reports for faster resolution

Datametrie issues alerts to selected recipients (technical team and certain external providers) when it detects violations of quality thresholds, One night Kalle Mikkolainen’s mobile phone started showing Datametrie alarms from every website service.

“When everything is down, it’s probably a network problem. I called the network people immediately. It turns out I knew about the incidents before they did! Datametrie is a useful tool even for detecting network issues.”

As for Datametrie reports, the technical team uses them particularly in their interactions with maintenance providers.

“This way there are no arguments. The reports show them objective data,” explains Kalle Mikkolainen.

Incident management is thus accelerated by impartial, independent metrics and diagnostic information.

Load testing and expert analysis

Over the years, the City of Helsinki has expanded its Datametrie monitoring capabilities, and called on ip-label for additional services, such as load testing.

Because the website is a public service, it must be able to handle large numbers of visitors efficiently. The home page and external functionalities (like ‘e services’ and the search engine) must be able to handle the load. For example, people log on to the ‘e-services’ portal for many needs, such as medical appointments or registering for classes, so traffic may increase significantly and predictably in certain periods.

On one occasion, ip-label’s load testing service showed the technical team that the website was running at near maximum CPU capacity. The technical team was then prepared to respond with the right fixes thanks to the accurate analysis provided by ip-label specialists.

A collaborative approach to projects

The City of Helsinki will soon start moving its website to the cloud and overhauling the design. The transition will take place gradually, which means that current platforms will coexist with the new ones. These changes are additional reasons for monitoring availability and response times to ensure continuity.
ip-label’s sales and technical people in the Nordics understand these challenges as well as this customer’s need for flexibility and scalability.

“We listen to them and work hard to find the best solutions. We are really happy that the City of Helsinki is looking forward to additional projects with us.”

The City of Helsinki (Helsingin Kaupunki), Finland’s capital, provides public administration and public services to the 1.48 million inhabitants of the city and greater Helsinki Region.

The City of Helsinki website plays an essential part in bringing these services to the population. It therefore places great emphasis on the reliability of its technical platform and the quality of experience it delivers to end users.