Why doesn’t our industry talk more about performance and productivity?

Ever wondered how much time people in your company spend waiting for internal apps to load? One of our clients did some math on this, and they got some eye-opening results:

They calculated that, in just one small department of 20 people, those people spent a total of 130 hours per month waiting for the pages of a single internal web-based application to load. That’s 130 hours (in other words, almost an entire month’s worth of work hours for one person) that could have been spent making sales, responding to clients, fighting with the photocopier – basically doing anything more productive than staring at a screen.

In 2008, Aberdeen released a benchmark report called Application Performance Management: The Lifecycle Approach Brings IT and Business Together. This report stated that application performance issues — including internal app performance — could hurt overall corporate revenues by up to 9%.

At the same time, Aberdeen also found that the average organization was using six business-critical applications, with plans to rollout four more, bringing the total up to ten applications by 2010.

Let’s imagine a not-so-crazy scenario

Now let’s apply Aberdeen’s findings to my customer findings at the top of this post. Imagine that this same department of 20 people isn’t using just one application, but instead is using ten. Imagine that four out of ten of these apps are experiencing significant performance problems.

The results:

  • Instead of waiting 130 hours, the people in this department spend a total of 520 hours a month waiting for pages to load.
  • That’s the equivalent of the total number of work hours for 3.5 employees.
  • In monetary terms: that wait time equals about $9,500 per month, or $114,000 a year (based on an average annual salary of $32,700, according to  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2010).
  • Instead of a 20-person department, extrapolate these numbers throughout a larger enterprise, such as Amazon. With more than 33,000 employees in total, let’s assume that half are desktop workers. Following the rationale above, poor app performance could cost Amazon upward of $7.8 million a month, or $94 million a year.

Crazy? No. A bit facile? Yes. But only a bit. While employees are waiting for apps to load, they could be doing other things, such as making calls and multitasking with other slow apps. But bear in mind usability expert Jakob Nielsen’s findings about response time and human behavior: 10 seconds is about the limit for keeping a user’s attention focused on a non-responsive dialogue. After 10 seconds, even the most efficient worker has to struggle to re-focus on the task at hand. Repeated interruptions are a huge detriment to productivity.

We need more performance + productivity case studies.

We all know about the impact that faster page load had on revenue for Amazon and Shopzilla. But there are some inspiring lesser-known case studies that demonstrate the relationship between improving internal app performance and employee productivity.

In one case study, Hydro-Québec was experiencing some serious performance pains with a shared CAD app, with people in remote offices suffering 30- to 60-second delays between every mouse click. Not surprisingly: “Response time was ugly,” according to Daniel Brisebois, Hydro-Québec’s IT advisor. After application response time was improved by 10- to 25-fold, Hydro-Québec reported benefits such as fewer errors, a faster engineering cycle, and enhanced data integrity.

In another case study, this one for the Hilton Grand Vacations Club, a division of the company that sells timeshares to international customers, the company was experiencing major latency issues that caused delays of up to 30 minutes for a vital contract-processing app. Hilton’s senior director of technology applications, Rich Jackson, said that “As you can imagine, with the customer is sitting in front of you while you are waiting on a computer process, it’s not an ideal situation. When you’re processing a contract, time is of the essence. You don’t want delays due to technology issues.” After accelerating the app, Jackson said that “The contract process has been reduced from more than 30 minutes to just a minute or two. It has a huge effect on customer and employee satisfaction.”

These are good stories, but we need more.

Why don’t we WCO folks talk more about performance and productivity?

Off the top of my head:

  • In the early days of our industry, we distanced ourselves from the application acceleration folks in order to carve out our own niche.
  • We share information using tools like WebPagetest and the HTTP Archive, which are only relevant to the public web.
  • Talking about money is a lot sexier than talking about productivity.

In the months to come, I’m going to do my part to make productivity as sexy as money. If you have productivity stories to share, I’d love to hear about them.

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