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Whisker delivers purr-fect pet products with Slack’s AWS Chatbot app

Syncing in Slack, Whisker’s engineers minimize service outages and build quality software for pet owners

By the team at Slack26th April 2022

Today’s technology has transformed just about everything—including pet ownership. Thanks to Whisker, pet owners can now buy automated feeders and litter boxes that take care of cat cleanup. Working in harmony, the Whisker app and its devices monitor litter box usage and dispense food at specified times. To build trust and generate positive feedback, sensors and Wi-Fi-enabled technology must deliver, enabling people to feel confident about leaving their pets at home.

To monitor software performance, ship quality code faster and minimize incidents, Whisker trusts Slack, the secure channel-based messaging platform. Engineering and product management teams stay aligned and work with speed and focus in Slack channels, ensuring that the app and connected devices stay in sync.

Using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its development environment, Whisker integrated the AWS Chatbot in its #Whiskers-AWS-Production channel. Whisker also uses the AWS Cloud Development Kit for development of the Whisker app, AWS IoT Core to communicate with Whisker devices, and AWS Cloud Insights for added visibility into cloud performance.

With the app, teams manage and monitor systems in several ways:

  • View important alerts directly in Slack
  • Execute AWS operational activities
  • Monitor deployments
  • Respond quickly to resolve incidents
Werner Morgenstern, AWS Engineer, Whisker

“We have Slack open all day. If something happens with AWS, we can diagnose issues, brainstorm ideas with peers, and take actions to remediate incidents without switching away from our Slack channel.”

Werner MorgensternAWS Engineer, Whisker

Proactively monitoring performance in Slack

Whisker’s Auburn Hills, Michigan–based software and firmware engineering team numbers around 20 people and is growing steadily. “To scale properly, we always need more communication and more ways to be proactive,” says Werner Morgenstern, one of Whisker’s AWS engineers.

Before Slack, managing AWS environments and resolving issues required context switching to various tools, correlating data from disparate sources, and continuously sharing progress via email and phone calls. This led to a substantial communication overhead and long task-completion cycles.

At a previous job, Morgenstern used AWS Chatbot and thought it would be a good fit for the Whisker team. “We have Slack open all day,” he says. “If something happens with AWS, we can diagnose issues, brainstorm ideas with peers, and take actions to remediate incidents without switching away from our Slack channel.”

Slack now acts as Whisker’s digital HQ, enabling the engineering team to stay connected and collaborate during complex development lifecycles to deliver better software, faster. “Slack is where all our communication happens,” Morgenstern says. “We use it for huddles, for short video calls and for programming discussions.”

The real-time, in-channel collaboration also allows teammates to build on each other’s insights. “Since everyone can see what others are doing, share ideas and resolve issues together, they learn from each other faster, increasing the collective domain knowledge,” says Morgenstern.

“Since we integrated with AWS Chatbot in Slack, we’re enabled to restart our cloud instances and increase memory proactively—before customers even notice.”

Werner MorgensternAWS Engineer, Whisker

Staying ahead of customers with real-time alerts

The ability to be proactive about systems helps engineers make fast decisions and head off problems before they affect the performance of the Whisker app or devices. “Since we integrated with AWS Chatbot in Slack, we’re enabled to restart our cloud instances and increase memory proactively—before customers even notice,” Morgenstern says.

Once the Whisker team receives diagnostic information in their #Whiskers-AWS-Production channel, they run AWS commands to assess and address the issue right from there. Using the assigned AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) roles, channel members can run commands from Slack channels as easily and securely as they would from AWS Command Line Interface (CLI).

Engineers can pull diagnostic information with the chatbot or use AWS CLI commands in-channel, such as asking to show alarms or looking up information about cloud resources. This cuts down on context switching and speeds up troubleshooting.

Engineers can even open support cases using the chatbot. If needed, timestamped Slack conversations provide records of application deployments via the AWS Cloud Development Kit, infrastructure provisioning, and performance monitoring with AWS Cloud Insights.

“We don’t want to have to rely on customers to let us know when something is wrong. Our AWS channel in Slack lets us know instantly and keeps us one step ahead of customers.”

Werner MorgensternAWS Engineer, Whisker

Streamlining code deployment for new products

Whisker’s AWS Chatbot integration also plays a role in new product rollouts slated for later in 2022. The company expects to use the chatbot to access billing data for cloud resources, along with cloud usage metrics.

“We see a chance to use the chatbot not just for incident response, but to get alerts about our budget goals when we’re launching new products,” Morgenstern says. As engineers build code, they can monitor the products’ demands on cloud resources and the associated cost, and adjust product code as needed.

“When resources get deployed or code leaves the development pipeline, we get a Slack notification,” Morgenstern says. A faster reaction from engineers translates to a higher-quality product and greater customer satisfaction.

Since Whisker began using AWS in Slack, average customer response time has been reduced by several hours, and app ratings on the Apple and GooglePlay app stores have also improved.

“We don’t want to have to rely on customers to let us know when something is wrong,” Morgenstern says. “Our AWS channel in Slack lets us know instantly and keeps us one step ahead of customers.”

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