Inside the firewall

man-65049Among the challenges of operating in China, one issue that most European companies face with their IT systems and business applications is how to provide their users in China with acceptably fast access to such resources. Time spent waiting for pages to load, or applications to respond can cause frustrating delays within your organisation, and can also lose you customers.

Arthur Hamon, Asia Pacific Director for ip-label, says that if it is worth spending the time and money optimising and deploying systems for use on the Chinese mainland, then it is worth investing time and money to identify and fix connectivity or slowness issues to ensure that these systems are working at their optimal capacity for Chinese users.

When a website’s homepage takes more than 2.6 seconds to appear, it is estimated that 58 per cent of visitors will click away from the site. Eighty per cent of these visitors will not come back and two out of three will talk negatively about their experience with people around them. For eCommerce websites the business impact is obvious; for brand awareness sites there can be an adverse effect on a company’s image. This is true in the fashion industry, but also for B2B activities too. How is it possible to consistently convey an image of quality and know-how to your prospective and current Chinese customers if your website does not display correctly for them? The waste of time, efforts and eMarketing budgets goes without saying.

For internal applications the impact must be estimated in terms of time loss, delays in processing and reporting, as well as data loss. Employees are captive users of these applications, and have to wait until required transactions are fully completed. In the case of severe delays or timeouts, some processes may require a return to the tried and tested solution of paper and Excel spreadsheets.

For external applications, the impact is more direct: a slowdown of an eProcurement system will impact the number of suppliers able to respond to the online bidding procedure, or resellers won’t be able to replenish their stocks.

Distance-related latency only partially explains matters. By way of example, here are a few typical, average delays before a user can view the full content of a webpage:

  • from China to China: 10 seconds
  • from China to Asia: 18 seconds
  • from China to the USA: 22 to 24 seconds
  • from China to Europe: 35 to 55 seconds

(Source: ip-label Datametrie measurements)

Some common factors that can affect performance are:

  • Hosting: servers located outside of China generate latency. Local hosting providers offer a variety of performance levels that must be assessed and monitored properly;
  • Telecom links: even if they are hosted locally in China, your sites and applications need to be well connected to the Chinese Internet. Chinese telecom networks are not interconnected the way they are in Europe. A site hosted in Beijing may be practically unavailable from Shanghai because of peering issues;
  • Content Delivery Network (CDN) service providers: a common solution for speeding up sites and applications, CDNs must be selected carefully. Local CDN providers are legally authorised to operate in China but do not always provide the same level of quality as major, international CDNs. What’s more, some of the major providers may not operate efficiently in China;
  • Content: filtered content, from sites such as Facebook or Twitter, will not display and will make the site slower; and
  • Design: heavy design (high definition images, for example) which might perform well in an optimised environment will only weigh the site down in this context.

Balancing the cost and constraints of these factors and optimising some of them should enable you to find the right solution to meet your users’ need for satisfactory application performance.

As much as this looks like a purely technical issue, teams in China also have to deal with the very real challenge of internal organisation and communication; in other words, any parts of your organisation outside of China need to be made aware of, and be sympathetic towards, the problems and constraints affecting you inside China.

Your colleagues based at headquarters in London, Frankfurt or Madrid conduct their measurements locally, so perceived differences in performance between Europe and China could be significant. Also, with six to eight hours’ time difference between Europe and China, they might also perform their ‘night’ maintenance tasks during peak hours for Chinese users.

For their part, IT teams find it challenging to analyse feedback from their teams in Chinese subsidiaries. It is difficult to supply diagnostics on the basis of complaints with a low level of specificity, like:

  • “The system is running very slow”: slowness without detailed measurements and comparisons is very subjective. If you’re used to mobile internet in Japan or Korea, “slow” could mean waiting more than a second for a response. This is not a realistic performance target in Mainland China.
  • “It was not possible to log on to our ERP [enterprise resource planning] system last week”: was it unavailable for the whole week or a few hours? When exactly did the incident occur?
  • “A customer told our sales manager that he could not access the extranet”: was it a customer from Shenzhen, Beijing, or somewhere else? Were they connecting from a PC, Mac, or tablet?

Given the amount of time and effort that have probably been devoted to adjusting your website content to the Chinese market, or to deploying and adapting the system for use in China, your website or application deserves in-depth, objective, end-user monitoring. The resulting detailed data is essential to the diagnostics that will eventually improve the quality delivered to your Chinese users.

The ip-label group markets services for internet and intranet monitoring as well as solutions for auditing performance from the end-user point of view on all digital applications. Above and beyond measurement, ip-label also offers IT and operations executives its consulting expertise to assist them with managing the risks and reducing the costs associated with the way business application performance affects business and customer service. Present in China since 2007, ip‑label offices are located in Shanghai and Beijing.