Can Your Web Applications Handle Any Potential Onslaught?
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 1, 2009
This week, starting with "Cyber Monday,” is the commencement of the online holiday shopping season in earnest. Estimates are that close to 100 million shoppers are going online, and sales for Cyber Monday itself were up 14% from last year.
While holiday sales spikes do not directly affect insurance industry Web sites—they're busy all year round—insurers and their partners still need to take care that their Web applications are prepared to handle any onslaughts that may come their way. What happens when an online quoting feature slows down or stops for potential customers? How long until the site managers are even aware there is an issue?
I recently did a presentation on the issues Web application sites face in terms of glitches and downtime, and the potential costs of such glitches. The session was based on a survey of 526 managers and professionals, conducted for Oracle Corp. by Information Today Inc./Unisphere Research.
The study examined Web-based enterprise application issues from two perspectives: that of an online customer and that of a site manager. The study found that application managers feel the same pain as non-technical folks when it comes to online shopping. It may be even more painful for them because they know what is taking place—or should be taking place— behind the scenes.
As e-commerce site consumers, just about all respondents reported they have experienced problems. More than a third, in fact, about 34%, report that they experience problems in their online transactions on a fairly frequent basis with e-business sites, at least several times a week, if not more.
In an era when things run on Internet time, even those individuals who run Web applications themselves quickly lose patience with quirky online experiences. Thus, there is a very quick and detrimental business impact. In fact, 26% of respondents who experience problems with a transaction would switch to a competitive site. Very few, 15%, appear to have the persistence or patience to keep hammering away at the transaction until it goes through. A majority, 57%, would simply abandon the transaction and try some again some other time.
Here's the rub: As managers of these sites, most rely on pretty informal methods to discover customer problems. How do respondents find out about Web application performance problems? Mainly by hearing about it from affected customers or end-users via phone or e-mail; few have mechanisms for discovering problems as they happen. Remember the marketing 101 rule: For every disgruntled customer you hear from, there are nine you don't, but they're likely telling their friends, family and associates about the lousy experience they had with your Web site.
A majority of respondents engage in functional testing to ensure the viability of their Web applications, but few have load testing or are able to monitor the quality of their users’ experiences with the applications. In other words, most aren't aware when spikes are hitting and kicking customers off.
There are other applications—think about your order-entry systems following a big promotion that may have gone out. Or even think about internal users for a moment. Internal HR applications, which may be hit by spikes at certain times, such as benefits renewal windows, or financial applications at the close of the month, that create problems for end-users.
The bottom line is that while Web applications are a critical part of many business strategies—and we see this in the insurance industry—there needs to be better, more systematic approaches to addressing potential performance issues.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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