Probing question: how impartial is your CEM data auditor?

Remember this perturbing question from the iconic graphic novel Watchmen, or from Juvenal’s Satires: “Who watches the watchers?”

What happens when a customer experience management (CEM) solution has a business partnership with the same network it’s meant to be monitoring?

A CEM examines how network performance and infrastructure affect the end user’s day to day experience. If Joe is using an iPhone with his local service, the CEM should be running checks on his local network software, his local network hardware, and on how the iPhone interacts with his local CSP (communications service provider) in general. Joe doesn’t care what’s going on behind the scenes, he just wants his phone to do its thing. He might easily get frustrated and switch networks if his calls keep dropping while he’s talking to his boss, or if he can’t log into Facebook from his phone. It would be the CEM monitor’s job to let the network know if his problem was network-related, if a given phone model had its own unrelated glitch, or if the phone wasn’t playing nice with specific network technology.

Hypothetically, if a company running a CEM were closely associated with a hardware manufacturer, there could be quite a serious concern. Could a vendor supplying both network equipment and CEM assessment provide completely transparent and reliable reporting on how equipment and network interact? Even with the best of intentions on the part of the company carrying out the CEM probe, it would be challenging to ensure that the resulting conclusions would be wholly impartial.

Then there’s the question of hardware agnosticity. If you haven’t already started moving your CSP business towards NFV (Network Function Virtualization), you’re likely about to. Your OPEX and CAPEX demand it. Even if it happens as part of a slower process, NFV or NFV-hybrid optimization is the goal for many CSPs (communications service providers). And that means rejecting proprietary hardware acquisition in favor of commodity or COTS hardware: inexpensive, easy to find, and easily replaceable. You’re going to need your CEM analytics to integrate fully and agnostically not just with NFV, but with vendor-neutral hardware infrastructure. Will a vProbe built to vendor-specific standards have total flexibility? Maybe. But it’s also possible that it will work best with its home turf hardware.

What about vProbe monitoring? With any monitoring or management system, there is a need for checks and balances. From the endpoint perspective, could a network ultimately rely on its CEM probe reporting if that CEM’s operating company had a business alliance with the manufacturer of the hardware under analysis? How dependable could a watchdog agent be in this slightly sticky situation?

Ideally, any customer experience assurance agent is neutral, aimed at all targets equally, or at least as equally as packet processing will allow. We’d like to think of ourselves as well as our analogs as white hats, riding for the brand.

Since we don’t live in a perfect world, let’s take a brief moment to weigh agent independence versus partnered agents, with specific reference to vProbes.


Adaptability

Independent CEM auditing agents are compelled to stay current with every active and developing tech, and to keep their performance as level as possible across platforms. Evolve or perish, indie agents, because start-ups and new tech like NFV wait for no-one. Adaptability and vendor agnosticity are key: if they can’t switch-hit, they might not get near the ball.

Partnered monitors may make a genuine attempt at versatility. But, the bottom dollar being what it is, there will be some greater weight given to partnered tech. Their probe will be looking for either known issues with the specific hardware or software, or possible vulnerabilities within their given structure. Crucial flaws could wind up missed or ignored.


Reliability

Independent performance management must provide point-and-shoot service: identifying and solving problems. The crunched analytics should then be as transparent and readily understandable as possible.

Intentionally or unintentionally, partnered service assurance providers may miss some red flags. Or they may bury them once they’re discovered. Highlighting the shortcomings of partnered tech is awkward. This information may be revealed internally, rather than customer-facing.


Customer Happiness Assurance

You already know that offering and maintaining the very best quality service possible is not just fundamental ethics, it’s vital business practice. That’s what pumps in a steady, growing flow of revenue instead of the reverse. Unhappy customers simply leave, often without warning. They are also likely to do what they can to demolish your company’s reputation, especially in an increasingly service-oriented culture. You don’t need those angry tweets and comments, and you really don’t need more churn. Happy users tend to be brand-loyal and will often refer friends, in person and online.

As a service provider, it’s worth taking the time to consider your choice of customer experience assurance oversight. What will best secure your service and reputation? From a compatibility angle, probe partnering may make customer assurance feel more easily handled. Your data probe is focused on you and your home tech. And that’s great, if you believe optimal results are most likely to manifest in your comfort zone. But are they? In terms of cold, hard, intelligent results, data watchdog independence has its own value. A maverick may be your most solid bet.