Shifting The Focus To Experience-Centric Observability

Forbes / January 23, 2024

Aditya is Conviva‘s chief product officer and co-founder.


User experience is increasingly magnified as we leverage digital platforms for everything. In an unfortunate twist, it’s the user experience that too many digital businesses neglect while trying to stand out in today’s hyper-competitive landscape.

For decades, brands have invested millions in expensive observability tools to understand how their systems perform and, in theory, their impact on user experience. However, these tools don’t offer operations teams insight into how back-end performance impacts user experience.

Operations teams are critical for systems monitoring, incident resolution and performance optimization to address issues before escalation. They need visibility, scale and real-time actionability directly tied to user experience. However, today’s tools are infrastructure-centric and fragmented, and they can’t scale with increasing user traffic.

As a result, operations teams struggle to connect back-end systems with factors that impact business outcomes like user experience and engagement—leaving them without context on issue priority, costly and inefficient processes, and user frustration.

Operations’ focus must progress from low-level system performance—an “infrastructure-centric” approach—to high-level user experience. Experience-centric observability can empower operations and engineering teams with greater efficiency, connection to business outcomes and cost-effectiveness.

From Legacy Systems To Experience-Centric Observability

Brands struggle to understand context and resolve user experience issues because many current tools focus on back-end systems, forcing operations teams to focus solely on infrastructure and leaving them disconnected from user experiences.

The first awareness of an issue often comes via an angry tweet, leaving operations teams scrambling to get engineers on the case as they use inefficient guesswork to troubleshoot due to silos caused by platform limitations.

Digital businesses cannot improve user experience with system-level metrics alone. Many of today’s observability tools count site crashes, error messages and load time issues but can’t connect those to user experience. Businesses have tried collecting more back-end data and implementing solutions like real user monitoring for in-depth insights, but the result has been higher costs without discernible benefits. It’s a significant source of frustration for brands still facing churn, reduced ad revenues and brand loyalty issues despite hefty investments.

An experience-centric approach makes user experience a core focus. Operations teams must still focus on system-level monitoring but in the context of user experience to see the real-time impact from the back end to the end user. Big outages are easy to detect, but user experience encompasses a thousand small things that create business impacts even more significant than a big outage. Monitoring user experience means studying every interaction in detail and comparing them with user expectations.

Imagine numerous users have a poor login experience. It can be a combination of extended login times, login timeouts, exits during login or something else. With an infrastructure-centric approach, companies see server load spikes or network request delays as stand-alone metrics with no user impact context.

Experience-centric observability measures each login attempt from start to successful finish, eliminating extraneous factors like a phone call halfway through that interrupted the process. Because login time is measured directly, when the average spikes unexpectedly, it’s easier to quantify user impact and determine the source. Instead of users publicly expressing frustration, issue resolution occurs before it snowballs into a major incident.

Legacy observability tools struggle with the volume of data that myriad devices, user flows and operating systems produce. Current observability tools cannot determine true user experience because they cannot perform the stateful computations needed to calculate experience metrics.

Experience-centric observability can simplify the process by highlighting essential data and eliminating noise. Digital brands today focus on two metrics: performance (which impacts user experience) and engagement (which results from user experience). Experience-centric observability can bridge the gap with context, helping quantify how performance impacts experience and, in turn, engagement.


Embracing Experience-Centric Observability

The shift from infrastructure-centric to experience-centric does not require a costly, full-scale business overhaul. There are two main steps:


1. Start Monitoring And Managing User Experience Metrics

User experience is the critical third metric that complements user engagement and system performance metrics that most businesses already monitor. Here’s what each one entails:

• User Engagement: A measure of the user’s attention and actions as they interact with a product. Metrics include duration and outcomes such as purchase. Examples include session length and outcome metrics specific to the business.

• User Experience: A measure of the user’s patience while interacting with a product or service and whether this meets expectations. Examples include time to log in, checkout time duration and connection-induced rebuffering.

• System Performance: A measure of activity, load and responsiveness across an organization’s tech stack. Metrics include speed, reliability and the efficiency of back-end systems. Examples include CPU usage, memory usage and API response time.

Experience-centric observability can convert experience, performance and engagement data into real-time operational metrics that impact business outcomes.


2. Set Operational KPIs Tied To User Experience

Today’s businesses develop and track KPIs tied to performance metrics such as service-level agreements or mean time to recovery (MTTR).

An experience-centric approach can also set operational KPIs around user experience, with metrics like sign-up and payment in under two minutes, achieving checkout in less than one minute or time to first video play in under four minutes.

Thresholds must exist to capture customer expectations. This should be done by correlating experience metrics with the most relevant engagement metrics—which provides an understanding of user expectations. A service may have dozens of experience metrics to capture all of the user interactions. Individual metrics can combine into an overarching metric that’s usable companywide as a unified assessment of experience.


User Experience Is Paramount

According to a Forrester report (paywall), each dollar spent on user experience translates to a $100 return on investment. User experience doesn’t only impact whether consumers buy products or services; investors and employees gravitate toward brands with a positive reputation. Many businesses lack critical experience metrics as a driver of positive business outcomes. It’s time to shift the paradigm.