BMO dishes out Web app performance advice

The only way to truly stop using your customers as a beta test group is to implement a Web application performance management tool, according the Bank of Montreal’s e-commerce chief.

Whether or not you can build the most solid online applications, the quality of your end-user’s experience is largely driven by whether they can consistently and quickly access them. This principal has influenced BMO to ramp up its investment with Lexington, Mass.-based Gomez Inc. and roll out the vendor’s Web app performance monitoring software outside of the bank’s IT department.

The Gomez software-as-a-service platform allows users to test the performance of their Web applications before and after they go live, integrating Web load testing, cross-browser testing and business analysis into a single platform. The company’s testing network spans more than 100,000 global measurement points, which will allow IT staff to test Web performance and load times from a variety of geographic locations.
“In the last two or three years, we’ve had this huge shift with our bank delivering a (single source) page to customers to now delivering a page which has multiple sources coming into it,” said Bal Sahjpaul, director of e-commerce at BMO. “We now test everything we develop and design from a user’s point of view through Gomez.”

Gomez CTO Imad Mouline said the “composite application explosion” means that increasingly, what’s behind a company’s firewall is only contributing a small piece of the overall application.

“A lot more of the components that make up an application are coming from the outside,” he said. “Whether its ads, contents delivery networks, bill payment engines, or the rating and review system, all of those components are now being used as building blocks for their applications.”

At a bank like BMO, Mouline added, while users only see things from a BMO brand perspective, in reality their browser is connecting to a multitude of companies, all of which could have an impact on overall transaction performance.

“I can get a report internally that says ‘everything’s great, go ahead and launch,’” he said. “But how’s it going to look on thousands of browser configurations, operating systems, screen resolutions, and mobile devices? My son even visited from his PSP.”

One example of a composite application at BMO is an upcoming branch and ABM locator feature the bank expects to launch in the near future. The application will be connected with Microsoft Corp.’s mapping service to add dynamic, street-view functionality to the bank locator.

The new locator will undergo the same type of testing BMO’s online “virtual account open” feature underwent last year, Sahjpaul said.

“Before launching, we wanted to have a really flashy intro to help the user get into the application and guide them,” he said. “In our testing environment we found that was causing some performance issues, so we actually removed it and got (load times) down to two or three seconds.”

Companies using analytics tags offered by firms such as Google Inc. and Omniture Inc. will also be able to see if the traffic monitoring technique is contributed to site performance, Gomez said.

“Even if Omniture tells you that it’s a small tag and that it doesn’t degrade performance, we want to see if that’s the truth,” Sahjpaul said. “We use Gomez to test the performance before and after we add the tags to our site and found that there’s no degradation. We’re using one vendor to actually keep another vendor in check.”

The tool is even connecting the company’s marketing division to the IT team, with Sahjpaul recently deciding to roll the Gomez tool out to his online marketing unit.

Price-wise, the service operates in a similar fashion to a cell phone minutes package, with users paying for the tool based on the number of page measures they make. For example, if you monitor one page, every hour, that would equal 24 measures in a day.

Packages start from US $2,000 and are available to companies of all sizes.

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