The Business Imperatives Behind Quality of Experience (QoE)

By Dennis Drogseth

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There are many terms circulating across the industry for managing customer experience. Some of the more technical focus on more established metrics such as quality of service (QoS), and for VoIP, mean opinion score or MOS. However, there are also a growing number of metrics targeted at accurately capturing the real experience of IT's consumers (both internal and external), such as real user monitoring (RUM) and quality of experience (QoE).


I personally prefer QoE, as it suggests the open-endedness of actual “experience,” when it comes to IT services, which can be affected by everything from response time and availability, to navigability, security, consistency—even aesthetics. It is significant that QoE-related initiatives are typically driven by the business, with strong executive involvement. But this makes sense given that QoE isn’t centered in technology, but in the flesh-and-blood experience of the person consuming IT services.


This focus is a lot like MOS was originally intended as it applied to telecommunications services. Like it or not, how IT customers “feel” about their services is, in the end, how they’re going to spend their money. And, since QoE resides in the hearts and minds of IT consumers, the dimensions of understanding QoE can be as complex and differentiated as one might expect once you combine human “sensibilities” with a wide range of IT services.


For some users, mobility might be more important than super quick response time. Security may be "the" value (and often is when critical records or financial transactions are at play). Or poorly designed applications can present issues of navigability. "Ugly” applications can cost you and your business revenue dollars and brand loyalty. But the heart of the problem is most often centered around response times.


In some research on QoE adoption conducted in Q4 of 2008, we saw that 79% of our respondents viewed QoE as becoming more important to their organizations. Only two percent viewed it as less important. And the vast majority (71%) viewed QoE as both a business and a technology concern. Employee productivity was the core driver, followed closely by business competitiveness and revenue. And, when investing in solutions to support QoE, most respondents expected that their investments would not only alert to a problem with user experience, but help to point to where and what the problem is. This is what I like to call “triage.” I associate “triage” with QoE versus “diagnostics”, which are often done with more domain-specific investments or point solutions.


Pulling QoE Together


So, who should you include in your QoE teams? Based on our experience, you really need a mix of cross-domain expertise, from application managers and application developers, to network and systems managers, to service desk professionals. Some IT organizations actually have a “User Experience Management” group already in place that bears that name.


On the business side, you may be working with line of business executives. These are the people who feel the pain the most when, say, a salesmen at a home improvement store can’t effectively use a custom-built application to help customers see the value and impact of store’s products in their home environments. Or when medical users struggle in life and death situation because of slow response times. Or when a retail operation loses sales to competitors because of website navigation issues.


Other executives might come from online operations, or ebusiness initiatives, or service managers for business services beyond IT. There is no bureaucracy yet on the business side for QoE so executives tend to be most directly involved. Don't forget trainers and process professionals. This group is 100%
dependent upon QoE information to make sure that, say, a new SAP rollout is effective from both an application design and a user productivity perspective.

As far as solutions go there are many different types. Services such as Gomez and Keynote have helped to make QoE (or User Experience Management) more and more of a household name. But there are many solution providers ranging from broad applications management platforms such as Compuware and Quest, to more Web-centric solutions such as OpTier or Coradiant. Then there are those actively supporting Web2 and SOA such as Symphoniq, to networking solutions such as NetQoS, NetScout, OPNET, and Mazu. Those focused on end-user productivity include Knoa. These are just a few examples. The list is far from complete. The major management platforms also have capabilities for QoE. EMA has a solution center available to help you select QoE products http://www.enterprisemanagement.com/IT_Mgmt_Solutions/.


When we asked our respondents what they would have done differently in their QoE initiatives, they underscored the growing importance of QoE by singling out “starting sooner” as their No.1 choice. Second and third were “better coordination between IT and the business,” and “better coordination across groups within IT.” Paying more attention to processes and best practices came in fourth. I think these are not only good descriptive “lessons learned” but worth keeping in mind for you CIOs who, in 2009, need to optimize IT performance and show business value in measurable and meaningful ways.


Where to Start


There are a lot of ways to begin a QoE initiative, if you haven’t already. Start by targeting one or two critical business applications. Make sure that you reach that decision not in a vacuum, but in dialog with relevant line of business exec's. Make it a joint effort from the start. Or, you may find (and this is often the case), that they are doing the driving. This is a less optimal way to begin, but believe it or not it’s the most common. After all, QoE is about furthering business values through IT services.


You may wish to create a “User Experience Management” team appropriately aligned to the task at hand. Quite often this includes application developers, especially if in-house-developed Web or custom vertical applications are where you need to begin first. But be sure to include the right mix of applications and infrastructure management skills to support a multi-dimensional view of QoE. In some cases, VoIP or even media and video conferencing require their own QoE groups.


If you can make QoE one of your executive priorities in 2009—focused on one or just a handful of business-critical applications—you’ll not only improve your business alignment, but in have a measurable and compelling way for deciding where you can optimize and cut costs.


Dennis Drogseth is vice president of Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates (www.enterprisemanagement.com), an industry research firm focused on IT management. Dennis can reached at ddrogseth@enterprisemanagement.com