Improving the end user experience on the new network

The rapid shift to a remote workforce has transformed how IT manages business networks. Today, attention is shifting beyond the monitoring of traditional infrastructure made up of physical network devices such as switches, access points, and firewalls. The newly expanded network includes everything that connects end users to the applications they need to do their jobs, including cloud hosting services, collaboration platforms, smartphones, and all the underlying networks end users are connecting through.

The remote and mobile workforce requires IT to manage the end user experience no matter where employees work, whether from the office, home, or some other location. This distributed workforce creates challenges to ensure that all employees can maintain strong online connectivity. As IT teams strive to manage the extended network, they find a clear correlation between employee connectivity and performance. That is why it is so crucial to measure the end user experience and understand how individuals engage with all the digital tools that enable them to be effective in their job roles.

Assessing the Elusive End User Experience

Monitoring and managing the end-user experience presents a growing challenge because the software used by employees can be made up of SaaS-delivered apps, cloud-hosted apps, partner company apps, and some legacy on-premises apps. The in-house IT team or solution providers who support this patchwork of applications must address a lack of control over portions of the external network affecting their users’ experience.

In addition, some users are remote workers or road warriors who are not regularly based in an office. This group may include traveling sales reps, overseas support teams, or the CEO preparing for the next board meeting from a hotel room. The new reality is that work gets done from a variety of places, often over devices and networks that operate beyond the control of IT.

In this remote environment, many traditional network devices are now controlled by a broad range of third parties. These might include employees’ ISPs, the IT team at the local library, the service providers who manage Starbucks hotspots, or the DevOps teams who manage the hundreds of SaaS applications that users rely on.

Most large businesses recognize that their traditional management tools are no longer adequate to control this sprawl which affects the end-user experience. It is only a matter of time before these trends impact businesses of all sizes, meaning that every IT professional should pay closer attention to this concern.

Making Improvements for End Users with UX Scores

IT teams can take several steps to improve the end-user experience while ensuring that they monitor the performance and availability of the new network. The first step is to gather experience insights no matter where users are working. What’s needed is a user experience (UX) score that can be monitored to proactively resolve any issues before they impact user productivity. A UX score is based on usability metrics such as task completion times and error rates.

Users often complain that their "computer is slow," when in fact the root problem involves an outage at an ISP that is interrupting their workflows. Also, when users experience slowness on their devices, networks, or applications, they often do not reach out right away to contact the help desk. Some people will delay for hours or even days before requesting support to fix the issue. Meanwhile, the help desk remains unaware of their connectivity issues and the related impacts on productivity.

Here are some suggestions on how to close the gaps in network performance for users:

1)      Help End Users Identify Performance Problems on Their End. There are different levels of sophistication among end users. How users identify and resolve their performance problems often depends on how IT-savvy the user is. These problems can manifest themselves in frozen video calls, slow application load times, disruptive updates to applications or operating systems, and more. The best approach is to start by providing some simple education to help users pinpoint their unique issues and give them the tools to monitor for when the issue is resolved.

2)     Measure User Experience Scores in Real-Time. Analyst firmGartner defines an emerging category of tools for the Digital Employee Experience as "DEX management tools," which form the core toolset for enterprises to monitor the user experience. The challenge with these tools is that they often require specialized expertise to deploy, manage, and maintain. And once the UX score insights are gathered, it is often seen as a workload "multiplier" for the help desk and IT team as new issues arise that they may not have previously understood.

3)      Adopt Modern Tools for Network Monitoring and Visibility. The key to solving this concern is to adopt tools that are easy to deploy, have insights useful to the IT team, and enable end users with clear and simple actions. In this way, users can take steps to resolve their own experience issues, reducing the help desk’s workload.

While IT may not be able to fix a performance issue with a third-party SaaS application, being able to quickly identify that application as the source of the problem can save hours of troubleshooting. In addition, other solutions can be deployed such as providing alternative connectivity paths or offering options for the closest coffee shops with free Wi-Fi to those experiencing an outage. Of course, as users migrate to these alternatives, IT needs to ensure they remain secure by providing solutions such as a remote-access VPN or SASE gateway to protect the remote users.

All of these issues highlight the need for a fresh approach by IT to manage network connectivity and security. In this newly extended environment, IT processes must be revamped, tools must evolve, and the people supporting remote end users must be continuously trained on how to effectively adopt these new UX processes and tools.

Photo credit: hywards / Shutterstock

Steve Petryschuk is the Director of Network Security and Management at Auvik. He works with clients and the IT community to identify, analyze, and develop solutions to the daily challenges experienced by network and IT admins.

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