Can your app survive COVID-19?
Business landscapes are changing significantly owing to COVID-19, but the reason isn’t the obvious one. We’ve all heard about how digitalising your business will help it survive COVID-19 and the role that the cloud plays in this, but what about the application that customers use to interact with you – can that stand up to the pressure?
The stats are out there, everyone is shopping online, banking, complaining, occasionally even complimenting. People who never thought they’d give up their weekly stroll around the aisles of their local supermarket have quickly shifted to ordering their groceries online. However, if one thinks back to Black Friday a couple of years ago when several well-known large retailers’ apps crashed under the pressure placed on them, on what was probably the busiest shopping day of the year, the potential for problems becomes apparent.
Gary de Menezes, Managing Director of Micro Focus South Africa, says: “Working from home has changed how people work, how they think and how they engage. South Africa has never been big on the e-commerce front compared to other countries, people generally preferred to choose their items in store. However, this has changed dramatically to the extent that delivery companies can’t keep up with demand.
“COVID-19 is changing how individuals engage with technology forever. Online engagement and demand for online services is only going to increase. The challenge is that all businesses, regardless of sector or industry or even size, are going to have to develop digital channels if want to remain relevant to their customers.”
This requires moving into the virtual world and possibly even reducing the business’s physical footprint. Companies that used to have a small virtual footprint are now investing further in online because of how the world has changed and how this is going to impact the future. Companies that had never previously contemplated an online presence have had to embrace the virtual world, because if they didn’t, they’d close down.
Restaurants are creating an online presence so that customers can order food online; game reserves are doing virtual game drives. All of a sudden, businesses are uncovering a whole new audience, in some instances outside of our borders. The companies that are doing well are those that are seizing this new virtual environment. However, cautions De Menezes, businesses need to ensure their applications and systems can deliver the experience that people expect, otherwise they’ll just move on to the next online platform. Customer retention and brand loyalty has diminished in this online world.
People look for companies that have a Web site that performs, is functional, easy to navigate and easy to check out of. This opens opportunities for smaller retailers to offer a better online and app experience than their bigger competitors. Suddenly, big players face serious competition from virtual-only players.
This raises the question that all businesses need to be asking themselves, namely, can your application and systems manage peak traffic? De Menezes says this is where performance engineering comes into its own.
Performance engineering is an evolution of performance testing. Stephen James Smith, Software Business Consultant at Micro Focus South Africa, explains: “The need for performance testing arose originally as more people needed to connect to systems to access applications. The aim was to determine whether the engineers had created software that could handle multi-tasking and multiple users in large numbers. Then it was realised that busy periods happened in cycles, such as month-end, year-end or annually – like Black Friday – with a surge in the number of people wanting to connect to an application. Along came COVID-19, and with it, an unprecedented spike in online numbers.”
More pressure is being placed on companies’ network infrastructure and systems to enable people to work remotely. Network providers and telecommunication companies are also feeling the strain of all this additional traffic. As a result, the need for performance testing has sky-rocketed.
Smith adds: “Performance testing was often tacked onto the end of a project as an after-thought, almost as a box-ticking exercise. This is no longer adequate.”
He goes on to draw an analogy with Formula One racing. “Teams spend a fortune on ensuring that their cars perform optimally. The car is effectively a system and every part is scrutinised to see if it is adding or detracting from the overall performance. As changes are made, further tests done. This is performance engineering.”
It’s no longer sufficient to do a single test at the end of development to whether the app can handle a certain number of users. Performance has to be engineered into the process from start to finish, says De Menezes. “Developers need to start running performance tests while still creating the code. Business apps usually need to be accessed by many users, either internal or external to the business, all of whom want to transact with the enterprise. The app must be designed to support multitudes of users logging on and trying to transact.”
Another issue that requires consideration is performance testing of the app in real-world conditions, says Smith. “It’s all well and good to build an application and test it in a laboratory where you have good network performance, then when you put the app into production you find out that user numbers are limited and response times slow. This happens when the networking side of the app failed to cater for slow networks.”
It’s vital to start performance testing as early as possible to ensure that the system – and not just the app – can withstand the pressures of the real world that the app will operate in. This will prove a key differentiator for business going forward, predicts De Menezes.
To find out more about how to master peak traffic with performance testing, download this white paper.
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