How improving the application experience can deliver for business [Q&A]

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Spending on cloud services is showing no sign of slowing down, but IT and security leaders are realizing that applications need to have high availability and strong performance in order to be effective.

Application experience management is therefore becoming a key element of enterprise strategy. We spoke to Jason Dover, VP product strategy at Progress, to find out why.

BN: What is application experience management?

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JD: It's now more critical than ever for organizations to recognize that their applications must always be available and highly performant. The solution to this -- Application Experience Management, as we call it at Progress -- is therefore becoming a key element of enterprise strategy. AX management means optimized application delivery, security, and visibility for critical infrastructure. It allows organizations to create ecosystems that deliver the best application experience for their customers across public, private and hybrid cloud. AX management means thinking about how what technology is doing contributes to the value being delivered. It offers a more holistic view and makes it easier for organizations to manage their tech environments, to ensure that elements run optimally and deliver a good experience for the users, and the wider business.

With IT teams' everyday needs to publish, manage, and maintain their applications and services -- all applications that either internal users or customers would be consuming -- there is often a missing piece earlier on in the operational process. The focus for a complete solution must help with Day Zero and Day One, at the stage when companies are building and getting their apps deployed. At Progress, we have filled this gap, and cover the day Zero, One and beyond, when a customer is getting services out to their end customers. This means the full spectrum of what customers are doing inside their entire ecosystems.

The driver for a more unified experience was to help tech team leaders with swivel-chair management. Connecting a full understanding of what is going on in the application, from a network communications perspective with application delivery with network performance monitoring, and fusing this with Progress' security capabilities creates a strong value proposition.

BN: What direction do you see your AX portfolio taking?

JD: We're looking to continue to deliver value through our joint partnerships on another level now, with a stronger ability to support these partnerships to deliver value to customers through a broader portfolio. Since you can rarely have conversations on infrastructure without referencing security, we continue to build value and capabilities in this area. Uniquely Progress exists in two plains -- the data plain (in the network) and also in the observability plain, to monitor what’s going on in the ecosystems and early indicators of change. This means that our products can take early action -- for instance to shut down a port if we detect unusual behavior, or steer down a path of network that’s not connected to a particular issue.

Over the last months, through conversations with customers, partners, sales teams and analysts, our goal has been to understand the opportunity in the market right now, what customers really need to compete in this tough digital economy. What we've distilled out of this extensive research is four key pillars. These four stages are guiding the direction we take our products over the next 18-24 months:

  • Integrated ecosystems -- This means making sure our products can support the environments customers are putting them into. RFPs constantly ask us 'How well does your product work with other stuff in my environment?' The other piece of that is that our own products must work well together too and deliver a seamless customer experience. The recent WUG / Flowmon integration is bringing things together in a more integrated way.
  • Modern ecosystem support -- In our product suite, we consider cloud and not just public cloud. Customers are trying to build cloud-like ecosystems within their own environments. This has implications for a set of requirements for the products that should be part of the solutions. We're needing to keep pace with that from a product strategy perspective.
  • Security -- When looking at the Loadmaster products, there's a variety of use cases, such as authentication, web application firewall and other capabilities. Flowmon can identify anomalous behaviour in the ecosystem, based on looking at network communications -- providing customers the insights they need to keep threats at bay. You can't have a networking or an infrastructure conversation with a customer without talking about security -- it’s paramount to modern infrastructure environments.
  • Change -- the majority of infrastructure and application issues comes from change that’s happened in the ecosystem with unintended consequences that weren’t expected, which leads to security issues. Progress focuses on leveraging products which help customers understand this change -- for instance, did it have its intended purposes, and also can I connect the change back to a particular occurrence in my environment?

BN: Is it best to use an integrated solution for this or can you mix and match tools?

JD: Directionally, the market is heading towards convergence across tools that are used to understand the state of their ecosystems and automate response to developing issues.

Years of evolution has led to tool sprawl and swivel chair management that negatively impacts productivity, efficiency and operating costs. In an ideal world, infrastructure and operations teams have ample time allocated to work on value-add projects and preemptive modernization as opposed to just focusing on break/fix and day-to-day troubleshooting. One of the anti-patterns to this is implementing bespoke tools for every part of the environment. This means that when multifaceted issues develop, manual work is required to converge data points. An integrated and consolidated model helps to address this challenge.

If you're a particular type of business in a highly regulated industry for instance, you may wish to opt for a best of breed specialist product, but you would still expect this to work with other divisions of your visibility stack. It really depends on your customer requirements around different dimensions. But increasingly there will be requirements for things to behave as a single integrated solution. Growth is coming for vendors that are bringing tools together which allow you to view things through various lenses and we use customer validation programs to ensure that customers’ real world use cases are supported by the products within our product suite, Progress offers customers the opportunity to have an active voice in what we’re developing to make solutions relevant and effective for actual business experiences.

BN: Is this just about the business or does it benefit the consumer too?

JD: It's absolutely as important for a business to engage with external customers and internal users using their technology. A business is only successful if their consumers leverage their services. Therefore ensuring that the Internal apps and services that employers are performing properly for employees to be able to deliver value for customers is just as important as ensuring that customer’s experiences with published digital offerings is optimal, and that wait times on a website lead to bounce rates. It is highly linked.

From a technology management perspective, these two dimensions ought to be looked at as a continuum and part of a single value chain. The customer experience will ultimately be driven by the company's apps and services performance therefore effective application experience management will have clear benefits for consumers.

BN: What difference have moves towards the cloud and virtualisation made?

JD: Virtualisation and cloud has created the need to think about managing application environments differently. There no longer is a fixed edge to most enterprise networks and there is a greater degree of mobility of services. This distributed model means that the observability stack needs to support hybrid infrastructure as well as normalize inputs from disparate ecosystems. Security also needs to be re-thought since there is less control over assets that are accessing applications and services. In many cases, identity and access management systems are not even behind the company firewall but rather hosted in the cloud.

BN: How can we expect to see application experience management evolve over the next few years?

JD: Over the upcoming few years, demand for integrated solutions will increase and reduce silos that exist in ecosystems. More of a connection is being made to business service as a whole. This means less thinking about bits and bytes, but rather how does the sum total of the parts connect to business impact. Companies need to allow for more rapid change, to be as fast or faster than their competitors, therefore business agility is critical.

But with more change comes more risk of impact, so what's needed is to connect changes in the environment to helping tech pros to make changes to do that quicker while eliminating risk. Teams need to be able to quickly identify what changes need to happen and surface that information to operational teams. Businesses are starting to realize that a more holistic view of application experience will make it easier to manage the IT ecosystem and to optimise infrastructure for business success.

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