Monthly Archives: February 2014

10 rules for how businesses need to ready themselves for the Matrix

#include <std_disclaimer.h>

We are in the matrix!

The digital world is now becoming more important than the real world.
We have become internet obsessed and the ubiquity that connected smartphones gives to mobile and social apps has made them ever-present in our lives.

Speaking of ubiquity, Pew Internet reports that 79% of adults between 18-29 now have a smartphone and 67% between 30-49. We are spending more time online at the expense of other activities.

Our time, both personal and professional, is shared between Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, youtube moreso than interacting with real people. And children who were born in 2000 and later will never know a world without instant digital gratification.

Apple, Microsoft and Google were ranked #1, #3 and #4 in terms of largest market capitalizations at the end of 2013. Snapchat was just acquired by Facebook for $19B. That’s the most ever for a venture backed company. Shocked? Don’t be, they are the engines behind the digital experiences of the future.

Here’s that scene from the Matrix where Neo chooses the red pill for reality and the truth…

But there is no “red pill” for businesses. No way back to the old realities. To succeed and flourish you must change.

How do businesses need to ready themselves for the Matrix?

  1. The business needs to take ownership of the customer experience. The old bureaucracy is dead. Business can no longer afford to have bad outcomes and finger pointing. “It was ITs fault” or “We didn’t have clear requirements.” The business must be driving the ship and project managers and developers must be part of supporting the business goals.
  2. Take an integrated look at the people who are your users. Understand them and their needs. What do you need to do to keep them happy and loyal.
  3. Change the focus to outside-in. Now that you understand them better, think like the people who are your users. Construct and manage the user experience in a unified way across all the customer touch points. This means spending more time on usability.
  4. Learn to be a story teller. Traditional marketing content and tactics are becoming less and less effective. Tell a story that answers the question of “why.” Why will this help me or my company or my family or…well you get the idea :)
  5. Help your users tell your story. Send a follow up email asking them to return the product if they are not 100% happy and ask for a brief product review if they are.
  6. Be Agile. And by that I mean two things. Build the bare minimum at first. Don’t let committee scope creep thwart bringing new products to market. Try new things and be willing to fail…quickly. If the results don’t turn out as expected move on to the next thing to try.
  7. Consider gamification. Make using your product rewarding for the people who do it. Give them rankings or free credit or access to something exclusive.
  8. Use everything you know to help. I’m really avoiding big data here because I still think a terabyte is big since I built my first data warehouse with 2G fujitsu disks. But you know a lot about your users. What they purchase and what they don’t. What parts of your website they use and which parts they avoid. Probably a number of different demographics as well. Leverage all of that to help deliver the best experience possible.
  9. Start thinking about what you need to do in the future to ready yourself for when everyone walks around like a Cylon (am I allowed to make a Battlestar Galactica reference in the same post as the Matrix?) with their Google glass on and has digital assistants helping to find the products and services they want before they even think about it.
  10. Lastly, move faster. You must learn to run and operate your business in the new real-time reality of business.

What an exciting time this is to transform your business!

Hope you are starting the journey.

Ken

We are in the great monitoring renaissance

#include <std_disclaimer.h>

Someone told me just yesterday that my head was in the clouds. That I was too much of a dreamer about monitoring, but I really disagree. We are in the great business and application monitoring renaissance!

Today, monitoring systems both open source and from leading vendors are simpler to implement and distill better intelligence about application performance than ever before and better capabilities are coming.

There are a pile of vendors that do all or most of the 5 APM dimensions described by Gartner. The future though is different. It’s something more, something with it’s own intuition to help us normal humans manage things well. And it will be more than a system that helps you become aware and address technical performance issues like today’s APM. It will be a system that helps you manage Customer Experience across all channels.

Someday we may have the internet of things (IoT) because everything will be a sensor, but we already have a lot of sensor data for managing business, applications, networks and platforms.

Many organizations already have sensors that collect performance and availability data from:
– synthetic end-user monitoring
– real user monitoring
– algorithm performance
– transaction tracing
– platform monitoring
– network performance monitoring
– database performance
– visitor analytics
– business performance statistics
– events like product releases

The bigger issue is that much of the above sensor data are still looked at in a non-integrated way.

What organizations need are business analytics and performance systems that give us the traditional shareable KPI dashboards with a layer underneath. That statistically powered, machine learning layer that includes analyzing the streams of “big data” coming from all those sensors in real-time, identifying anomalous behavior and correlating other anomalous events all the way from the technical stack, through to the user experience layer, and ending up with business results.

I was told that this is too complex. That it will never be mainstream.

Yes, performing streaming analysis of data in real-time and correlating that across hundreds or thousands of metrics is complex, and so is a fingerprint sensor on a smartphone. It’s ok if something is complex inside as long as the user interaction is not complex. Well designed products take very complex things and make them simple for users to leverage.

This isn’t anything as futuristic as AI. In fact, to me this seems like the maturation of business intelligence systems applied to customer experience. In the beginning there was the data. The data is big and raw and complex and hard to look at. Over the years we turned that data into information. Delivering reports and dashboards that make it easy to understand and ask questions of the data or build dashboards to show KPIs over time. The fulfillment of BI promise is that software systems can help us turn data into information and into knowledge.

That’s really what we are striving for. That our operational systems are smart enough to self-identify anomalous behavior anywhere is the business / technology stack. Machine detected anomalies effectively create a warrant which needs to be triaged before jumping in to action. But isn’t that what we really want from our business monitoring systems.

Tell me when something unusual is happening and provide all the related things that could be causing it.

Just my 2-cents. It doesn’t seem like rocket science to me.

Ken

My Short Affair with Microsoft Surface Pro and the Retail User Experience

I couldn’t resist picking up one of those Surface Pro’s when they went on sale a few weeks back for $499. It is such a novel and interesting little device. A complete and powerful computer all neatly packed into a little tablet with a gorgeous 10.6 in. 1920 x 1080 hd touch screen. And of course I needed the accompanying Type 2 cover and keyboard.

I really wanted to love the Surface Pro but in the end I returned it to the Microsoft Store.

After two weeks I learned I couldn’t really find a way for it to work for me in a productive way. It still remained interesting, but it just felt like a device sitting next to me in the den while I used my recently rehabilitated 5 year old Macbook Pro.

Windows 8.1 was actually quite nice to use. After installing Classicshell.net I had a complete Windows 7 desktop environment as well as Microsoft’s device oriented Modern UI. The touch interface was nice in modern UI and I’ve caught myself smudging the Macbook’s glass swiping at it a time or two :). The Windows 8 snapping applications thing was pretty cool too. Not that you can’t do that in any windowing operating system just without the swipe and snap.

I did install Classicshell.net right after the Windows 8.1 updates which gave me the best of both worlds. A full Windows 7 desktop environment as well as Microsoft’s device oriented Modern UI. And I can completely see how for the mobile professional the Surface Pro could represent a solution that would let you have a complete professional computing environment both at the office, at the home office, and on the go.

But…it’s just not usable as a laptop and there’s the rub.

As much as I wanted to cherish this enticing device I could not be productive with it the way I compute most of the time. The kickstand was wonky when not at a desk. The type 2 cover keys had a really nice feel but a terrible mouse-touchpad thing. Even with the type 2 cover’s bit of rigidity the Surface was still too top-heavy to use effectively when not at a desk. It also got a little too warm as a tablet compared to…well…my iPad.

I was hoping the Surface Pro would cure my desire for a new 13 in. retina Macbook Pro. Instead, it was a short affair.

What Microsoft really needs to learn from this blog post has nothing to do with their hardware or software but rather their business systems and their understanding of how to interact with consumers. Because the $499. sale for last years Surface Pro was only over a weekend I ordered from the Microsoftstore.com online rather than risk not getting one at the retail store nearby in Boca Raton.

When I called Microsoft to let them know I wanted to make a return they said I “could” return it to the retail store but it sounded like that would be awkward. I just preferred to bring it back to return it to the store and close the case so to speak. When I went to the store the employees were very nice but couldn’t figure out how to use the case number I was given by the online Microsoftstore.com personnel. It took an incredibly long time for them to be able to process the return and 3 team members were involved to help get it to conclusion. The whole affair seemed painful to everyone and their systems. At one point someone mentioned that the online Microsoftstore.com and the retail store locations use different systems – really, really?

I will complement Microsoft’s employees who were very nice and made sure that I did everything required to have a successful return. In fact, it seemed like one or two went above and beyond to try and minimize the lack of cooperation from the systems. Honestly though, it was two 30+ minute calls to Microsoftstore.com support and 45 minutes at the Microsoft Store in Boca.

Microsoft, please take examine the retail user experience delivered by Apple. Seamless, swift, and never an unstated non-smile if you want to return something you decided against (as long as it’s in brand new condition).

Finally, and perhaps a contributor to my decision to return the Surface Pro, the recent browser usage statistics from New Relic show that IE is down to a paltry 14.8% share across more than 2 million application instances. If that’s not a signal that Microsoft’s role as THE predominant client is beyond repair I don’t know what is.

Maybe Microsoft should stick to what they have grown to be very good at – helping enterprises build and deliver corporate IT and applications and cede the consumer client space. The consumer client space will be dominated by those that focus on experiences and I’m just not feeling that competitiveness from this latest encounter.

Ken

8 Website Monitoring Services – Pricing Analysis

Yesterday I shared the 10 factors for choosing a Website monitoring service and purposefully left the pricing discussion short. It’s a larger discussion and analysis and we will do that justice here.

The marketplace for Website monitoring services has changed over the last few years. Synthetic (aka fake user) monitoring is still a very important capability for ensuring web site and application availability and functionality, but it has become one of an ensemble of tools required to understand and manage web performance and user experience well. New and improved technologies and a maturing market has led to a commoditization of these website monitoring services.

An honest assessment of your monitoring needs is still at the top of my list, and I think you should think carefully about need to have vs. nice to have. Once you know what you need you can begin assessing which service is right for your needs, skills, and budget.

Website monitoring services are typically sold in 3 ways.

  • single plans such as one 5-min Web transaction monitor
  • packages such as ten 5-min basic site monitors and one Web transaction monitor
  • usage pricing such as I need to monitor my home page every 5 mins (12 times an hour x 24 x 30.4 days/month)

My methodology for comparing pricing was to convert all of the services I researched to a common cost format. I did that by converting each vendors entry level offering into the cost per test (or test step for multi-step Web application transaction monitors). Here is a quick example. One 5-minute basic test would be (1 step x 12 intervals/hr x 24 hrs x 30.4 days) = 8775.2 tests per month. If that has a price of $10 a month then the cost per test would be $5.00 / 8775.2 or $0.00114 per test.

This table represents summarizes my research across 8 different providers of Website monitoring services.

Company source real-browser basic monitor Price Rating RUM APM
Nuestar online 0.02750 0.00688 $$$$ Extra cost Not avail.
Compuware / Gomez hearsay 0.01000 0.00200 $$$ Extra cost Extra cost
Keynote hearsay 0.01000 0.00100 $$$ Extra cost Not avail.
AlertBot online 0.00456 0.00017 $$ Not avail. Not avail.
Dotcom-monitor online 0.00487 0.00080 $$ Extra cost Not avail.
Site24x7 online 0.00046 0.00008 $ Not avail. Extra cost.
Pingdom online 0.000343 0.000034 $ (1 Free) Included Not avail.
Uptimerobot Online Not avail. Free Free Not avail. Not avail.

This list is sorted by cost with the highest cost providers at the top.  Keynote and Gomez pricing is accumulated from information shared with me over the years. Also, Keynote will typically discount 20% if you just ask.

Frankly, unless you have advanced feature needs, I can’t see why you wouldn’t start with the free services from Pingdom and Uptimerobot.

Hope this data helps you make informed business decisions for your website monitoring needs.

Ken

Column definitions:

Company – the name of the monitoring service
source – the source of the information gathered
real-browser – the cost per test or test step of monitoring using a real web browser sensor
basic monitor – the cost per test of monitoring using a basic protocol synthetic monitor
price rating – a positioning of the services relative price vs. others
RUM – whether the service can provide real-user monitoring in addition to synthetic
APM – whether the service offers deeper APM monitoring for Java, .Net, PHP

64% Chrome Browser Share! Are They Chrome Hipsters?

Ok, I’m a big fan of Chrome, and I’ve pretty much replaced Firefox on all my machines with it, but I’m still having a hard time believing the numbers in New Relic’s infographic. New Relic says this data is aggregated from over 3 million application instances.

The breakdown shows:

  • Chrome 64.3%
  • Firefox 16.3%
  • IE 14.8%
  • Safari 4.2%
  • Other 0.4%

May I correct what I said before? I’m absolutely sure New Relic can correctly aggregate data like this from their massive collection. It’s just that I’m having a hard time believing these numbers represent the mainstream. I still know too many people who are using Windows on the desktop and are happy with the latest IE browsing experiences. And although I’m still a considerable Mac fan, the newest household addition is a Surface Pro, and IE provides a better user experience right now even with the latest Chrome beta version.

If this number is true for IE, it would spell almost certain doom for Microsoft. Maybe they are not King Kong of the client operating system world anymore but this information is just for Desktop and Laptop computers. I know a few people who really like their Windows phones and after some use I think there is a fair amount to like about Windows 8.1 (of course I did have to install a 3rd party start button ;) In fact, I find myself swiping the screen on the Macbook Pro sometimes lately. But if it is doom for Microsoft should I return my Surface Pro before the 30-days are up?

One reasonable explanation might be that New Relic targets a certain developer / startup type of user and maybe their applications are a little more targeted at – dare I say – Chrome Hipsters :)

Just ranting a bit.

Ken