This paper aims to elucidate the issues that affect the user experience in today's computing environments; how to monitor that experience, pre-empt problems and decide what actions need taking when the user experience is unacceptable. The paper should be of interest to both business and technical readers who know that delivering a good user experience is a key competitive advantage and want to be sure their organisation is benefiting from doing so.
The experience users receive when accessing IT applications is critical to the effectiveness of many business processes. That experience is affected by the application operating environment, the user's location and the network being used for access. To understand the overall user experience requires the ability to monitor all of these aspects and provide granular enough information to fine tune the IT infrastructure and ensure the optimal experience for all users.
- Users cannot be relied upon to report poor experience If they are external users, for instance using an e-commerce application, they may just abandon it and go elsewhere. If they are internal users, they may have become inured to poor performance, simply accepting it and operating unproductively with consequent impact on the business processes they participate in.
- The issues that affect the user experience fall into three main areas; the application operating environment, the network and the location of the users themselves The effective operating speed of a network and the resources available to a given application is rarely consistent and can vary through time. Understanding and controlling these issues is essential to improving the user experience wherever they happen to be located.
- The widespread adoption of virtualisation has had particular impact on the way applications perform In a non-virtualised environment the relationship between an application and the physical resources available on its host server are well understood. For an application running on a virtual server this relationship breaks down. For example, many virtual applications may compete for a small number of physical network connections.
- The data that provides the insight into the user experience comes from a wide range of sources Many already exist; network switches and routers, load balancers, firewalls, content filters etc. These can be supplemented by additional task-specific monitors. Sampling data from all of these and consolidating it centrally using a single data model allows a picture of the overall user experience to be visualised via a console. This enables business managers to direct how priorities should be changed and technical staff to make targeted changes to the way applications are managed and networks provisioned.
- Such insight often allows problems to be solved without resorting to expensive infrastructure investments If the issues that impact user experience are not well understood, the temptation is to throw money at the problem and invest in higher-performing devices and additional infrastructure. Such untargeted investment can lead to little improvement and is often unnecessary when other actions, such as modifying user behaviour, reprioritising network traffic or deploying a content delivery service, would have been cheaper and more effective.
- To justify investment in user experience monitoring tools requires a value proposition to be built Many of the issues that arise from poor user experience are intangible; lost customers, unproductive employees and ineffective business processes. Having an over-arching view of the user experience leads to an understanding of how to improve it, reduce business risk and create business value at a minimum cost. It is possible to build a compelling case, even based around a single known issue. If this can be done, the ongoing ability to measure the user experience and answer questions no-one had thought to ask before is invaluable.
Information technology can be a wonderful thing when it works, but a miserable experience when it fails. The technology is there to enable users, not frustrate them, and ensuring the experience is more often good than bad is the only way to create a productive harmony between humans and computers.
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