The Quantified User: Redefining How to Measure IT Success

In 1989, the blockbuster hit Back to the Future took the world by a storm with wild technology predictions. Now, we know the film might have missed the mark on flying cars and power clothes, but many of its predictions were more accurate than expected. Case in point: wearables.

From virtual reality headsets to fitness trackers, wearable technology powers this notion of the “quantified self” where our personal lives can be digitalized and analyzed with the end goal of being “improved.”

But when it comes to our professional lives, can we similarly analyze and improve them in order to enable productivity? Yes! Just as we are living in the era of the “quantified self” the enterprise is now entering the era of the “quantified user.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is how and, more importantly, why you should care…

What is the “quantified user?”

Think about the workplace today: it is one where people, processes and technologies are overwhelmingly digital and largely managed by third parties (eg: Office 365 and other business-critical SaaS offerings). And this is a great thing!

But this also presents an unforeseen challenge for IT which is, “how do we support a workforce that is largely digital and whose technology resources may or may not be managed by us?”

The key to supporting today’s workforce lies within the concept of the “quantified user” where, just as we are able to quantify the number of steps we take per day to help us improve our personal health, the “quantified user” is one whose end user experience within the digital workspace is quantified and given a score in order to enable productivity.

Learn more about End User Analytics

You might think that, at a glance, there is a loose relationship between a user’s experience and their productivity. However, over the past 20 years, workspace analytics provider, Lakeside Software has found the better the user experience score an employee has, the lower the barriers to productivity within the digital workspace. How? Via a healthier, more available desktop experience.

End user experience score: the most important metric in IT.

A bold statement, I know, but the end user experience score is the most important metric in IT because it accurately and objectively measures how all the technologies and actions taken by IT are enabling business productivity, which is the original purpose of any IT team.

The end user experience score is one that is normalized and is not touched by IT or IT vendors, and serves two purposes: inform what factors are impacting productivity and improve visibility into the health and performance of technology investments.

So how do we calculate the end user experience score?

Calculating employees’ end user experience score is done by analyzing and managing all the factors that could impact their productivity using a data-collection agent right where they conduct most if not all their work: the endpoint.

Why the endpoint? Because as critical IT functions are being outsourced and managed by third parties, reduced visibility into network transactions, data center transactions, and overall IT infrastructure is inevitable. Therefore, an employee’s workspace, the endpoint, has become the most privileged point of view IT can have into the state and the health of an increasingly scattered IT environment.

The end user experience score is one that should be calculated based on the availability and performance of all the factors that could impact the end user experience, that is everything from network and resource problems to infrastructure and system configuration issues.

The result is a score that is normalized and supports the “quantified user.” It is one that can be compared across teams and groups of users, and one that the IT team can work to improve in order to enable business productivity of those who matter most: the end users.

How to start using your end user experience score to enable productivity

Lakeside Software’s flagship solution, SysTrack, is based on permeating the use of the end user experience score throughout IT. A solution for workspace analytics, SysTrack is an endpoint agent that gathers and analyzes end user data on usage, experience and the overall endpoint in order to help IT teams in the following key areas:

– Asset Optimization: ensuring the cost of IT is being optimized for the captured needs and usage of the users

– Event Correlation and Analysis: pinpointing and resolving IT issues blocking users from being productive

– Digital Experience Monitoring: monitoring and most importantly, analyzing end users’ experience with all the technologies and business processes provided for by the organization

Learn more about SysTrack

 

How Can I Use Microsoft Data to Optimize My Office 365 Environment?

For IT administrators, gathering data about user experience and application utilization can be a daunting task. There are many sources of user related data available; however, I will focus down on the data concerning a hypothetical organization’s Office 365 subscription and how SysTrack can help both show and give context to this data. The IT administrator of this organization (let’s call her Samantha) is looking to analyze data concerning the usage of each of the Office 365 products that they have licenses for. In doing some searching online, Sam finds that Microsoft has some data available through their Admin center on the Office 365 portal. This data, however, is limited in scope—it doesn’t tell much about the actual licenses that the organization has, and it doesn’t cover user experience with specific products. She also finds in her search that there are Powershell modules that allow access to organization data, but that would require significant setup and some knowledge on how that scripting works, which would require a significant investment of Samantha’s time in order to get data to a format that would be useful to her.

So, how can SysTrack help Sam with this problem? SysTrack’s normal data collection covers some of the things that Samantha wants, namely the general user experience with specific applications through Health and Black Box data, as well as app focus time. However, to gather the data on specific utilization of the Office 365 products, we need to augment the normal collection with collection from some of Microsoft’s cloud based APIs. This gives us the ability to collect daily activity reports for users of the organization, broken down for each Office 365 product, and from this we can generate data trends over time of how the products are used. For example, with the reports Samantha could monitor how many emails a certain user sends and receives each day. Combining this with the data already available about app focus time for Outlook as well as Health data on latency and network connection, gives a big picture look at how a that user generally uses their email.

Example Office 365 monitoring dashboard utilizing data from SysTrack and Microsoft

In addition to collection based on user activity, SysTrack also collects data on active product licenses for each user. This feature gives Samantha the ability to compare a user’s usage of each of Office 365’s products with what they are licensed for to see if the organization is getting the most out of their subscriptions. There is also collection of Service Statuses for each product, directly from Microsoft, so if there are service interruptions that are affecting users, then Samantha can track that as well. Overall, SysTrack gives a very comprehensive coverage of all the available Office 365 data without having to go hunting for it on multiple pages, easing the job of IT administrators looking for this data.

Using SysTrack to Resolve User Issues with SaaS

Cloud services have fundamentally shifted the landscape for the average consumer of IT resources, and too often this leaves the support organization stuck as the discoverer of the root cause of issues that span the endpoint, the network, and the supporting service providers. Our own organization is in a similar situation, having adopted Office 365 services for all users. However, because we’re consumers of our own dog food (figuratively—I only have a guinea pig), we’ve got the ability to pinpoint the real source of user-impacting problems. As an example, we recently had a user experience trouble with making and receiving calls with Skype for Business.

Our investigation starts at the point of interaction for the user. In Resolve, we’ve got the ability to look up the user in question and immediately start reviewing the context surrounding their performance issue.

The RAG analysis provided in the overview indicates a handful of issues, but nothing directly related to Skype performance on the client itself. Further, there’s nothing impacting the network for the user or their NIC. That means we need to dig in a little deeper. This leads us to the Black Box area, which allows us to focus on the particulars of what was happening when the user had their issue.

Selecting the time interval where they first started having an issue we notice something interesting: the Skype for Business app (lync.exe) shows essentially no network traffic. Kind of a curious turn of events, and it’s something we wanted to investigate further. Luckily, we’ve been doing some internal auditing work with service status reporting from Office 365.

Here we find the cause: A/V components of Skype for Business were degraded for that user in the time interval where he was having the problem. A little bit of patience and some conversations with the Skype Online team had the service back up and running shortly. In fact, you can see the normal call traffic resume in the Black Box record above, and there you have it.

With SysTrack, we could find that the underlying cause for this specific user’s problem was not related to a client problem, a local network problem, or any service centrally provided by IT. Instead, there was a temporary service degradation that was resolved in short order. As essential software moves to the cloud, it is increasingly important to have the ability to gain detailed insights at the endpoint in order to identify whether the root cause of an issue can be traced back to the service provider.

2017 Commuter Challenge Win

For the past several years, our Ann Arbor office has enthusiastically participated in a Commuter Challenge, where employees of downtown businesses compete for prizes by logging alternative commutes throughout the month of May. In previous competitions, we were neck-and-neck for first place with other medium-sized organizations, but this year we’re happy to announce that we’ve finally brought home the win! With 100% participation, our employees biked, walked, bused, carpooled, and telecommuted to the tune of 1,773 miles traveled, 27,917 calories burned, and 684 total trips with an average of 27.4 per employee. Good job, team!

A big thank you to the Ann Arbor getDowntown Program for organizing the challenge and to Tíos Mexican Cafe for catering.

GetDowntown has reported a record year for the Commuter Challenge, with 2,474 participants from 280 organizations, in total saving 133,400 lbs of CO2 and 323,400 car miles. Congratulations to the other winners and to everyone who participated!

What You Need to Know About GPUs for Windows 10

Dedicated GPUs aren’t just for gamers and designers anymore. The modern workspace is experiencing increasingly vivid and interactive software that is challenging entrenched beliefs about the nature of corporate work. Back in the day, IT supplied users with hardware and software that far exceeded anything employees interacted with in their off-time. The field has changed, and now users are the ones setting the pace for technology needs and adoption. Virtual assistants like Cortana have piqued user interest in AI and intuitive software experiences, which users now expect to follow them across locations and devices. Business leaders are looking to harness this evolving demand to accelerate the implementation of technology with the aim of enhancing employee engagement and performance.

We see growing awareness of this shift in conversations with our clients, who are looking for smarter ways to manage hardware and software transformations. One of the most discussed projects in this space is Windows 10 adoption. Many CIOs have yet to upgrade their users to Windows 10, but are gearing up for a transition in hopes of improving end-user experience and productivity. While we’ve been talking to IT professionals about the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10 since the Windows 10 launch in 2015, recently we’ve noticed an uptick in questions specific to graphics requirements. “How will my Windows 7 users be affected by Windows 10 graphics demands?” is a fair question, as is “What can I do to prepare my VDI environment for Windows 10?” We knew that the user-focused features available in Windows 10 would demand increased GPU usage, but to answer the question of degree, we turned to data supplied by our customers to achieve an accurate view of graphics needs in Windows 10. Our analysis of customer data focused on GPU and CPU consumption as well as user experience, which we quantify as the percentage of time a user’s experience is not being degraded by performance issues.

Key findings from our assessment include:

  • The amount of time users are consuming GPU increases 32% from Windows 7 to Windows 10
  • Systems without dedicated GPUs show higher average active CPU usage
  • Windows 10 virtual systems with GPUs consume 30% less CPU than those without

  • Presence of a dedicated GPU improves user experience with either OS on both physical and virtual machines

Overall, we found sufficient evidence to recommend implementation of discrete GPUs in both physical and virtual environments, especially for Windows 10 virtual users. Shared resources make the increased graphics requirements in Windows 10 potentially damaging for VDI because high CPU consumption by one user could degrade performance for everyone; however, we found that implementation of virtual GPU could allow IT to not only avoid CPU-load issues, but actually increase density on a server by 30%. Scaled, increased density means fewer servers to purchase and maintain, potentially freeing up resources to direct towards other IT projects.

Whatever stage you’re at in your Windows 10 transformation or other software projects, SysTrack can help you anticipate your users’ graphical needs. As developers continue to release software that enables users to have greater flexibility and creativity in the way they work, IT teams will need to ensure that users have adequate tools at their disposal to power a tech-charged workforce.

How does Office 365 perform across Windows operating systems?

Modern users have the choice between a variety of Windows OS and Office versions. In relation to this mix, a common question we have come across in the past is “How does Windows 10 performance compare with Windows 7?” While we have addressed the situation in the past, it remains a popular question to this day. However, users are now becoming curious about the performance implications of Office versions against the operation systems. Through analysis of SysTrack Community data, we were able to reevaluate Windows 7 and Windows 10 performance implications against Office 365.

A feature that Windows 10 has is its integration with various components of Microsoft’s cloud portfolio. With this new component, we felt compelled to look at how Office 365 ran against past operating systems and how past versions of Office, specifically Office 2013, ran against current operating systems. Office 365 may look very similar to older versions, there are quite a few notable differences. While Office 2013 required a product key, Office 365 handles licensing more efficiently for users, potentially allowing each job role to be given a best fit licensing level. This is just an example of how Office 365 is now closely reliant on the cloud. The cloud allows Office 365 applications to be available from any device and encourages collaboration among users while Office 2013 requires a local installation. Office 2013 did not allow for as smooth of collaboration, requiring the user to share files that have been saved locally or manually stored in a place that can be reached by others. Finally, with Office 365 being software-as-a-service, it has improved security and user experience by seamlessly providing small, frequent patches.

With all these updates to Office 365, how does it affect the overall performance characteristics? We ran a comparison of Office 365 against Office 2013 with different operating systems to see how their load times compared (displayed below in Figure 1).

Figure 1

While it is interesting that Office 365 seems to take a slightly longer time to load, it is mostly due to external connectivity and tying the user account context for Office 365 to the application itself. However, looking at application stability (displayed below in Figure 2), Office 365 has significantly fewer faults than Office 2013.

Figure 2

As displayed above, Office 365 faults significantly less in Windows 10 than Office 2013. This can be a result of both being “as-a-service” products ultimately resulting in less downtime users (thus a higher end user experience) and less maintenance for IT administrators. It can be concluded that while Office 365 takes a little more time to load, it is more stable than Office 2013 among the various operating systems.

So what does all this analysis mean? Ideally, Windows 10 and Office 365 should be used together to achieve high end user experience. Office 365, overall, is more stable providing less application faults. However, other operating systems are also compatible with Office 365 despite the slightly longer load time. To evaluate readiness for a Windows 10 migration, or performance monitoring, check out our free Windows 10 assessment, with the addition of SysTrack to provide the transparency of end user experience monitoring.