While making sure applications are up and running is important, it may be even more important to perform monitoring that is from the perspective of your users. After all, who cares if your APM data shows an application to be up and running if the user is experiencing an issue that’s gone undetected? This is where digital experience monitoring, or user experience monitoring, comes into play.
“APM focuses on just collecting data from the application. It doesn’t collect data from the users. It doesn’t collect data from the network. And data from that interconnected digital chain, that needs to come together to deliver a great digital experience to customers and employees,” said Nik Koutsoukos, chief marketing officer at Catchpoint, a digital experience monitoring platform provider.
According to Koutsoukos, the goal of digital experience monitoring is to measure the “performance of applications and digital services from the vantage point of a digital user.”
He believes that any company delivering a digital service needs to be able to answer two questions: 1) Do I understand what my users are experiencing? 2) Do I have control of all of the services involved in delivering those experiences to my users?
In addition, companies need to be able to answer those questions quickly so they can resolve issues quickly.
“Time is of the essence,” said Koutsoukos. “Consumers and employees and digital users nowadays don’t have the patience for poor service or an outage. Just wait milliseconds and people are moving onto the next competitor and they’re trying to find solutions themselves. The user experience stakes have gone incredibly high. You have to be able to respond very quickly to a problem. In fact, I would say it’s not a question of reacting quickly to a problem. You have to be able to identify a problem really before it impacts the user experience of a customer or an employee because by the time they see it, it’s too late and they’re moved on to some other competitor or solution. They’re not going to wait for you, so this is where your ability to collect data and act on the data proactively is super important.”
The three components of digital experience monitoring
According to Koutsoukos, digital experience monitoring can be further broken down into three categories:
- Real User Monitoring
- Synthetic/Active Monitoring
- Endpoint Monitoring
Real user monitoring is all about collecting input from the browser.
Synthetic monitoring involves doing tests that allow you to determine what accessing a website or application would be like for an end user. For example, if you have an application that you want to deploy to China, but you don’t currently have users in China, you can simulate user transactions and test the performance before it goes live into production.
This involves using bots that behave like users that will test things like: “Can I access the application, is it up and running? Is the page rendering properly? And how is it performing in terms of response time, latency, and jitter?”
If there is a problem that gets identified, then the question becomes finding out what that problem is, Koutsoukos explained.
“If I establish that users can’t get to my website from China, the question is what is causing that outage? Is it the application itself? Is it my CDN provider, is it a DNS problem? Is a broadband or backbone ISP down? Is it a network issue? So the question then becomes: Do you have the data from that digital chain that is interconnecting your application to your users so you have the data to point me to where the problem is.” This element of synthetic and active monitoring is also sometimes referred to as network monitoring, Koutsoukos explained.
Finally, there is endpoint monitoring, which involves collecting data directly from a device. This is more common in the case of employees as end users, not customers, since companies don’t have a way of collecting data from their users’ devices, but may be able to monitor employee devices to gather metrics.
After the data from these three components of digital experience monitoring is correlated and analyzed, it can then be used by the IT teams to help troubleshoot problems.
Core Web Vitals
The Core Web Vitals are also a crucial part of user experience monitoring. They were created as part of Google’s Web Vitals initiative, which aims to provide unified guidance on the metrics most important for delivering good user experiences.
“Site owners should not have to be performance gurus in order to understand the quality of experience they are delivering to their users. The Web Vitals initiative aims to simplify the landscape, and help sites focus on the metrics that matter most, the Core Web Vitals,” the Web Vitals website states.
The Core Web Vitals are a subset of Web Vitals and are focused on three aspects of user experience: loading, interacting, and visual stability. The three metrics that correspond to those focus areas are Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS).
The vitals can be measured through a number of tools, including Chrome User Experience Report, PageSpeed Insights, and Search Console.
Koutsoukos added: “Ultimately it’s meant to capture the quality of the experience that a user is having on the mobile device and on the desktop device.”
In addition, Koutsoukos predicts that the Core Web Vitals will start to more heavily impact SEO. Google has already been using them when ranking websites in its search results, but Koutsoukos believes the Core Web Vitals will start to hold more rank.
Digital experience monitoring’s role in the distributed workforce
Koutsoukos has observed that digital experience monitoring has become increasingly important in the past year than ever before because there are more digital end users than ever before. For example, there are people needing to order groceries online who have never done so, and millions of kids and teachers needing to conduct classrooms using technology.
“Think about credit card processing systems and services. All of a sudden you saw a huge, huge spike in demand for what they were doing. The whole delivery system for groceries, local or global or more larger scale, had to sort of increase capacity to deal with the increased demand,” said Koutsoukos.
Even though states in the U.S. are starting to roll back restrictions to what they were pre-COVID-19 and the pace of vaccinations continues to rise, that doesn’t mean this digital demand is going to slow down any time soon. “[That digital demand is] going to continue being high,” said Koutsoukos. “In fact, in some cases it’s never going to go back to pre-covid levels.”
In addition, the mass influx of remote working exposed some of the weaknesses of the internet to handle demand shifting, he explained. Remote workers have to rely on their home networks rather than a business connection, which can be a challenge for IT teams who used to monitor network traffic as part of their digital experience monitoring.
“All of a sudden the question that came into play is: is IT in a position to deliver a great service to their employees now that they are not in an office with an internet connection and are relying on home connections? That has ramifications on how you monitor the digital experience of employees, are you in a position to troubleshoot problems when they arrive, and do you have the ability to do that,” said Koutsoukos.
According to Koutsoukos, this is where endpoint monitoring comes into play. When an employee was in an office it wasn’t necessary to monitor endpoints because the end user was in reach of the IT team.
“They’re remote and you just don’t have a clue of what experience they’re having on their PC. The ability to reach from an endpoint all the way to the employees has become very much needed,” said Koutsoukos.
Predicting user intent is the future of digital experience monitoring
Search company Algolia believes that digital experience monitoring will evolve to be able to predict a visitor’s intents.
Understanding why a user is there and what they want to achieve would enable sites and applications to surface relevant search results, recommendations, offers, and in-app notifications. It could also provide a site navigation that is completely customized to a particular user.
“There has been a fundamental shift in how companies earn trust online, and no matter the industry, it’s driven by an increasing sense of consumer urgency. As we head toward a cookieless world where data privacy is much more stringent, organizations must cease reliance on external data sources, or their business will suffer,” said Bernadette Nixon, CEO of Algolia. “Immediately gathering, utilizing, and protecting first-party data is mission-critical for every brand. However, companies no longer have minutes to spare when delivering what a customer is looking for — they must show results instantly or suffer the consequences of their customers bouncing to competitor’s sites. That is a big part of Algolia’s larger vision.”