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Digital Services Aren't Up to Snuff – Survey

Brian Santo
4/27/2016

Your customers' digital experience is bad, they're increasingly alarmed about it and many have no idea even where to start figuring out where the problems are.

And it's not just a few of your customers that want better quality; it's most of them.

In a recent survey of top executives at US and UK enterprises, 78% of the responding companies are experiencing some inconsistency with the quality of their digital experiences.

That can include anything that can compromise the prompt and correct processing of any transaction, whether it's transferring a file, streaming a video, logging a deposit, making a bet, placing an ad, etc.

The survey was conducted on behalf of Actual Experience , a company that has developed an algorithmic approach to evaluate the quality of any digital experience and then help locate the location of each problem (more on that later...).

There were more than 400 survey respondents. All are directors or C-level executives of medium to large enterprises; nearly every major business category was represented (IT, manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, energy, etc.). Their dissatisfaction is with both the services they use themselves and with the services they offer to their customers.

The problems these companies experience with services used internally lead to reduced employee productivity, increased employee churn and loss of revenue. For those selling services to the public, they add customer churn and customer complaints and lead to a loss of revenue.

There's a growing awareness that competitiveness is increasingly going to be predicated on quality of services rendered.


Want to know more about improving service quality? Check out our monitoring and assurance channel here on Light Reading.


According to the survey, four out of five executives believe that digital experience quality is critical to business success, but more than half (55%) do not know how to identify the issues that affect quality. They claim their biggest barriers to improving digital experience quality are identifying the specific quality issues that need improving (49%), cost (43%) and knowing where to start to develop a strategy for improvement (34%).

Network operators expend considerable resources on improving the reliability of their networks, and yet the digital experience continues to be inconsistent and variable.

For network operators, it will always be critical to assure quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE), but all they can really do is optimize queuing at switches and routers, Actual Experience CEO Dave Page told Light Reading.

The problem is bigger than that, he said. Services are delivered through a chain of connections (last-mile provider, core, data center, caching, etc.) and layers of applications, and it's increasingly rare that any single entity has complete control over the entire process. It's difficult for anyone in the chain to notice anything going wrong in someone else's domain, let alone address it. For customers, it makes it hard to identify the source of a problem is, let alone who's responsible for fixing it.

Actual Experience was founded on the proposition that service reliability has to be customer-centric.

One of Actual Experience's key technologies, developed at the University of London, uses algorithmic techniques to measure the quality of any transaction from a consumer standpoint, a sort of proxy for the human experience.

The basic principle is common. Phone companies, for example, have long used mean opinion scores (MOS) to evaluate the quality of voice calls.

But MOS works only for voice services and voice codecs, Page noted. There are similar techniques used in video, but similarly they're specific to video and video codecs. Actual Experience has developed a general methodology, that lets them "emulate MOS for everything," Page said. "We can quantify, MOS-like, anything."

The second key element is a small (6MB) software client. Actual Experience clients can install it on anything ranging from laptops and smartphones to a small server or even a Raspberry Pi system in a branch office. These clients then measure the applications. Should something go wrong, there are usually enough instrumentation points to make correlations that suggest where a problem located.

Quality is going to be the differentiating factor for more and more companies. Page recalled how Japanese auto manufacturers were virtually unknown outside their home market 30 years ago, but an intense quality control program helped propel them to become world market leaders.

Page said he expects some digital services company -- one that is virtually unknown today -- could solve the digital quality issue and become a global market leader in as little as three years.

"Three or four defects per million is now common in manufacturing," Page said. "We'd like to bring that to the digital world."

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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jbtombes
jbtombes
4/27/2016 | 6:07:39 PM
Scattershot
So 400+ C-level execs across a wide range of enterprises were surveyed about some indeterminate bundle of digital services. Maybe this poll needs some quality assurance? Looks like impressionistic results, at best. Agree that the analogy was off. Six sigma may work for manufacturing. Not here. This MOS-like golden-eye algorithm could fill a gap.
inkstainedwretch
inkstainedwretch
4/27/2016 | 11:13:13 AM
Analogies
I agree the comparison between the automotive industry and the networking services industry is not a direct analogy, and I suspect Page would probably agree too, for the reason you mention. The reason he brought it up -- and I think this is valid -- is to make the point that quality eventually becomes a key competitive ... er ... quality. Factor. Whatever.

--Brian Santo
mendyk
mendyk
4/27/2016 | 9:22:49 AM
Control freaking
Brian -- As you note, the lack of control over the entire digital service chain is the Everest-sized hurdle here. The comparison to Japan's auto industry is off the mark a bit, since in that case the quality improvement was entirely manageable from within the organization. I wonder also if some of the mystery about "fixing the digital experience" stems from the fact that most executives running these companies didn't grow up in a digital environment.
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