Thursday, December 2, 2021

How Much is Digital Employee Experience Worth in a Post-Pandemic World?

Nik Koutsoukos leads marketing strategy and execution at New York-based Catchpoint, the maker of a digital experience monitoring platform. He is a seasoned marketing and product strategy executive, with extensive knowledge and experience in the enterprise IT monitoring industry. Koutsoukos has hands-on experience in developing and rolling out go-to-market strategies for a variety of B2B solutions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering and a master’s degree in marketing.

The last two years have wrought huge changes for businesses. Some of them, like widespread product shortages, look to be mercifully temporary. Some, however, will prove more durable, like the permanent shift to remote work.

It’s no secret that most companies don’t expect to return to a pre-pandemic workplace. According to a May 2021 Mercer survey of 594 North American companies, 70% plan to permanently adopt a blended in-person/remote model. Remote work — or at least hybrid work — is officially the new normal. And this has profound implications for IT and the larger business.

Variability is now the name of the game. How do you ensure employees have a consistently good application experience when they’re using their own equipment and consumer-grade internet connections, accessing software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications in the cloud? It’s a very different set of challenges than managing IT-owned devices connecting over enterprise-grade networks.

That’s not the only challenge. As remote work goes mainstream, an employee’s potential job market grows much larger — especially for skilled knowledge workers in high demand. Many companies now aggressively recruit nationwide for remote positions. And many workers are taking the opportunity to move on. According to one recent survey of nearly 9,000 workers, two-thirds of employees — and 67% of senior leaders — would consider changing jobs to gain greater flexibility in how and where they work. Delivering a great digital experience to workers will be a competitive employer differentiator.

Bottom line, even as it gets harder for employers to guarantee a good digital experience for their people, it’s becoming more critical to do so. Navigating this challenge will be one of the most important tasks for enterprises in a post-pandemic world.

See more: The Post-COVID Future of IT Remote Work

Operating Blind

Assuring a good remote work experience is not a new problem. Long before COVID-19, most enterprises were seeing growth in off-site workers and relying more heavily on distributed cloud-based applications. The difference is that these trends no longer represent limited cases affecting some employees some of the time. They’ve become the default operating model, which means most of the IT landscape now lives outside IT’s control.

Yes, consumer-grade internet connections have gotten more reliable. Yes, cloud and SaaS applications are more robust than a decade ago. But applications like Salesforce and Microsoft 365, not to mention the many functions now running in public clouds, play a much bigger role in core operations than they used to. When employees experience slowdowns and outages, as they inevitably will, IT is effectively blind, at the mercy of third-party networks and providers.

In response, many organizations have ramped up investment in employee device monitoring solutions. These can provide important visibility into the health and performance of business applications — at least as experienced on an employee’s device. But there lies the problem. For any issue not caused by the employee device — that is, the vast majority of them — you’re no closer to diagnosing it.

A huge number of touchpoints exist between an employee’s device and the application they’re trying to access. Problems can and will arise in any of them: the home network, last-mile internet connection, local and regional exchanges, cloud data centers, content delivery networks, cloud-based security services, and of course, the cloud-based application itself. Without visibility across that entire chain, you can’t troubleshoot the vast majority of problems that diminish the digital experience. In this highly competitive market, where employees have more choices than ever, is that a risk you’re willing to take?

See more: Remote Work Security: Priorities & Projects

Building Broader Visibility

If you’re going to give your people the best possible digital experience no matter where they are, you need to expand your observability perspective. Metrics from employee device will continue to provide an important piece of the puzzle. But to get the full picture, you should augment them with as much data as you can pull from everything else upstream — from the networks, services, every online service that touches an employee session, all the way to as close to the application you can get. In other words, remove as many blind spots as you can.

Ideally, data should come from measuring the actual systems and services, or at least from independent third parties, rather than reports from the service providers themselves. Not to impugn digital vendors, but it’s not uncommon for providers to report no issues, only for customers to later discover that the slowdowns their people experienced were caused by a widespread outage.

In some cases, IT still won’t be able to fix the problem. If a cloud provider or ISP goes down, your employees will still get knocked offline. But at least you’ll know what’s happening and can respond appropriately.

More importantly, when you have visibility into the full digital experience, you can take proactive steps to improve it. The opposite is also very true: If you don’t understand the experience, you can never be able to improve it. That might mean talking with a provider about a higher-tier service with better failover options. It could mean negotiating stricter service-level agreements (SLAs) for your mission-critical applications. In all cases, when you collect quality, unbiased data from the upstream systems and services you use, you can hold your providers accountable. You can verify that they’re living up to the SLAs you’ve contracted. And if they’re not, you can demand restitution or even switch providers.

Navigating the New Normal

Back when most employees worked from an office, accessing applications hosted in the corporate data center, deep visibility into the application experience was not viewed as critical. The companies investing heavily in that kind of monitoring usually focused on customer-facing services, such as digital retailers that needed to know immediately if customers were seeing slow page loads or couldn’t access their shopping carts.

As more companies shift to hybrid work though, and with digital employee experience becoming a critical employer differentiator, enterprises increasingly need that level of insight for their workers. In a post-pandemic world, you’re now competing with every other company in your industry, anywhere in the world, to attract and retain the best people. If you can’t provide a consistently good digital experience for your workers no matter where they connect, someone else likely can.

See more: What Is the Cost of Remote Work for Employees and Businesses?

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