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May 11, 2009

When queues mean queues

As I am often asked to share practical examples of the direct relationship between application performance and enterprise business, I like to share here one of my favorite cases.

This particular business is in the retail market, with many supermarkets full of shoppers. The IT system is used for two very different purposes:

·         Logistics and administration (stock management, pricing, ordering, etc.)

·         Customers’ electronic payment between local terminals and a central application server.

Let's talk about the latter. While it is easy to understand the importance of this ePayment application’s availability for the business, it is even more interesting to drill down into the differences between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It just so happened that the IT team was smart enough to build a model that directly relates customers’ average payment waiting time to the application response time. This study clearly shows a few thresholds (all have been reached in the past):

·        When application performs well, the waiting time depends mainly on the number of people queuing up. It is managed by varying the number of open payment terminals (opening all of them all the time would cost too much without real benefits, so it is important to match the number of operators to the number of customers present in the supermarket).

·         If the application transaction duration degrades to a certain level, then customers are obliged to wait in line for much longer: their Quality of Experience (QoE) is poor. They feel angry and start complaining loudly: this is not good for the image of the retail chain.

·         When it gets even slower, the most impatient customers start abandoning their shopping carts full of goods. Employees then have to throw out the fresh goods (meat, vegetables…) and replace everything else on the shelves: losses, extra work, less business (and probably lost customers)…

·         The bottom level of poor performance creates such a pressure on the supermarket employees that they are be forced to open the doors and let people carry their stuff away, without paying for it (could be good for the image, but not for the business).

We can see that good and stable application performance is not only a phrase and goal for technical IT and network engineers, but is directly proportional to the enterprise’s business, its image and finally its bottom line. I’m sure you will be able to adapt this story to your own business, and I will be very interested if you would like to share this with us.

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