The focus on end user activity monitoring (EUAM) continues grow in importance due to the end user influence on how IT is used and how applications are sourced. Forward thinking IT organizations recognize the value of gaining insight into end user activity as it can enable more effective applications support, improved IT service and ensures end users are more productive.
However, EUAM not something readily embraced by end users who consider anything that tracks and monitors their activity a personal infringement. In some countries privacy hurdles will need to be overcome requiring the tools that provide activity monitoring to establish levels of interaction.
Highway cameras are used to take pictures of cars breaking the speed limit policy with all vehicles under the limit passing with no picture and no record of their presence. The same can be said for EUAM, the objective is to identify trends, abnormalities and performance degradations not to track and record all activity. Today’s EUAM tools will understand what devices are used, the configuration, specified software loaded, application performance, activations and where appropriate, the location. However, unlike the speed camera the job of EUAM is focused on enablement not policing.
EUAM augments and enhances existing application performance monitoring tools, by providing a ‘front-end’ end user understanding of how IT is being experienced. It allows IT organizations to tie the end user experience with the ‘back-end’ data center applications infrastructure. This can be incredibly powerful as it allows a full end-to-end view of the entire application interaction from mouse click to database record retrieval.
So what capabilities should be expected from an end user applications monitoring solution? It’s certainly more than has been available for years, which is typically a combination of synthetic transaction monitoring, desktop management and end user issues opened at the service desk. EUAM provides real end user activity in one tool. Depending on how intrusive a company needs to go (or allowed to go) the following EUAM capabilities should be considered when looking for the right EUAM product;
- Real-Time Application Response Monitoring
- Information in real-time revealing degradations in applications performance preferably before the end user sees the impact.
- End User Behavioral Analysis
- Information on how end users access applications, when the applications are used and even where the access is required.
- Visibility through service providers, clouds and content delivery networks
- End-to-end visibility of applications performance irrespective of where the applications are sourced and the cloud environments between the source and the end user.
- Application Activations
- Visibility into when and how long applications are used enabling IT support to schedule and plan IT operational activity more effectively.
- Keystroke/Activity Logging
- Increasing root-cause capabilities by allowing IT support to see what was happening on the end user device when an issue occurred.
- Device Information (type, software revisions, configuration)
- Ensuring that the end user has the required configuration to support effective application release processes and allowing more effective issue identification.
- End user location (*if company policy and/or privacy laws allow)
- Allows IT to track where end users access applications and on what devices. This helps with performance degradation issue analysis and root-cause analysis.
Recent coverage of EUAM;
When IT gets in the way of doing your job where do you go for help? The service desk? Someone in IT operations? Google? Phone a friend? Big problems such as an application outages or the most common password issues are typically covered. These are certainly an inconvenience but they either get the right level of attention or are easily to fix.
But what about poor performance when getting mail on your phone at the airport, getting access to a printer, or an inability to connect to wi-fi in a company facility? These situations can be temporary but have no obvious path of remediation and they can totally ruin your day. It’s the small stuff that is the hardest to deal with. Most corporate IT organizations are ill-prepared to deal with this level of end user interaction and the end user is hesitant to send an email into the help desk or spend 30 minutes queuing to talk to someone for what is considered a trivial low priority problem.
In the world of private IT use there is no central help desk or an IT department however people have learned to deal with issues. The option to send a complaint or send a problem description to someone believed to be at blame is always available, with mixed results, some solving the issue, some not and some ignored. Then there is search. Someone, somewhere must have had a similar problem. This approach works even though it may not provide the exact answer it will at least send you to interest groups with any number of smart people willing to provide guidance. For a large number of reasons (e.g. company regulations) this type of activity is not something a business would readily adopt internally.
Managing issues through crowd sourcing.
Applications have been available for years which allow people to comment on services, products, restaurants, etc. Recently this capability has taken a real-time aspect where guidance can be provided through experience and observation. An example of this is the ‘human’ GPS, Waze (http://www.waze.com). For the few people on the planet who have not heard of this application it allows drivers to share information on their mobile devices in real-time on traffic conditions (jams, police speed traps, accidents etc). This provides road condition awareness and allows the application to find you alternative routes.
Now, imagine using a version of this in business for IT. Going back to an example I gave at the beginning; you are at the airport trying to get email on your phone and it’s not going well. This can make you feel a bit of a victim and make you think – Is this problem something temporary? Is it just me? Have I done something stupid? Has someone else? However, what if you had an application that showed you your applications status, allowed you to see if anyone else is having similar issues, allowing you to immediately know if its a general email problem, a location problem or a device problem and if there are any workarounds. It would also allow you to see if the problem has been reported, report it yourself, add yourself to the problem list and track the problem. For the user it provides awareness and possible fixes. For the IT support organization it provides the ability to understand who is being affected, where they are and what they are using. With so many applications being sourced outside the datacenter, the avalanche of mobile devices used for business and people constantly moving around while still trying to remain working the only way to help the end user help themselves is through crowd-sourcing applications augmenting the businesses IT operations management tools.
Power to the people.
Until recently visibility into the end user world was not considered essential when measuring the availability of IT service. It was assumed that focusing on datacenter metrics provided enough information to show how effectively IT supported the business. For most IT organizations the lens on the business remains the metrics provided by the service desk. From the perspective of issues this may be acceptable but it hardly represents how the business is using IT. It would be like asking a doctor “so, how healthy does the world look today?”
This whole situation has been exacerbated by the use of mobile devices and the growth in non-corporate cloud-based application sources. So how does an IT department understand how the business is experiencing IT when it no longer has the luxury of concentrating its attention on the corporate data center? As of yet, there isn’t a consensus of opinion on how to address this situation leaving most to continue to look to their legacy IT infrastructure monitoring tools (see Infrastructure monitoring. How relevant is it?) supplemented with network performance tools and/or APM tools.
If the objective is to understand how IT is used and experienced then you you don’t start from the data center. The starting place is the end user. This requires more than a set of tools giving visibility from ‘the edge’ it will require IT support to organize and focus teams on end user activity. Measuring experience means understanding how IT is used, when it is used and where it is used and not just when it is an issue. Capturing and analyzing this content allows IT organizations to assess the true business impact of IT irrespective of where the user is, what they are using or where their applications are sourced.
This approach is not going to be an easy for IT departments that have spent decades focusing on silo’d datacenter elements and back-end applications transactions. However, end user activity monitoring is not an option. Users do not use one device, do not remain in one place and do not use just one application. IT innovation, mobility and end user creativity will continue to push the limits of IT operations management with those able to adjust their IT management focus benefitting from greater IT decision making and business alignment.
Those that don’t will be left struggling trying to manage increasingly diverse IT needs using tools providing on a datacenter centric, application performance snapshot stumbling their way towards the edge through trying to see through increasingly complex third-party service black-holes.