Optimization for SaaS: Works for Business and DevOps
Within SaaS companies, both DevOps and business teams can benefit from using performance optimization tools. Performance matters – whether you’re managing a marketing website or a web app. In this blog post we’ll:
- Discuss how Optimization fits into workflows for DevOps and business teams, and
- Explore some hypothetical (and slightly hyperbolic) examples of how to use Optimization.
Optimization for DevOps Teams
Traditionally, engineering teams at software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies have been primarily focused with optimizing databases and applications to scale. Today, many of the best DevOps teams have robust tools and flexible systems in place to monitor and respond to issues on the back-end. Those same teams may or may not have resources focused on optimizing the front-end performance of their web applications. But, the fact is – if the front-end of your application is slow, it doesn’t matter how performant your database is because that data won’t be available to your end-users. The front-end of the web application becomes the user experience (UX) bottleneck.
Sometimes we hear people say, “Front-end performance doesn’t matter to us at because our users have already purchased the software. They’re locked into annual contracts.” Please friends – don’t fall into the trap of this assumption.
Remember: slow web apps interrupt workflows and cause frustration. Users will write into support more often. They might complain on social media, in user communities, or on product review boards. Ultimately, users will remember those frustrating experiences when evaluating other options or making recommendations to their friends. UX matters to SaaS customers, and front-end web performance affects UX.
Considerations for DevOps Teams
Here are some examples of things to consider when monitoring front-end performance for UX in a web app:
- Can users log in quickly? How long does it take for an initial dashboard to display?
- Could scripts for tracking user behavior affect page load within the web app?
- Could any externally managed APIs affect the performance of the web app?
- Can users navigate quickly between disparate parts of the web app?
- Can users quickly update and render reports?
- Does your SaaS app give users the ability to update billing or upgrade services? Can that transaction happen quickly and without errors?
Synthetic or proactive monitoring for front-end performance can help answer these questions, providing baseline data for response times for key user flows. Monitoring can generate reports and trigger alerts when issues occur, helping teams respond to performance problems before they affect end-users. But, what if you could prevent those performance problems from being included in a release?
This is exactly how Optimization works when DevOps teams integrate the solution into their workflow.
As a stand-alone product, Optimization is the performance consultant “in your back pocket.” As part of a DevOps workflow, Optimization is the performance fail-safe inside your build process.
When connected with continuous integration tools like Jenkins, Optimization can fail the build and prevent performance defects from being introduced. And, your team can customize Optimization settings to only enforce performance rules according to your team’s best practices.
An Example Use Case for Optimization for SaaS DevOps Teams
For example, imagine that the newest update to your web app’s interface will include a set of custom icons. They’re really snazzy. UX testing confirms that users find them “delightful.” QA confirms that they look great in multiple browsers. You deploy your update to your web application. But shortly after releasing the new icons you notice that the dashboard is taking a little bit longer to load. You wait a while – just to make sure it’s not a fluke – and confirm that there’s a trend in slow render time.
At this point, you start inspecting waterfall charts, comparing differences, trying to diagnose exactly what’s causing the slowness. While you’re working, you get a distracting Slack message from Operations: “This has to be corrected in the next hour or we’ll start to breach SLAs.” You roll back the update. Eventually, you determine that the slowness was caused by new icons that are 4 times larger than your previous icon set. You develop a “hot fix” and re-release the update. Good grief. What a fire drill.
Now, let’s imagine this same release again with Optimization running in your staging environment. You merge in the new icons. They’re really snazzy. And the build fails. You see an alert that the icons are 4 times larger than the previous set. You review the recommendations and optimize the icons. Later, you release the new UI to production. You sit back, sip your coffee, and enjoy watching the monitors reporting slightly better response times for the dashboard load times.
Sure, I understand that this example may sound too dreamy for real life, but this is essentially the experience we’re trying to offer with Rigor Optimization. Bottom line? We want to help DevOps teams find performance issues earlier so they can fix them before they impact real-users.
Optimization for Business Teams
It’s well known that poor performance impacts conversions and sales. Almost every SaaS company has a website that helps support the buying process. SaaS company marketing websites tend to be content-heavy with lots of third-party tracking scripts. Third-party tracking scripts monitor buyer behavior and help business teams optimize the content shown to prospective buyers, but they come at a cost to performance. Business teams have to manage lots of moving parts.
Remember: your marketing site affects brand perception. Great web performance and UX is important on the marketing website – not just for conversions but to offer a great start to the customer’s journey. A prospect’s experience no your site will set assumptions about the web app. If the website is slow and glitchy, visitors may assume that your web app will be slow and glitchy, too.
Considerations for Business Teams
Here are some examples of things to consider if you manage a marketing website for a SaaS company:
Are there unoptimized videos or images making your site slow to load? How is slow load time affecting your bounce rate?
Do you have any un-used third-party tracking scripts still loading on your site?
What are the key conversion paths on your site? Can visitors quickly complete those conversions without errors?
Rigor Optimization can be powerful to help audit potential causes of slowness on marketing sites, but it can also be plugged into the design process to ensure high quality results.
An Example Use Case for Optimization for SaaS Business Teams
For example, as a business team you may wonder, “Is it worth it to put a video on our homepage? How might this affect performance and conversions?”
Maybe you make two versions of your site – one with the video, one without – and run an A/B test to compare which one performs better in terms of page load time and conversions. Imagine that you determine that the video makes the page load 2 seconds slower; this test could have accounted for a significant number of lost conversions.
Now, let’s imagine a different way to handle this scenario with Rigor Optimization. With the support of developers, your business team can monitor and analyze the new version of your marketing website in your staging environment. Your team can find out exactly what the performance impact would be before making changes to the live site. After running a comparison in staging, you determine that the video would make the page load 2 seconds slower. You redesign a new version of the homepage – maybe with SVGs and CSS animation instead – and confirm that it performs much better than video. You release the new homepage and increase conversions on your marketing site. Everybody wins.
Performance matters to both DevOps and business teams within SaaS organizations. Even when used in silos, web performance optimization tools can help your business units become more effective. However, the most effective organizations build a performance culture throughout and work together to:
- Align key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Collaborate on strategies to hit goals, and
- Share common toolsets for organization-wide transparency
Rigor Optimization can be a powerful tool to help benefit multiple parts of your business so that you can work more effectively to provide the best possible experience to your customers.