The digital business era is placing a premium on strong end-user performance (speed) for all websites, mobile sites and applications. If a company wants to thrive in this environment, it must focus on delivering the highest quality user interactions possible. However, the truth is that businesses across industries are struggling to meet users' rising performance expectations. According to Radware, only 12 percent of e-commerce sites are currently meeting customer expectations for load times of three seconds or less. And that's an industry known for taking steps to improve performance!
Failing to deliver strong experiences can negatively impact a company's profits and brand reputation. Staying ahead of the game from a performance perspective really comes down to preparation and monitoring. If a comprehensive performance strategy is deployed, organizations are less likely to fall behind.
Today, a failsafe performance management strategy consists of these six key factors:
1. Get As Close to Your Users As Possible
Geography plays a major role in the user experience. The further away a user is from an organization's datacenter, the more performance tends to degrade. Therefore, it's crucial to measure performance as geographically close to real users as possible.
For example, the Internet landscape in China is very different from North America, so monitoring from a datacenter in California won't give you an accurate depiction of what users in China are experiencing. Considering the rapid growth occurring in the China e-commerce market, strong web performance will surely play a role in determining which global companies successfully establish a foothold there – and which ones do not. Catchpoint recently analyzed the in-China web performance of 21 leading US and global retailers – all big-name companies – and found that only about half of them are currently delivering satisfactory performance there.
2. Don't Forget Internal Users
Organizations tend to focus more on ensuring strong performance for external users, namely customers. While the customer experience is a top priority, delivering excellent performance for internal applications is also critical to your business. Internal users rely on enterprise applications on a daily basis, and if their performance is poor, productivity could diminish. In many cases, internal applications ultimately serve a customer-facing purpose (for instance, a bank teller's app in a remote branch), so poor performance for these types of applications can in fact tarnish external reputation.
As noted above, performance tends to decline the further away users are from the data center – and this is also true for internal applications. Fortunately, new solutions enable organizations to measure performance in remote locations, in a simple, cost-effective manner that doesn't require extra IT resources and integrates seamlessly with larger, enterprise-wide performance monitoring initiatives.
3. Reactive Monitoring Is Dead
The traditional approach to performance monitoring has typically emphasized detecting and diagnosing problems; however, today, this just isn't enough. Today's customers take to social media networks to vent frustration almost immediately after a bad experience, so by the time a problem has occurred it's too late.
Adding to this challenge, increased IT complexity makes it very difficult to pinpoint and identify the source of problems quickly. Many businesses are using several measurement solutions to enhance their performance strategy, yet all of those layers take time to sift through.
This is why it's important to deploy a solution that interoperates seamlessly with other solutions to support a comprehensive, enterprise-wide monitoring strategy. Performance monitoring data offers deeper insights when correlated and analyzed in aggregate, so interoperability between tools can significantly enrich and optimize overall efforts. Ultimately, the result is improved productivity and the ability to find and fix application performance problems faster, ideally before end users become aware of them. For example, if performance for a particular set of applications declines, the IT team is in a better position to spot a trend and quickly identify the culprit, like one slow server or database supporting the apps.
4. IT Operational Excellence
IT operations teams used to define excellence as delivering “good enough” performance on the least amount of resources. Today, IT operational excellence is being redefined as the optimization of IT to support exceptional customer experiences.
For example, in a virtualized environment there may be a certain level of CPU utilization (less than 100 percent) where application performance begins to suffer. In this example, 100 percent utilization is not the ideal. As described previously, using more than one advanced analytics platform can help you discover these thresholds. IT operational excellence, when delivering the best customer experience possible is the focus, is a significant benefit of an evolved APM strategy.
5. Pay Attention to Third-Party Services
While it's important to use third-party services to deliver a richer and more satisfying customer experience that will help drive conversions, they can also become a performance nightmare if mismanaged. Prioritizing the needed third parties over supplemental third parties can prevent performance problems associated with this complexity.
In addition, organizations must have a way to isolate third parties and understand how their individual performance impacts the performance of their sites or applications overall, and quickly remove any services causing problems.
This is an especially important exercise when it comes to mobile sites and applications, as constrained mobile networks often exaggerate performance problems. The potential for third parties to wreak havoc was demonstrated during the 2015 holiday season. Overall, the leading mobile retail sites performed well, in spite of being “heavier” and delivering more content. When problems did occur, they were almost always found to be the result of malfunctioning third parties. This suggests that while mobile sites seem to have gotten a handle on delivering their own content well, they are still struggling to gain control over elements outside their own four walls.
Mobile traffic has increased immensely in recent years, making it a vital component to businesses. Reducing the number of third parties on mobile sites can support faster load times and better overall mobile user experiences.
6. Comprehensive Synthetic Monitoring with Real End-User Measurement
Synthetic monitoring is a proactive approach which monitors website availability and performance by generating synthetic-user traffic from cloud resources in various geographies. Regardless of the volume of traffic a site has at any given time, organizations can rely on synthetic monitoring to provide a realistic view of performance for users across a wide range of geographies. The limitation of synthetic monitoring, however, is that it does not show what actual users are doing once they enter a site or application.
Real-user monitoring (RUM) can bridge this gap by giving an understanding of what users do once they enter a site or application, like the most common landing pages and conversion paths. This can help an organization understand what parts of a site or application must be prioritized for optimization. However, this is a reactive approach, so performance problems will only be caught as they happen. Combining synthetic monitoring with real-user measurement is the best method to get a holistic understanding of performance across geographies; identify and fix problems before end users become aware; and see what website and application areas should be performance priorities.
In the digital business era, these six factors play a key role in defining a successful performance monitoring strategy. Today, a “satisfactory” user experience is not enough to propel a business, and with competition just a click away, delivering exceptional user experiences takes on the utmost of importance. Businesses across industries need to rethink their performance monitoring strategies, making them more comprehensive and proactive than ever before.
Mehdi Daoudi is CEO and Co-Founder of Catchpoint Systems.
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