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Are you prepared for huge percentage increases in online traffic?
Are you prepared for an influx of visitors to your website in the case of a major event? Like it or not, we are now in an era when you should be able to track and react to the changing trends as soon as possible, especially if you don't want to miss out on opportunities. Despite this, many businesses' websites aren't equipped to handle huge percentage increases in traffic.
Slow load times are bad enough, but if your servers think your website's being attacked, your site could be shut down entirely which could result in you losing customers and cause irreparable reputational damage. To help you make better decisions when it comes to managing the traffic on your site, various IT professionals from different sectors share their day to day experience of managing traffic behaviour, how they prepare for disruptions and their thoughts on how to implement the right infrastructure to meet demand.
Q. How important is it to monitoring web stats and traffic to your site?
Tim Butler, founder, Innovation Visual: "Understanding your website's data is vital in today's digital-first marketplace. It is not good enough to understand just top-level numbers. Work with your marketing team to ensure the pages most important to them are loading quickly to help them. A fast and efficient site affects not only customers, but also your search engine rankings, which can have a huge impact on your long-term site traffic. Marketing teams should help you by not doing things to compromise performance such as failing to optimise images properly when adding them to a website, not using content delivery networks and running video from internal servers".
Q. How should you deal with, or prepare for sudden increases in traffic at busy times?
Anand Buddhdev, senior engineer, Ripe NCC: "Network managers need to understand what “normal” looks like. It's only by understanding normal behaviours and patterns that businesses can spot activity that is unexpected or out of the ordinary. During a typical DDoS attack, for example, network interfaces will become saturated with incoming traffic. Collecting statistics and generating graphs helps an organisation understand what its baseline network activity looks like. Most monitoring systems can generate an alert if usage goes above a certain threshold. If a business can be made aware of a potential attack as early as possible, it can take measures to mitigate it. Without the insights gleaned from monitoring tools, this type of illicit activity could well go unnoticed and wreak havoc on a network".
Jay Botelho, senior director of products, Savvius: "An insider threat is just that, it happens inside your network. All too often, the focus of corporate network monitoring is at the ingress/egress point, leaving a huge blind spot within the network itself. When security systems at the ingress/egress point miss a breach, and it's clear they often do, the infected computer reaches out to other systems undetected because the focus is elsewhere. A complete network monitoring solution must include a real-time view of internal traffic as well, and include the ability to see in real time when internal communications are out of the ordinary, for example, like FTP or TFTP traffic between internal systems".
Destiny Bertucci, head geek, SolarWinds: "An enterprise network carries business-critical data and information, therefore it's essential that IT professionals have visibility into, and can effectively manage, who has access and what applications are being used. To prepare for and deal with sudden increases in traffic (or any issue on the network) proactive monitoring is key. Collecting metrics, data and information from a set of devices can help IT professionals determine what “normal” looks like on their network, in order to build a series of alerts that will trigger when unusual activity occurs outside of the baseline (or “normal”) threshold. This can help IT professionals manage and deal with any abnormalities, such as bottlenecks and security breaches, before they reach the end-user".
Grant Kemp, data and analytics consultant, Inviqa: "One of our customers here at Inviqa was focusing on the Asian market, but we repeatedly had feedback from users in Asia that the site was difficult to understand. Metrics such as exit rate, which was higher for those users, showed that the trouble was mainly caused by issues in the checkout area. The retailer was therefore clear about where to look and make improvements to the site. Once the checkout experience was improved, revenue improvement was the natural outcome".
Q. What happens if your live chat function stops working? Where do you point your customers to?
Rurik Bradbury, head of research and communications, LivePerson: "A live chat function, particularly one powered by bots, requires careful implementation. One of the biggest barriers that early bots had is that they were running natively on a separate platform that didn't allow for a human to intervene if the bot failed. For bots and humans to work seamlessly together, both need to exist on the same software platform, with the same metrics running for both, to judge effectiveness, escalate queries to human agents when needed, and so on.
"The thing to note here is that bots are being integrated to assist agents, not replace them. This division of labour is what we're calling a “tango”: human and bots passing off conversations back and forth based on the complexity of the task and the needs of the consumer.
"Consumers' main priority is to get accurate answers quickly. If a messaging bot were just as accurate as a human customer care agent, a majority of global consumers (55 per cent) would actually prefer interacting with a bot over a human, according to a recent survey from LivePerson".
Q. What damage could be done if your business isn't prepared for an influx of visitors?
Andy Richley, marketing manager at Khaos Control Cloud: "Customer confidence is a commodity. And a fragile one at that. Failing to handle an influx of visitors, calls or customers during a peak trading period will significantly impact customer confidence in your brand. Whilst it's always difficult to quantify the financial impact such failures can have, RBS / Natwest are a good example. When they had IT issues in 2012 they had to set aside £175m to cover the financial costs of the incident. However, that figure doesn't take into account the reputational impact the failure had.
"When you're competing with companies whose online presence is rock solid – we're looking at you Amazon and John Lewis – it doesn't take much for your potential customers to head elsewhere if you struggle to cope with an influx of visitors to your website. Consumers have been trained to expect a level of service when shopping online. Speed and ease of use are key elements of that".
Q. How can a CIO or CTO better prepare and make sure they implement the right infrastructure in place to meet demand?
Andrew Tavener, head of marketing, Descartes: "In an era where customer expectations are being redefined, businesses must deliver a service capable of meeting these evolving demands; it's critical for CIOs and CTOs to ensure that the correct infrastructure and connected processes are in place. Nowadays, purchasing decisions are influenced as much by product availability and speed and convenience of delivery as they are by price; coupled with an ever-increasing number of bargain days, and subsequent high levels of traffic, advanced supply chain processes are necessary to ensure a seamless approach. Effective routing systems can improve operational efficiency and enhance order fulfilment, saving costs with shorter routes, reduced fuel consumption, and enhanced fleet utilisation, while an e-commerce warehouse management system (WMS) can speed up shipping processes, returns handling, and increase the number of packages sent per employee".
Jonathan Darbey, product group head, ABBYY: "I think they need to understand what's the current state of play, so the current availability of technologies, the current maturity, what they can deploy today but also looking further ahead as to what's coming next to kind of develop some kind of road map – both a technology road map, so understand the key technologies and trends which are emerging, but also then how does that deploy itself into a transformation road map from a business perspective. That's where there needs to be better integration between the technology side – the CTOs and you know Chief Transformation Officers or Heads of Business, Lines of Business, which is okay. You could have a process transformation road map because of that technology road map. Right now, the two don't meet too well, so, you know, I think it's something that they could consider going forward, perhaps asking some of the big management consultants for a bit of help".
Gabriel Cabral, head of digital marketing, OHMME: "Even though it sounds ideal to have lots of visitors on an online store, too much traffic could crash your site. A common solution is to switch to a VPS. Despite the fact that it's not completely your own server, it can offer thousands of concurrent connections. If this solution is not good enough for you, you might need to consider cloud hosting. If your resources are limited, there are ways to work around these issues. For example, if you have a big mailing list, send your newsletters and promotional material in batches and schedule your ads for a time you know they work".
Gavin Wheeldon, CEO, Purple: "Using a tool such as Purple enables businesses with physical spaces to gain more insight into their customer demographics. Our analytics platform provides a visual representation of real-time footfall, passers by, conversion and bounce rates, dwell times, return visits and frequency; enabling businesses to truly understand their venues. By utilising visitor analytics, you can not only avoid problems, but create opportunities and ultimately offer a better customer experience".
Alex Tebbs, founder, VIA: "Audience data can provide businesses with invaluable insight into the way their customers and prospects interact with their brand, and therefore how best to serve them. Use of web analytics platforms like Google Analytics show web owners how and when users access their site. This makes optimisation of that customer journey much easier and more effective, leading to improved conversion rates and greater retention".
Q. Looking to the future, how could new technologies be used to assist with demand? For instance, Artificial Intelligence.
Philip Barden, senior business development director, Six Degrees: "Artificial intelligence (AI) is one very important example of how technology is beginning to transform the retail industry, enabling automated customer service platforms to manage demand as well as gaining competitive edge through tailored and targeted promotions. Building advanced AI-powered systems brings with it the need to store significant levels of data and deliver ever-greater processing capacities. Managed cloud platforms are increasingly important in delivering the flexibility retail businesses need to support big data demands, enabling them to scale up or down as requirements evolve.
"As the retail market continues to move into the digital age, customer experience is becoming increasingly important, with virtual reality and (VR) and augmented reality (AR) already making inroads in the sector. This highlights a broader point; effective management of systems integration and connectivity is essential to ensure that all of your systems work together seamlessly, to enhance the customer experience across all platforms whether on the web, mobile or in-store (or a combination of all three).
"Further to this, as the technology ecosystem evolves and becomes ever-more integral to the customer experience, a contemporary technology strategy also needs to factor in data security, back up and disaster recovery to ensure that your business remains compliant and vigilant against ever-evolving cyber-attacks that emerge alongside new technology trends.
"Digital transformation is happening at such a rate that it can be difficult to keep up with the latest trends, but there are plenty of exciting opportunities for online retailers. A trusted partner can play a vital role in advising on upcoming opportunities and challenges, allowing you to focus on building competitive advantage as part of your business strategy without becoming tied down in managing the infrastructure behind every innovation".