While much has been done about the need to modernize federal IT networks, little has been written about the importance of optimizing the user experience for government employees. Yet modernization and the delivery of a good user experience go hand-in-hand. If an employee cannot access your network or a particular application, nothing else matters.
Optimizing the experience so that employees can work without friction is imperative to federal agencies striving to achieve greater efficiency. Here are three strategies that you can employ to ensure a seamless, satisfactory and well-optimized experience that disposes of headaches and enhances productivity.
Understand your users
Step one in delivering a top-tier end-user experience should involve performing an assessment of an agency’s users. Start by asking:
- What applications do they need to do their jobs?
- What tools are they using to access those applications?
- Are they using their own devices in addition to agency-issued technology?
- Where are they located?
- Do they often work remotely?
The answers to these questions can help you tailor your offerings to fit the needs of your agency’s employees.
Let’s say your agency has a lot of users who routinely use their personal smartphones to access a particular internal application. You’ll have to consider whether or not to authorize their devices to work on your internal infrastructure. The best approach might be to introduce an employee personal device network and segment it from the main network. This can protect the primary network — in case an employee’s device becomes compromised — without restricting the employee from being able to use said device or access the application.
Similar considerations apply to federal employees who routinely work remotely. If your agency has a number of users who normally access the government network from home, their local coffee shop, or any other remote location, you’ll want to employ segmentation to ensure they are able to access the applications they need without potentially disrupting or compromising your primary network.
Monitor their experience
Synthetic and real user monitoring can help you assess the user experience. Synthetic monitoring allows you to test an experience over time and discover how specific instances affected that experience. For example, you can see how users were affected during times of light and heavy loads. Real user monitoring lets you analyze actual transactions as users interact with your agency’s applications.
Both of these monitoring strategies are useful on their own, but they really shine when layered on top of one another. A synthetic test may show that everything is running normally, but if users are experiencing poor quality of service, something is clearly amiss. Perhaps you need to allocate more memory or optimize a database query. Whatever the case may be, comparing the real user monitoring data with the synthetic test can give you a complete picture and allow you to easily identify the problem.
However, applications are only the tip of the spear. You also need to be able to see how those applications are interacting with your servers so you can be proactive in addressing issues before they arise. Otherwise, you may end up with a lot of unhappy people while you’re left trying to determine if the problem is with the application or the network.
Obtaining this insight requires going a step beyond traditional systems monitoring. It calls for a level of server and application monitoring that allows you to visualize the relationship between the application and the server, which has a direct impact on quality of service. Without understanding those interdependencies, you’ll be throwing darts in the dark whenever an issue arises.
Pre-optimize the experience
It’s also important to provide exceptional citizen experiences, particularly for agencies with applications that must endure periods of heavy user traffic. For example, the Internal Revenue Service can expect a spike in usage around and before April 15. The Department of Health and Human Services can also expect to see more visitors to HealthCare.gov during open enrollment.
These agencies can plan for periods of heavy usage by simulating loads and their impact on applications. Synthetic monitoring tools and network bandwidth analyzers can be instrumental in simulating and plotting out worst-case scenarios to see how the network will react.
If you’re in one of these agencies, and you know that there is the potential for heavy traffic, take a few weeks, or even months, in advance to run some tests. This will allow you to proactively address the challenges ahead — such as purchasing more memory or procuring additional bandwidth through a service provider — and “pre-optimize” the user experience.
All of the investments that agencies make towards network modernization are fruitless without a good user experience. If someone can’t access an application, or the network is horrendously slow, the investments won’t be worth much. Committing to providing great service can help users make the most out of your agency’s applications and create a more efficient and effective user experience.
Brandon Shopp is vice president of product strategy at network monitoring/management company SolarWinds.