Interview with Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and Co-Founder of Catchpoint
What value does Catchpoint bring to customers?
MD: Catchpoint is a digital experience intelligence company, primarily using the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. We provide our customers with detailed insight into the performance (speed and reliability) of their online services, including websites, mobile sites, applications, or any internet asset that contributes to their business. We enable them to proactively identify areas for performance optimization, helping them deliver fast, reliable experiences for their customers.
Today’s users expect superfast performance and are increasingly impatient when it comes to getting the information they need, especially with giants like Facebook and Google conditioning them to expect almost instantaneous load times. Anything less than top-notch performance puts a company at a competitive disadvantage. Customers will actually develop negative sentiment towards a brand and migrate to a competitor. On the business-to-business front, employees will cease using sluggish applications, putting significant investments at risk.
Catchpoint has just announced a new approach known as Guided Intelligence. How does this enhance your traditional digital experience monitoring approach?
MD: Catchpoint’s performance monitoring services come equipped with embedded analytics, enabling organizations to not just identify a performance problem, but quickly isolate and fix the root cause. This capability has grown in importance, as web delivery infrastructures have grown much more complex in recent years, spanning the datacenter all the way out to the edge of the Internet, to the user’s browser. This makes it much more difficult for organizations to get their arms around and manage all these performance-impacting elements.
Traditional application performance management (APM) applications correlate performance issues to various internal datacenter elements. This capability remains important, but it by no means delivers the full picture, as third-party services beyond the firewall are yielding a bigger impact on the user’s ultimate experience. This understanding is at the heart of Guided Intelligence – as the sheer volume of these external services grows, Guided Intelligence doesn’t just capture their performance, but enables IT and DevOps teams to predict and preempt issues in a more proactive, informed manner than ever before. Our Smartboard provides a dashboard-like approach that gives IT and DevOps teams a headline overview to help identify problem areas quickly.
Elaborate on what prompted Catchpoint to evolve to this new approach. How does it differ from competitive approaches?
MD: Guided Intelligence represents our viewpoint that in the “age of the customer,” the user experience – much more so than the health of internal datacenter systems – is the ultimate metric. Guided Intelligence was founded on the belief that as third-party service adoption skyrockets, organizations must have a way to effectively manage all of these services, even if they lie beyond the firewall. It is no longer OK for an organization to say, “Well, this performance issue was due to a third-party service, so our customers can’t be mad at us.” Customers will just know that your service isn’t performing and your brand image, and likely revenue, will suffer.
Third-party services offer many benefits, enabling digital properties to offer stronger, more feature-rich user experiences, without having to develop these functionalities in-house. Examples include everything from social media plug-ins, to marketing tags, to content delivery networks (CDNs). But each third-party service represents a liability, because ironically, poor performance on the part of any single service can bring down performance for the entire digital entity. The more third-party services are used, the larger and more daunting the challenging the task of managing their performance – and minimizing any negative impact on your own performance – becomes.
Guided Intelligence differs from competitive offerings in several key ways – first, it focuses on external, third-party performance-impacting elements; second, it analyzes and synthesizes the broadest possible range of data to help identify the problem sources with pinpoint accuracy; and third, while it automates the collection and synthesis of information, it does not leave the MTTR process entirely to machines. We firmly believe that real people will always be needed to determine the best course of action. For example, if a critical third-party service goes down causing a website outage, sometimes the only thing the organization can do is display a lightweight maintenance page, or issue a proactive and heartfelt apology to customers. Proactive, earnest communications like this can go a long way.
Tell us more about how Guided Intelligence works. What new solutions are part of it?
MD: Guided Intelligence leverages advanced algorithms to automatically synthesize data from a geographically expansive array of Catchpoint monitoring locations. This includes data on one’s own application performance, external third parties and application programming interfaces (APIs), providing correlations and contextual information on performance (speed, availability) issues that can negatively impact a user’s experience. For example, with Guided Intelligence IT and DevOps teams can become aware of a third-party problem sooner, understand the likely impact on one’s own applications and decide on the best course of action to mitigate the issue.
Guided Intelligence offers several new features including:
Smartboard:Automatically highlights issues impacting user performance in a single, interactive view, providing IT and DevOps teams with a quick summary and contextual information, without the need to sift through numerous data sets.
Outage Analyzer: Identifies regional performance problems in all relevant geographies using predictive models from real user data, enabling IT DevOps teams to understand the scope and extent of third-party outages with a single click. In this way, it becomes easier to see exactly which geographic user segments are being impacted.
User Engagement Estimator:“Creates “what if” scenarios to understand the impact of potential changes on performance and business metrics. This allows IT and DevOps teams to estimate, for example, the potential impact of IT investments such as adding a CDN and how this will likely effect critical business metrics like conversion rates and revenue.
What do you view as the most pressing challenge for organizations as they attempt to deliver exceptional user experiences?
MD: In our view, the most pressing challenge is reducing mean-time-to-repair (MTTR), which is absolutely critical in an age when customers have absolutely no patience or tolerance for poor performance, and when DevOps teams must work within dramatically condensed timeframes to roll-out, fix and modify software.
We view MTTR as a four-phase process – issue detection, identification, fixing and verifying the fix has worked. The lengthiest and often costliest component of MTTR is identification – diagnosing exactly what the problem is. IT and DevOps teams often must sift through massive amounts of data in search of answers or to confirm assumptions. Unfortunately, by the time the problem source is identified, the damage is likely already done – with customers flooding call centers and social networks with complaints.
The challenge isn’t that the wrong data is being collected and we need to collect different or less information, instead it is to quickly make sense of the data being collected. This often includes a team of highly trained and highly paid experts sifting through vast amounts of performance, system, and event data to find answers. Shortening the amount of time to diagnose an incident can have the most significant impact on reducing overall MTTR.
The complexity of today’s IT infrastructure has resulted in massive amounts of data being collected from both internal and third-party systems. Guided Intelligence is expressly designed to make it easier and faster for IT and DevOps teams to accelerate time to insights, determine and implement the proper course of action and avoid being caught flat-footed by angry customers.
Any other challenges worth mentioning?
MD: When it comes to managing third-party performance, organizations must pay particularly close attention to managing their cloud service providers. Even the most reputable service providers in the world are not immune to unpredictable outages and other capricious events. We have seen several instances of this over the past year, most recently with Amazon S3 going down in late February, which ultimately proved to be the result of a very slight human error. Amazon S3 is used by less than one percent of the top million websites, but the impact was still very widely felt, demonstrating how omnipresent cloud services have become and how much worse the domino effect could have been. Just last week, major retail brand Lululemon publicly cited IBM cloud services as the reason behind a 20 hour outage.
The cloud offers many benefits, and it’s not surprising that more organizations are adopting it. But this enthusiasm must be tempered with careful monitoring, and a commitment to keeping the user experience front-and-center in all cloud-related decisions. This means baselining current website, mobile site and application user performance levels (as they are running on-premise); assessing user performance across various cloud providers (this helps in evaluating these providers as well as other services like DNS and CDNs); and moving from assessing performance, to continually monitoring performance – which is important not just for organizations using the cloud, but also cloud service providers themselves.
Where does Catchpoint see itself fitting into the overall DEM landscape?
MD: At Catchpoint we see ourselves as taking a leadership role in the industry evolution beyond traditional APM, to digital experience monitoring (DEM) where the customer experience takes center stage. We see five main categories in this transition, and we are committed to continually enhancing our solutions in each of these areas: combined synthetic and real user monitoring; addressing the entire delivery chain; leveraging advances in analytics to avoid being drowned in data (Guided Intelligence falls within this category); measuring as geographically close to real users as possible; and measuring SaaS and cloud service providers.
With regards to the last category, we want to position ourselves as an unbiased source of the most accurate, reliable performance data on public cloud service providers. This type of role will be essential in helping more organizations migrate confidently to the cloud, realizing the full range of benefits while also protecting and insulating themselves from any downside.
What are your primary recommendations for any company looking to maximize their users’ digital experiences?
MD: Besides evolving from traditional APM to DEM through the categories outlined above, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is for organizations to monitor their external third-parties, particularly cloud services. Outages are a fact of life no matter the type of infrastructure, whether an in-house data center or a major cloud service. When a cloud service provider goes down and takes hundreds or more sites down along with it, it’s not just the cloud service providers that deserve the blame, but also all the companies that did not mitigate their risk by employing a multi-cloud strategy, or having contingency or redundancy plans in place.
The old adage, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” definitely applies here. While certain pre-emptive measures, such as having an added layer of redundancy, can require some time and effort, it is worthwhile in the long run.
What does the future hold for Catchpoint?
MD: As noted above, over the next several years we are looking to establish ourselves as the pre-eminent enabler of organizations transitioning from APM to DEM. As part of this, we will look to expand our worldwide monitoring infrastructure and monitor more services, particularly in the cloud service and SaaS provider arenas. We expect to play a bigger role in helping organizations evaluate various third-party options (based on performance) and uphold SLAs. And of course, we’ll strive to continually update and enhance our toolsets for IT and DevOps teams, making it easier to identify and resolve issues amidst ever-growing complexity, so they can utilize their time more efficiently and always be one step ahead of customers and their growing performance expectations.