Customers are becoming less patient, we were told during APM maker Dynatrace’s Perform 2015 conference in Orlando this week.

Their relative level of perturbment (my term for it, can you tell?) could be measured at, say, 10 seconds waiting for a page to load in 1995. Today it may be below 3 seconds.

It’s fun to watch folks from the business and marketing side of companies try explaining to IT and DevOps professionals, who monitor performance for a living, why performance monitoring is important.

They start with such high hopes. They extend their index finger with the other four retracted like retracted blades in a Swiss Army knife, just waiting to be revealed in succession.

Number one, they say, your customers are intolerant of long page load times. When your customers start twiddling their thumbs, you’re in trouble.

And then something happens to 2. It spins madly away into the nether-space of great intentions, along with presidents’ second terms and the last season of “Doctor Who.”

Meanwhile, the DevOps pros are wishing they had the microphone. Because they have possession of numbers 10, 11 and 12.

My Favorite Index

In another incarnation, I edited a consumer technology publication, and remain very proud of having done so. One of the features I produced there was a comparative performance index for web browsers.

It was one of the greatest learning experiences of my career, in part because I heard back from professional performance testers who gave me supreme insights into how to truly test for what matters.

Had I been testing things the right way the first time, I might never have heard from them.

The first thing I learned from professional testers in rendering a “performance index” was to establish a baseline with which the viewers of that index would identify. Saying that X rates a 14.0 while Y rates a 3.0 does not convey anything rational to anyone, unless 1.0 has a discrete meaning.

Put another way, “14 times X” means nothing. “1400 percent the parsing ability of the first JavaScript interpreter produced by Netscape,” conveys a clear message to people who can use that comparison in legitimate evaluations.

(It’s the Dow Jones principle, I know, but it still works.)

It’s All Relative

Anything that produces an aggregate index value needs to apply the constituent values in proportion with their relative degree of importance in a real-world scenario.

Yea, sure, speed is important. (I live in Indianapolis, where at a certain O-shaped facility, speed is like candy.)

But as engineers at Microsoft demonstrated to me personally years ago, “speed” is a constituent product of perception. I witnessed how people staring at two browsers believed that pages were rendering faster on one than the other, when in fact the other one was completing the task sooner.

How could this be? Well, realize that you never see the entirety of a web page at any one time — just the part that fits in the window.

If a browser concentrated on rendering just the part you were seeing (which, arguably, is the important part), then you might just perceive the page as loading faster.

But on the back end, where an APM monitor like Dynatrace or New Relic is digesting the entire process, the millisecond count clearly shows the faster-looking browser is slower overall.

In fact, the process of segmenting the page rendering to give the appearance of speed, is partly what’s slowing down the complete rendering process.

Yet users don’t see the slow part of the process, thus it doesn’t appear to matter.

Perception is Your Friend


Engineering technology to present users with the appearance of speed is not a sin. It’s the appearance of speed that has kept consumer automobile manufacturers alive — for example, when they install spoilers on the backs of SUVs.

It is not wrong to admit that customer experience is a perception. And it is not a violation of the customer’s trust for you to engineer the experience so that the customer’s perception is what you and the customer both want it to be.

Learning Opportunities

All great engineering involves trade-offs. The best-engineered products in history are the ones that presented the most value under the greatest constraints.

Yet at some point, it does become important for the world of customers to realize the depth of the processes the wizard keeps hidden behind the curtain.

We only think computers have gotten faster. That’s the result of really good engineering.

In reality, behind the curtain, the exponentially rising inefficiencies in software have been more than masked by the exponentially increasing efficiencies from hardware and the supporting infrastructure.

If the processes from modern software (especially including operating systems) were translated to a different baseline — for example, relative to processor speed or network throughput — the extent to which real-world applications are actually slowing down would make you realize where the number 2 went.

This is the real substance behind the fear that Moore’s Law may dead-end. If our infrastructure stops masking our software’s inability to account for its own bloat, then customers will notice — perhaps for the first time — the astonishing lack of engineering in the software creation process.

And then customers start twiddling their thumbs.

The New Number 2

So imagine how efficient a “performance index” truly is, with respect to customer experience, if all it accounts for are milestones that the customer doesn’t actually perceive. “Page load time” is more complex than it seems on the surface.

Anyone care to rethink his attitude toward that number one reason?

Dynatrace CTO Bernd Greifeneder told me this week that his company’s new experience index, or performance index, will be based on a proper understanding of the context in which that aggregate value is determined.

I certainly hope so, because otherwise it’s just a set of emoticons, or something like my own original performance metrics before I got my first feedback from professionals.

Business executives and marketing pros here this week were looking for a second important reason why performance metrics are important. At times, they actually stopped speaking, waiting for the word to come to them like an inspiration.

I’ve got your number 2 for you, folks: awareness.

A complete set of very detailed metrics is like the highest-resolution photograph you can attain. It enables you to engineer your products and your services in a way that make the necessary sacrifices to maintain customers’ perceptions of satisfaction.

Again, aiming for optimum perception is not a sin. When we rely upon our customers’ eyes, we’re trusting their minds as well.

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