Remember 10 years ago? We were all excited about the ability to simply sell products or have a viable business on a website. As we head into 2012, the complexity of today’s web is more challenging than we could have imagined.
While it’s difficult to predict the future, there are several current trends that offer guideposts for the changes to come and how businesses can prepare for the technological challenges of the future web.
Everything’s Going Mobile:
Within five years, more users will connect to the Internet via mobile devices than on desktop PCs. Mobility will become the primary -- maybe the only way -- you connect to your customers, with those users expecting PC-like functionality. We’re already seeing how the migration to the mobile web is forcing change. One example: the rapid adoption of payment systems that enable users to complete transactions with their smartphone instead of cash or credit cards. To be successful, mobile wallets must manage the variables and inconsistencies of wireless carriers, security concerns, the mobile application and the performance of the phone itself. Although they add complexity, mobile payments will soon become a “must have” for retailers.
Multiple Platforms -- Multiple Devices:
Back when there was one dominant operating system and web browser, things were a lot simpler. Today there are several operating systems on desktop and mobile, as well as a multitude of ever updating web browsers. Consumers are also accessing content across multiple devices including the desktop, mobile apps, Internet-enabled TVs and others. Fifteen percent of U.S. consumers are already using four or more computing devices in an average week. Meeting user interaction expectations will be an ongoing hurdle for businesses, which must optimize for multiple platforms and browsers and provide interoperability for many different devices to ensure a consistent user experience.
A Web of Interconnected Services:
Today’s users demand rich web experiences, and businesses are learning that these are the profit centers of the future. Web applications have evolved, with a greater share of the execution shifting from servers to the client’s browser to satisfy this desire. In addition, many application functions are now outsourced to third-party services, essentially making your application a collection of integrated services with a rich front end. The average web transaction now involves more than eight third-party services or hosts, the majority of them outside your firewall. This dependence on outside services will only grow.
Consumers expect websites to load fast. Google’s search results are nearly instantaneous and social networks have users constantly monitoring their Twitter page or online communities, rather than occasionally checking in. Business users are even more demanding and adding their own real-time social networking. Slower sites mean lost business. Our data shows that when web page load time increases from one to five seconds, user abandonment increases 40 percent. Imagine the business impact if the page being abandoned is your shopping cart page!
The Expanding Cloud:
Take all the above trends and make them non-local. That’s what the Cloud is offering and many companies are taking the leap. There’s no avoiding it. Even if you decide not to directly use the Cloud, there is a strong likelihood some of your outsourced web services are Cloud-based. Services, whether personal -- from music lockers to document sharing, or enterprise -- from CRM to employee portals -- are increasingly moving to the Cloud, driven by the inherent scalability and agility that is appealing to industries in hyper-growth. Time will tell whether the speed and elasticity the Cloud promises can keep up with the future Web’s rate of change.
These trends provide insight into what’s to come with some common themes emerging: applications are becoming the business, growing complexity, the need for speed, and the increasing reliance on elements beyond the firewall -- and outside of your traditional zone of control.
This leads to an inevitable conclusion about the IT challenges of the future web: businesses must acknowledge their increasing interdependence on the Internet itself, and constantly monitor, evaluate and optimize every element between the data center and the end user.
We call this complex set of services the Application Delivery Chain (ADC). Basically it’s what stands between you and your customers, starting from within your firewall and out to the end-user’s experience.
Problems can occur at any point along this chain, and can result in slow or failed transactions, load times that vary widely across different geographies, or pages that don’t work or display properly -- all of which can weaken revenue and dilute your brand.
The ADC’s complexity will only increase in the years to come as the above trends accelerate and new trends emerge. While this may seem intimidating, some companies are already finding ways to move beyond problem-solving and begin harnessing the beast that is the Application Delivery Chain for competitive advantage.
Tech analyst group Ovum suggests taking it in stages, by first monitoring and analyzing the weakest links across your delivery chain, then moving on to less critical problem points. Eventually you’ll be done fixing and can begin optimizing speed and other performance characteristics. We’re already seeing leading websites take this approach.
This is where the future challenge turns into future opportunity. As new complexities arise within the delivery chain, web businesses taking this proactive approach will be best positioned to quickly move beyond the challenges and begin to take advantage of the opportunities that the exciting, and profitable, new web applications of the future will offer.