This is the time of year when stores start to decorate with holly and tinsel, snowflakes and twinkling lights, as they prepare for the biggest revenue-generating season of the year. While online sales organizations do not need to hang any mistletoe, they should be preparing for what is becoming – more and more each year – their biggest sales season as well. As e-commerce represents a greater percentage of any company's revenue, the challenge to meet customer needs online is more important to the company's success each year.
With this in mind, APMdigest asked experts from across the Application Performance Management (APM) industry for their opinions on how to best prepare for the challenges of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Holiday Shopping Season.
There are a wide range of tips listed here, and not all of them may apply to your business – depending on your business model, IT strategy, IT infrastructure and other factors. Some of the expert opinions even conflict with each other. But the purpose of this list is to offer some insight that you might not have thought of before. Some point on this list may be the key to solving your e-commerce challenges during this Holiday Shopping Season.
On the other hand, the technologies listed here are not standalone solutions. Because of this, you will find that many of the quotes actually span multiple technology categories. Smart companies use many of these tools together to optimize application performance and the end user experience.
Jonah Kowall, Research VP, IT Operations, at Gartner, explains how a variety of approaches are essential: "Performance testing and performance monitoring go hand in hand. It's important to regularly test the application's ability to handle expected and unexpected volumes. Measurement must be done across both availability (synthetic) and performance monitoring. With the growing importance of mobile, these additional applications must also have similar technologies applied. Optimization of both back end and front end code will allow for optimal user engagement. This is not just performance but also the perception of performance."
APMdigest will be spreading out the 18 recommended technologies in three parts over the next three days, with six tools presented each day. The first six technologies presented here start out with mainstream APM capabilities that are essential to e-commerce success.
1. End-User Experience Management
Experts are predicting mobile, for the first time ever, will be the most dominant channel for this year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Your mobile app is your brand this holiday season, making your mobile user experience – and in turn your mobile application performance – more important than ever. It's imperative to be proactive about performance and fix production issues before they become pervasive with users. Using real-user monitoring tools will allow for end-to-end visibility into every transaction across mobile, web, and e-commerce platform layers.
Sr. Director of Product Marketing, AppDynamics
Companies should make sure that they are using end user experience monitoring on their most important customer facing websites or mobile applications. Synthetic end user experience monitoring scripts should be configured to reflect common customer journeys in order to proactively detect performance and availability issues. Real user monitoring should be used to rapidly identify usability or configuration issues which could harm a customer's experience of an application.
Analyst, Infrastructure and Operations, Forrester Research
Although online retailing may grab headlines, last year's Cyber Monday purchases were only 14% of Black Friday's. (sources: Comscore, ShopperTrak). Holiday shoppers may do their research on mobile and web, but when it comes to buying (and most returns), they prefer to go to a store. As omni-channel retailers look to unify the customer buying experience across web, mobile, POS, contact centers, and physical stores, their IT colleagues must unify end user experience monitoring to ensure the reliability of all of the apps that support the buying cycle.
Chief Product Evangelist, Aternity
2. Mobile APM
In today's "Application Economy" consumer expectation has never been greater as more consumers rely on anytime, anywhere, always connected access through mobile devices. This new era of consumer expectation demands a new era of easy-to-use, proactive and mobile ready APM aimed at assuring a flawless customer experience. Intelligence through advanced behavioral analytics helps organizations anticipate and avoid rather than detect and react. Always-on Synthetic Monitoring integrated with an on-premise solution is another must have to assure 24x7 application availability anywhere in the world. Missing any of these elements means you are likely missing customers.
VP, DevOps Marketing, CA Technologies
Retailers who ignore smartphone and tablet users do so at their own peril. Not only is mobile adoption changing the landscape for retailers, user expectations are also skyrocketing, putting an ever increasing onus on mobile website and app performance. With the surge in adoption now a full on tidal wave, mobile performance is now a defining characteristic of the customer relationship. In order to meet user demands, keep customers happy, and capitalize on the holiday e-commerce rush, businesses should implement a robust APM strategy to insure that their mobile performance is up to snuff.
Field Technical Evangelist Director, Dynatrace
Mobile is now mainstream in online retail, with an average 113% year-over-year growth in sales from smartphones and 86% from tablets in 2013, according to a recent Shop.org study conducted by Forrester Research. Providing optimized user experience on a mobile devices is increasingly important, and often hard to control. Ensuring high-performing mobile apps requires APM solutions that provide end-to-end visibility and analytics to natively monitor apps – from users, devices and trace transactions into the back-end to provide user experience and end-to-end performance insights. These insights help IT release and maintain new features that perform under the stress of real-world conditions.
Senior Product Marketing Manager, Riverbed SteelCentral (APM)
For many companies, mobile has become an essential part of a successful holiday season. According to eMarketer in 2014, mobile will account for almost 20% of e-commerce sales. With that in mind, it's essential to go from reactive to proactive mobile performance management, catching production issues quickly in an automated way, and not relying on inefficient back and forth emails with users.
3. IT Operations Analytics
Take a strategic, holistic, approach to user experience with a platform that identifies root cause and performs real-time triage with advanced analytics.
Technology Analyst, Tech-Tonics
The best way to prepare for the holiday e-commerce rush is to have a strong User Experience Management capability – that can dynamically relate business outcomes with service performance and feed back into a solid diagnostic set of capabilities that include solid analytics and application dependency mapping. Ideally, you might throw in some advanced capacity analytics for real-time optimization as need be. Finally, given the holidays, I'd have a good drink handy if all else fails.
VP of Research, Enterprise Management Associates (EMA)
Early detection of potential performance issues is the best way application support teams can ensure a seamless online experience for shoppers on Cyber Monday. However, everything moves fast and furious during the holiday season, so there's not always time to make on-the-fly adjustments to rules or thresholds that flag performance issues. This is where machine learning-powered anomaly detection can be invaluable - without any human intervention, it can identify the early signs of developing problems in massive volumes of data in real-time, enabling IT teams to slash troubleshooting time and decrease the noise from false alarms. With this technology, IT teams can attack and resolve any issues before they reach critical proportions and affect shoppers.
VP of Marketing, Prelert
4. APM with Transaction Capture
Prior to Cyber Monday, deploy a performance monitoring agent into your app, specifically one that gives you code-level visibility into your shopping cart transaction. It's here, where customers hit "Purchase" that will determine your final revenue numbers. So giving your team the ability to find and fix performance problems before they impact end-users is a must.
Senior Director of Enterprise Marketing, New Relic
As traffic volume surges, transaction failures may happen. What is worse is not being able to detect a failed transaction or pattern in failures. Don't rely on sampling of transactions since there is a high possibility of losing critical information that leads to dissatisfied users and losses. Use APM tools that allow 100% transaction capture.
Sr. Product Manager - APM, IBM
With the surge of purchasing on Cyber Monday, everyone hopes to have their applications performing perfectly. It is crucial to have an APM tool that can provide transaction correlation and in-depth user context to pinpoint trouble areas and bottlenecks. This gives businesses the opportunity to be proactive and resolve issues before customers are impacted. Having a transactional APM tool gives online businesses the critical coverage to avoid mishaps on Cyber Monday, and every other day of the year.
VP of Product Strategy, Idera
Here's advice from APM users in the IT Central Station community: Correlate the performance of individual business transactions across multiple nodes and applications. Click here to read the full review on IT Central Station.
Founder and CEO, IT Central Station
5. BSM Dashboards
Companies should make sure that they have live business-centric dashboards created in time for the holiday e-commerce rush. These should not only provide insight into the performance of an application, but provide summary information as to potential customer experience and how much revenue the application is generating. These dashboards should be used to help guide e-commerce decisions during the holiday rush.
Analyst, Infrastructure and Operations, Forrester Research
Consider introducing Business Service Management (BSM) dashboards; modeled on infrastructure-to-business dependencies and driven by real-time data from your existing monitoring tools. Present real-time fault and performance data, in business context, enabling pre-emptive action to be taken if e-commerce services are at risk. By taking this top-down approach it's quite possible that Cyber Monday could be a Business-as-Usual Day.
Business Development, Interlink Software
6. Configuration and Change Management
Most retailers have strict black out windows for the time leading up to and during the holiday rush. Nevertheless, it's common for emergency changes to be required for security and performance reasons during such windows. Being able to do quick and accurate change impact analysis is key to avoiding an outage during such business critical windows, so take the time now to update the documentation of your e-commerce application configurations and who is responsible for all layers of the stack. An out of date Visio or an untrusted CMDB are real liabilities when your business is on the line.
SVP of Marketing, ITinvolve