Asteroids (Apr/May) 2018 Release Overview

The information in this article is the intellectual property of xMatters and is intended only for use with xMatters products by xMatters customers and their employees. Further, this intellectual property is proprietary and must not be reused or resold.

This release marks the first in our new classic arcade game naming theme. We're starting at "A" and moving our way through the alphabet. And, we figured there was no better way to kick off the fun with than Asteroids, Atari's best selling arcade game of all time! Prepare for hyperspace, because this release is ready to take down crafty UFOs and blast some space rocks to smithereens!

While suppression of duplicate subscription notifications and new built-in message properties steal the show for enterprise messaging, this release also includes some big enhancements to our integration platform that integrators and developers will be happy to see. Batting cleanup are several great usability enhancements and styling updates throughout the product.

Before you dive in to learn about all of these improvements, here are some important dates:

  • Non-production environment access: Tuesday, May 22
  • Production environment access: Tuesday, June 5 (triggered between 10-10:30am Pacific)

Future feature release

As a special bonus we'll also give you a sneak peek at some enhancements we're working on for a future release:

  • Temporary absences - Makes it optional to set a replacement for yourself while away
  • Script editor shows relevant integration properties & Java Script version - Streamlined outbound transformation scripts with relevant information for the integration type
  • Activity Stream API Key user - See the authenticating user for an integration using URL authentication

Jump ahead

In a hurry? Here's an overview of this doc if you want to skip ahead to something awesome:

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xMatters Free

Yup, you read that correctly: on May 8, we released a new pricing plan for small teams of up to 15 users to sign up and use xMatters for free.

xmatters-free.png

Fully-caffeinated readers might have noticed that being able to use xMatters for free isn't an entirely new concept - we've had a free 14-day trial version of xMatters for over a year. It's been a great way for prospective clients to test-drive xMatters.

We've learned a lot from rolling out the trial experience, and the new xMatters Free pricing plan reflects that. Each xMatters Free account begins with our existing 14-day trial, which includes advanced features that showcase the full capabilities of xMatters.

After two-weeks the trial transitions into an xMatters Free plan that has no time expiry. As you might expect, the zero-cost plan places limits on the available feature set:

  • A maximum of 15 users
  • Email and mobile app device types only (SMS and voice not included)
  • No conferencing
  • Message scenarios not included
  • 6 preset roles
  • Reduced number of integration requests/min
  • Community forum support only

#WhoCares

You might be thinking, "We're on an xMatters paid plan already - why should we care about Free?" For the best reason possible: shameless self-interest! Imagine the efficiencies and accuracy that could be gained by your organization if all of its data and teams' on-call information were unified into a single federated xMatters environment! 

That's where xMatters Free comes in: it's a fantastic proof-of-concept for the other teams and departments in your enterprise to get a taste of what xMatters has to offer to them. Once they see their team’s success using Free, they’ll want to join everybody else.

You Get First Dibs

While we've only just quietly launched xMatters Free, we wanted to give you an early heads up that it's currently available for sign-up from our website. It'll be about another month before we start actively getting the word out about its availability, so if you have teams or colleagues that might be interested now, point them to https://www.xmatters.com/pricing!

Messaging

Messaging is our business and every release includes improvements representing the feedback we get from our customers and the best practices we observe. This release includes a couple of great enhancements to support our customers' enterprise messaging needs:

  • Suppression of duplicate subscription messages
  • New properties for message customization

Minimized subscription deliveries

If you use subscriptions, then you probably know that it's possible to receive duplicate notifications for the same event. Based on feedback from customers that use subscriptions extensively, these duplicate notifications can really add up!

This release includes an enhancement that updates the way xMatters handles subscription notifications. This new process dynamically identifies the best content to send based on your role in the communication process, and automatically suppresses any unnecessary duplicate notifications.

How it works

The new process ensures that primary responders and decision makers receive only directly-targeted notifications, while interested parties and subscribers get a single copy of the content appropriate for their needs (either just an FYI notification, or an actionable notification with response options).

Here's the suppression logic in a nutshell:

  • If you're targeted directly as a recipient for an event, you'll receive the targeted messages; any duplicate notifications that you would have received via subscriptions are suppressed.
  • If you're notified about an event by two-way subscription, you'll only receive a single notification with response options; any duplicate notifications that you would have received via other subscriptions (one- or two-way) are suppressed.
  • If you only receive FYI notifications about certain events (via one-way subscription), you'll only receive one notification for an event; any duplicate notifications that you may have received from other one-way subscriptions are suppressed.

Here's an example of how suppressed subscription notifications appear in the Event Log:

subscription-suppression.png

In this example, Mark is notified directly about an event, and the notifications he would have received from his two-way and one-way subscriptions are suppressed.

A few things to note:

  • If you have more than one subscription notification of the same type (one- or two-way) and xMatters needs to choose which one to use to notify you, it will select the first one based on alphabetically-sorted subscription names.
  • This suppression behavior does not apply to delayed subscriptions or escalated notifications. If you're part of a group with an escalation delay and the primary on-call users don't respond, all of your notifications will be delivered once it escalates to you.
  • If you're using subscriptions as a reporting mechanism (i.e., collecting notification emails as a record), you can add a short notification delay to your subscription to ensure these emails are still delivered.

New message properties

We've added four new built-in properties to the message editor that you can use to customize your messages:

  • Web Login - Instead of using the default onboarding message included in the User Upload process, some customers prefer to create their own personalized onboarding messages to send out after they've organized their users into groups and on-call schedules. With this new property, they can now include a user's login name in their messages.
  • Date & Time - Have you ever received an incident notification and wondered exactly when the xMatters event was created? Sometimes it's difficult to tell if you weren't a recipient on the initial notification for an event, either because there was a notification delay, or you weren't on-call at the time. The new Date & Time event properties can help you address this potential context gap.
  • Event ID - Add this property to your messages so that users can easily find out more information about the event by searching for it in the Events Report.

Here's an example of these different properties being used to build a custom message:

message-properties.png

When you include any of these properties in your message content or subject, xMatters will replace them with values that correspond to the current event and person:

  • Date & Time properties will match the event's starting date and time - they'll even be in the message recipient's local time zone!
  • For SAML users, the Web Login property displays the user's name identifier, which they can use to log in to their Single Sign On application.

Sneak peek: temporary absences

We're in the process of revamping our Temporary Replacement feature: because the new version no longer requires that you select another user to replace you while you're away, we're changing its name to Temporary Absences.

As you can see in the image below, you add a Temporary Absence the same way that you would have previously added a Temporary Replacement from the Schedule tab of the user profile:

add-absence.png

It's on the Add Temporary Absence configuration screen where things start to get interesting. With Temporary Absences, it's optional to select another user to replace you while you're away. This is great for those times when it's not actually necessary to name a replacement because your team or the next person in the on-call schedule can cover for you.

temporary-absences.gif

You may also notice that there's an option to Include direct notifications - these are notifications that target you directly and not as part of a group. If you select this option, your direct notifications will also be sent to your replacement - or discarded if you didn't specify one. This is handy if you don't need to review the messages you'd have received while away, and don't want them cluttering up your Inbox when you get back.

Look for the newly updated Temporary Absences feature in an upcoming release!

Integrations and development

We've said it before and we'll say it again: we mean business when it comes to integrations. In this release we make updates to several different components of our integration platform, including enhancements to outbound and inbound integrations, new additions to the Integration Directory, and updates to the xMatters REST API. Read on for all the details and for a couple of sneak peeks that are not to be missed!

Integration Builder

The Integration Builder creates integrations between xMatters and other products or systems, letting you easily add an automated, closed-loop communication plan linking these systems. The main enhancements to the Integration Builder this release include an 'escalations' trigger for outbound integrations, and a new streamlined process for running an integration as another user.

Outbound integration 'escalations' trigger

A new "Escalations" trigger is now available for outbound integrations. When you select this option for your integration, it'll be triggered whenever there's an escalation for an event associated with the selected form:

escalation-trigger.png

This is useful if you'd like to track escalations that occur in your system, either for reporting purposes or to trigger workflows outside xMatters. The payload for the escalations webhook includes the:

  • Group in which the escalation occurred
  • Reason for the escalation - whether it was actively escalated by a user's response, or if it passively moved to the next escalation level after a wait time expired
  • User that escalated the event (if applicable)
  • Type of escalation - peer, management, or none
  • Recipients the event escalated from
  • Recipients the event escalated to

We've also updated the Run a script outbound integration default script to demonstrate how you can access information from this new Escalations integration type:

escalation-script.png

Run an inbound integration as another user

We think integrations developers are going to find this update very handy - we sure do! For integrations that use URL and API authentication, we've added an "Authenticating User" field to the How to trigger the integration section.

This is great, because now when you want to run an integration as another user you'll no longer need to take extra steps to sign in as that user to get their API or URL authentication credentials. It also means improved security, as you can now create API-style users that have permission to run integrations, but who don't require access to the web user interface.

Here's what this looks like for URL authentication:

how-to-trigger.png

You can use this field to select any user you supervise as long as they have a role with the "REST Web Service User" function. This will update the unique URL or API Key (as well as the instructions) to trigger the integration as that user.

Usability improvements

Usability is always a major theme for many features in our quarterly releases, and this release is no exception. In this section, we'll review current and coming-soon usability improvements to the Integration Builder.

Script editor won't automatically scroll on save

So, there you are scripting away in the Transformation Script Editor. You get a good chunk of code written, click Save... and the editor scrolls back to the top of the script. You slowly scroll back down to review your masterpiece, tweak it a bit, and move on to writing the next part of your script.

Sounds good so far, until you realize that the script editor scrolls back to the top every time you save. Yeah, we know: while this might be fine if you don't have many adjustments to make to one of the default scripts, if you're building something complex it can get frustrating. What's worse, it might even discourage you from saving your work as you go!

In our (very slight) defense, we had great intentions when we implemented this behavior. Now that it's been in the wild for some time, we see that keeping the script editor stationary on Save promotes a more efficient and secure workflow.

non-scroll-editor.png

Sneak peek: Script editor shows relevant integration properties & Java Script version

As we keep adding new ways for you to trigger your outbound integrations (most recently with escalations and event comments), the Integration Builder's default scripts get longer, and there's an increasing number of properties displayed in the sidebar. That can be a lot of extra text about different integration types when you're really just configuring one.

To help streamline things, we're updating the Transformation Script Editor to display only the script components and properties that are relevant to the selected trigger type. For example, if you selected an outbound integration triggered by "Escalations", the script editor would show the payload only for this integration type, and display only its relevant properties in the sidebar:

script-editor-preview.gif

One more thing... notice the help icon in the script editor? Yeah, that's new. Click it to get online help building your transformation scripts and using the editor. You can also click the link in the bottom right corner of the editor for more information about the supported Java Script version.

Sneak peek: Display authenticating user for API key in Activity Stream

When you select URL authentication for your inbound integration, xMatters generates an API key unique to you - or whoever you're logged in as - and appends it to the integration URL. Any requests that are submitted via this URL will have your xMatters permissions.

Currently, if your integration uses URL authentication, the Activity Stream doesn't display which user the API key is associated with (in other words, which user the integration ran as). This makes it tricky to troubleshoot problems with your integrations such as "NON AUTHORIZED" errors, where you can't figure out which user is missing permissions to run the integration.

To remedy this, we're adding information to the Activity Stream to indicate who the authenticating user was for an integration:

sneak-peek-api-user.png

Integration Directory

The Integration Directory streamlines the work required to integrate your tools with pre-built integrations that are easy to find, configure, and manage. In this release we continue to enhance our ever-expanding list of packaged and built-in integrations, and maintain their required certifications.

New and updated integrations

This quarterly release adds the following new and updated integrations to the Integration Directory:

integration-logos.png

New Integrations

  • Atlassian Stride - This packaged integration uses an xMatters "glance" in Stride to check who's on call and invite additional resources to a targeted room or live meeting. You can then write activity in Stride back into a service management ticket (e.g., Jira, ServiceNow, Cherwell). Start striding here.
  • SignalFx - SignalFx is a real-time operational intelligence and monitoring system that works across the cloud. When an alert detector is triggered, this built-in integration automatically sends critical SignalFx data to the correct people and systems to help coordinate and resolve incidents faster.
  • Slackbot - This built-in integration lets Slack users leverage the xMatters Slackbot to find a team, figure out who is on call from that team, and invite the on-call person to the public Slack channel for real-time chat. Look for this integration in the directory in mid-June!

Updated integrations

  • Jira Cloud - We've updated the Jira Cloud built-in integration to allow our Jira add-on to find xMatters integration configurations that have been converted to communication plans.
  • Jira Server plugin - This packaged integration now officially supports the latest versions of Jira Software and Jira Service Desk. We've also updated this integration's online guide with two new webhook trigger examples that you may find useful for your issue assignment workflow:
    • Terminate events if issue priority moved to low - Generates a webhook to terminate the event if the issue priority moves to low.
    • Terminate events if issue deleted - Creates a webhook to terminate the event if the issue is deleted in Jira.
  • SCOM 2016 - In addition to some changes to this integration's injection and response behaviors, the latest version of our Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2016 (AKA SCOM 2016) includes the following updates:
    • Ability to inject events into xMatters using inbound integrations
    • Support for the new Event Comments trigger for outbound integrations
    • The most recent version of the embedded Integration Agent utilities

Integration certification

In this quarterly release, we achieved certification for the following integrations:

  • SNOW Kingston
  • Splunk:
    • ITSI 2.6.1
    • ITSI 3.0.1
    • Core Splunk 6.6
    • Core Splunk 7.0

xMatters REST API

We continually enhance our xMatters REST API calls to replace existing SOAP and older REST methods. These calls not only support customer integration needs, they're also the foundation for data access by our mobile clients, the web user interface, and other key xMatters services.

xMatters REST API enhancements

In this release, we made the following enhancement to the GET /events endpoint:

GET /events/{eventID}/annotations
GET /events/{eventID}/annotations/{annotationID}

  • Get event comments (annotations): You can use these API calls to retrieve comments added directly on the Tracking report or when a recipient responds to a notification. To retrieve a specific comment, include its annotationID.

Note: It's still possible to use the existing GET/events{eventID}?embed=annotations to return comments along with detailed event information. These new calls return comment and author details with only basic information about the event itself - so now you have more control over the level of detail required.

GET/events?priority=HIGH,MEDIUM,LOW

  • Find events by priority: It's now possible to search for events based on their priority - LOW, MEDIUM, or HIGH. For example, if you were interested only in high-priority events your request would look like: GET/ events?priority=HIGH

Other updates

  • Enable commenting for responses
    • The ResponseOptions object for an event includes a 'promptForComments' field that you can configure to prompt a recipient to add a comment for that response. (We've also updated the GET /events endpoint to return response options when the ?embed=responseOptions query parameter is included - and to indicate whether comments were enabled for a response.)
  • Conference bridge number
    • The Conference object now includes the conference bridge number associated with an event (bridgeNumber). For external conference bridges, this field contains the static or dynamic number assigned to the bridge.
  • Get the name of the on-call shift
    • The GET /on-call endpoint now return a shift's name as part of the ShiftReference object (in addition to the previously returned id). Returning a human-readable shift name should make it a lot easier to identify your shifts at-a-glance.

Over the next quarter you can expect to see additional REST web services supporting various activities in xMatters accessing information about communication plans, accessing member information about shifts, and more enhancements to filtering events.

You can learn more about the xMatters REST API in our online help.

Mobility

When you're on-the go, it's important to be able to access the information you need and contact the right resources as quickly and easily as possible. The major theme for our mobile platform this release was to help you do that by improving access to your group contacts.

Starred groups

If you've been using our mobile app for a while, then you're probably familiar with the ability to 'star' your favorite or most frequently used contacts, forms, and scenarios for faster access. This super handy feature just got even better, as you can now star groups to quickly access them from the Groups contact screen.

This makes it easier and faster to look up who's on call, view the roster, or contact a member of a group directly. You can also conveniently select starred groups as recipients from your starred contacts when you're sending a message.

Click on the image below to get a better look at what starred groups look like in the Android mobile app:

android-starred-groups.png

And, here's what iPhone users can expect to see on iOS:

iOS-starred-groups2.png

Other product updates

What kind of release would be complete without some major usability enhancements and styling updates? We've already told you about some of the usability improvements we made to the Integration Builder, but our real work this quarter was on the Devices screen. Scroll down for all the eye candy!

Devices screen updates

The Devices tab of the user profile is one of the most important screens in the xMatters web user interface. Configure your devices properly here - with their correct contact information, timeframes, and order - and you'll be good-to-go for getting your notifications delivered where you want, when you want.

Because it's so vital that users are able to quickly and intuitively set up their devices in xMatters, we decided it was important to spend some time this release focusing on ways to improve the usability of the Devices screen. Some of the updates we've implemented are based on customer feedback (thank you!) and others are based on our usability testing. Overall, we think these improvements are useful for both new and existing users:

  • New empty state & shortcuts to add devices - When a user has no devices configured, a new 'empty state' design encourages them to add devices via one-click short-cuts instead of having to select a device type from the Add Device drop-down menu:

Devices-empty-state.png

  • Permanent device delay icons - We'd received feedback that adding delays between devices wasn't very intuitive... and that's a fair comment considering that the controls to do this were invisible until you moved your pointer over the timeline! Yeah, not ideal. To make this functionality more obvious, we've updated the timeline to permanently display the clock icons that you can click to add wait times between devices. (P.S. While we were at it, we also made this update to the timeline on the Shifts tab so that it's clear how to add escalation delays to your groups' on-call schedules.)
  • Two-letter country codes - To help you more easily identify the country your device is associated with and distinguish between countries with the same country code - like Jamaica and the US - we've updated the country code field to include a two-letter identifier in addition to the numeric code (for example, "+1 JM" and "+1 US"). This means you'll be able to tell at-a-glance whether you've configured your device numbers correctly.
  • Top-level device validation - Instead of having device validation buried in the Options drop-down menu, we've brought it to the top level to highlight it for new users and speed up the process of ensuring their devices are configured correctly and ready to receive notifications.

From left to right, here's what those last three updates look like (also note how the empty-state shortcuts stay at the bottom of your list of devices):

devices-combiined.png

  • Options menu updates - While we were removing device validation from the Options menu, we had a chance to look at the remaining items and make a couple of small but useful distinctions that should also help users configure their devices:
    • Dynamic toggle text - Previously, the label for the toggle to activate (or deactivate) a device just said "Active"... which could be ambiguous if you weren't sure which state was on or off. With new dynamic text, it's now very clear whether your device is "Active" or "Inactive".
    • "Add Timeframe" label - We've added a label in the Timeframes section to make it more obvious that clicking the "+" symbol allows you to add additional timeframes for your device.

device-options-updates.gif

Styling updates

In every release we find ways to update the style of certain elements in the web user interface to keep xMatters looking sharp and polished. Sometimes these have a big WOW! effect - like when we change the font - and other times they're much more subtle.

This time 'round the differences are slight, but if you're a design aficionado you may notice that we've updated and made the styling more consistent for our radio buttons and navigation links in the top and sidebar menus.

Invite Users updates

We had feedback from our European and Australian trial customers that it would be helpful if the phone number country-code in the Invite Users workflow would default to their own country rather than to the US every time they added a new user. (In case you're not familiar with this workflow, it's how you add users in the xMatters Trial and xMatters Free.)

We've updated the behavior of the Invite Users screen to default to the country of the user that's doing the inviting - and if that's not possible, it'll default to the country where the trial or free version of xMatters is hosted.

invite-users.png

We've also made the process of adding additional users to the Invite Users list more intuitive, with an "Invite Another User" button directly below the list of invitees.

Early Access Program & feature delivery update

The goal of our current delivery model for xMatters On-Demand is to balance feature delivery with customer change management processes. This means providing visibility into upcoming changes for customers that want it, while allowing other customers to have a more standard non-production environment that matches production.

If you aren't familiar with the current model, we release features that are only visible to admins/developers at a faster pace than the quarterly release process. These features should not impact end users until a customer provisions them into their communication plan. Customers can opt their non-production environments into the Early Access Program to see features and functionality enhancements that impact end users before they're released on a quarterly basis. All customer non-production environments are updated two weeks prior to official quarterly production release to allow for testing and training on new features.

We regularly reevaluate and improve our deployment processes to ensure they reflect industry best practices and customer feedback. For more information about our deployment process, see our On-Demand Deployment Process and Early Access article. We'll update that document whenever we make a change, and let you know about the change through other appropriate channels.

Learn More

These are the main features for this release, but be aware that there are a number of other small changes and enhancements we are delivering to keep xMatters On-Demand looking sharp.

Detailed information and instructions for using these new features will be available in our online documentation. We hope you enjoy the new release! We're already hard at work on your next release...

Have more questions? Submit a request

1 Comments

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    Karla Poplawski

    The Asteroids Quarterly Release is now available in all production environments.

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