As companies have become increasingly dependent upon electronic transactions as a primary means of customer interaction, many have found that it's no longer adequate to simply monitor overall performance. For businesses such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, monitoring each user's experience has become critical.
Starwood, which owns or manages 700 Westin, Sheraton and other hotels and resorts in 80 countries, relied on its Web site to produce more than US$1 billion in booking revenue last year. If customers can't instantly get the service they need, however, they take their business to the competition.
"Unless you are in a unique industry, Internet users probably have hundreds of options, and they are all a mouse click away," says Keith Kelly, Starwood's vice president of Web technology. "Every guest interaction must be handled quickly and flawlessly."
To gain better insight into their service to customers and employees, Starwood and other companies are turning to a new generation of appliances and software tools that let them monitor the level of service for each transaction. Starwood opted for the RealiTea end-user monitoring system from TeaLeaf Technology, installing the vendor's tools on passive capture appliances and servers. The data it obtained helped Starwood spot defects earlier, resulting in better performance and availability metrics, fewer help desk calls and less chatter about Web site problems in Internet discussion forums. Other companies use the tools to measure the effectiveness of technology rollouts or to reverse-engineer reported bugs.
"If your Web site is or will be an important part of your business, this type of product is no longer an option. It's a necessity," says Kelly.
A tale of two architectures
Traditional system- and network-monitoring tools do a good job of looking at the overall health of IT systems but don't provide visibility into the experiences of individuals, even though it's the individual's experience that matters. For example, diners care less about a restaurant's rating in the Zagat guide (US equivalent of Cheap Eats) than they do about whether they have to wait an hour to be served.
"Slow response times can cause impatience, frustration and errors as users press keys multiple times and potentially duplicate transactions," says Teresa Jones, a senior analyst at Butler Group, in an e-mail. "Most of the existing tools can monitor only one aspect (e.g., the network) and not the end-to-end service."
This is where the new tools come into play. These products, which provide data on individual transactions, are offered by niche vendors like TeaLeaf and Coradiant, as well as by vendors of systems management products, such as Mercury Interactive, Quest Software and Compuware.
"There is a huge variety of tools provided by all the major systems management vendors and niche players," says Tony Lock, an analyst at Bloor Research. "Their sophistication and their applicability to different services has gotten a lot better in the last few years."