The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting the world in ways we couldn't have imagined so first and foremost, I'd like to ask everyone to take it seriously.
We're Here For You
We know many companies will be going through changes and BEMODEM would like to do it's part to help. Our business operates using a distributed work model so though we've suspended all on-site customer engagements for the time being, our full range of capabilities remains intact and all of our services are up and running.
Changes We've Made
In an added effort to help support your business during this crisis, we've made some changes.
Changes We're Making
For a few months, we've been running a pilot program to better monitor and respond to operational needs commonly experienced by restaurant owners, operators, and staff. Over the next few days, we'll be making a portion of that program available as a service and offering it for free to all restaurant owners. We'll provide more information as we work through this product's release process but, if you work in a restaurant, manage one, or own a franchise, click here to learn more.
We want to help. We're available through chat and phone if you've got any questions so please don't hesitate to reach out. Stay safe, keep a watchful eye on the news, and remain positive.
CEO & Founder of BEMODEM
Dramatic title right? well, it's a pretty dramatic topic. When you choose to not monitor the digital experience, you're sort of slamming the door on your user's face...you're being selfish!
DEM stands for Digital Experience Monitoring or, if you're paying attention, Management. It's the idea of understanding your user experience and how it's perceived by your users. Your site could be running beautifully on a few EC2 instances using almost no CPU or memory but, if the users can't get to what they're looking for, that efficiency is undercut by a bad user experience. That's when you get all sorts of post on forums and social media saying, "Your website is terrible" or, "You need a new IT team".
You can talk to those disgruntled users and try to get screenshots, a customer ID, steps to reproduce (and you probably should) but, this isn't going to help you long term. You probably figured out APM (Application Performance Monitoring) a while back and can at least detect if a server goes down...lets tackle the experience.
Am I Using DEM?
This is DEM.
We've had a lot of followers stop by and ask us for help understanding the difference between synthetic user data, and real user data. While we don't have all the answer and specific use cases will depend a bit on your product, I'll break it down into 3 parts to get you started and if you've got more questions after, you know how to find me!
When Is Synthetic Data Useful?
Synthetics are basically automated test scripts that run through your application and perform various test scenarios to determine if you site is working as expected. Because they are pre-recorded bots, they make a few assumptions that would be hard to make when looking at real user data. These assumptions allow you to focus on specific KPIs by removing some white noise. synthetic scenarios are often considered clean room or happy path tests.
Synthetic users allow you to understand the user experience from a technical side. If my flow makes sense and my content is on point, users will be happy with my site because the page load times are good, content is rich but well-compressed, and key flows have been up and operational all day. Because of that, frequent synthetic runs are a good way to see if key parts of your site are operational without having to wait for real users to try using them.
When is Real User Data Useful?
It's hard to not see the value of real user data upfront and with synthetics explained earlier in this write-up, this should be pretty straight-forward but, let's dive in anyways! Real users are best for understanding patterns and trends but, they can also be used for some real deep-dives into edge cases and even for 1 on 1 customer support.
Example Use Cases
How Can Synthetics and Real Users Work Together?
Real user data is collected as application users interact with your website and takes into account every click, mouse-over, aimless back and forth...well, it takes everything into account. As a result, it's a lot to sift through or reliably digest without a good baseline. Synthetics establish that baseline for you by measuring the "happy path" for that same scenario. If a synthetic user gets through the flow without issue, the problem is not in the application itself but, maybe in the experience. Is the user confused? Is the right information being given? Is the price too high?
This example works just as well when comparing to firefighters, police officers, and all sorts of first responders but, something about comparing a website to Gotham City and your team to Batman really just gets the brain juices pumping.
Let's Knock Out A Common Misconception
Though often shown spotting crime from atop a tall building, this is not how Gotham's Dark Knight usually detects crime. Instead, Batman pulls in data from hundreds of different sources and puts it through his super duper Bat Computer which then detects problems or potential problem areas for Batman to further look into. I could go on but, the point is that Batman may catch the occasional spontaneous purse snatcher while just hanging out on the roof of a skyscraper but that sort of luck only accounts for 1% of his work...in fact, in most cases, he's up on that particular building because he already has some inside information suggesting that area will have more crime than usual.
To draw a clear connection before I lose you: Batman knows that a famous singer is performing tonight and that this could attract more pick-pockets in the same way you as a website owner should know that Black Friday is around the corner and site traffic is going to increase.
Batman's Data Collectors
City Security Camera Grid
By tapping into the security feed of every gas station, bank, or street corner, Batman can see everything that's happening in his city and though it's a lot to watch real-time at once, it definitely helps him understand whats going on if he has an idea of where to look. For those of us in tech, our equivalent of the security camera grid would be a session replay tool.
If a power plant was overloaded and about to explode, Batman knows because he's got alerts configured for all of that and within seconds, he knows where he is going and why. In the IT world, this would be similar to CPU and memory usage alerts.
Even if a situation is 100% under control or no where near your area of concern, it's good to know what's going on. For Batman, keeping one ear on the police bands helps him make sure he's got the latest intel on a situation. For anyone managing complex enterprise environments, this is like having incident communications go out through Slack or even email. Knowing that your app is down at the same time that mine is helps us combine our knowledge and improve resolution times.
Satellite or Aerial Surveillance
When a few cameras won't do, batman's got satellites and drones he can dispatch to cover more ground. This can help him see what people are running to or from, what neighborhoods have not yet been impacted, and where the problem originated. Real-User Monitoring does this for us in cyberspace, allowing us to track each user's clicks, errors, and trends.
I could compare Gotham to website for days and by now, hopefully you can too but, we can't end this article without covering the most iconic method in Batman's arsenal of crime detection tools: The Bat Signal. This giant spotlight on the top of the police headquarters is used by law enforcement and citizens alike to call for help. This is an example of direct user feedback! It's you asking your user's to email your support team or write you on Facebook and though you never want to rely on this too heavily, you can't ever overlook it because the customer's experience is the goal!
You heard it here first or, maybe you didn't...we don't know what you're hearing! What we do know is that the right music can improve your team's issue resolution times by as much as 11%. The concept is simple, implementation is instant, and the details are below!
We've all seen or felt the influence of music in our lives - we see it several times a day in fact. Elevator music to calm you while you're locked in a tiny box with strangers, Light FM-style pop music to keep you wandering through the department store a little longer, hold music while you wait for your ISP to explain why they've charging you an extra $50 this month. Music is every where and depending on your mood and the task at hand, it can make you happy, more patient, and even more productive.
What started off as an internal joke within our team quickly became a study to see how music could impact our lives at work. More specifically, we wanted to know if dramatic movie scores during critical production issues would help us resolve issues faster.
At first, it sounds silly but, think about it for a moment: who doesn't want to play the hero in an over-the-top movie scene? With the right music, even your average production issues can be really exciting and when it'ex exciting, people just work harder.
Read this exchange between a few analysts during a production issue. You'll see it's pretty basic and probably even a little familiar...nothing special...just another day in the IT world of support.
Analyst 1: "I'm seeing some user action degradation..."
Analyst 2: "Looks like it's in the product search results..."
Analyst 1: "It's worse than that...I'm getting a blank page when I try to view my past orders..."
Analyst 2: "That's not good...we should let everyone know...sound the alarm."
Analyst 3: "I don't see what's causing it...does anyone see whats causing it?"
Executive: "Are we down?"
Analyst 2: "Looks like a bad instance..."
Executive: "Can users log in?"
Analyst 1: "I see two instances at max CPU"
Executive: "Should we evict the cache?"
Analyst 2: "This isn't cache-related..."
Analyst 3: "We have to reroute traffic and bounce now. We have to stop the bleeding."
Analyst 2: "The auto-scaling policy should have already started that..."
Analyst 1: "Auto-scaling failed...I think it's a memory leak"
Analyst 3: "I'm doubling the amount of instances till we figure it all out"
Now, play this sound in a new tab while you read the exchange again...youtu.be/7dCGJXnUlOk?t=94
Find out what your average resolution time or Mean Time To Resolution (MTTR) is and then for the next few incidents, play some dramatic music (at a reasonable volume) while you team works to resolve. If your team is as cool as mine, they'll get into it and you'll be a few flashing lights shy of a Hollywood Blockbuster and more importantly, you'll see that MTTR improve.