“We’re truly at a unique time, with the ability to redefine work. In this era of hybrid work, work is not where you go. It's what you do and how you do it.” –Cisco, "Hybrid Work Index."
It’s inevitable when you redefine something as big as “hybrid work” that not everyone will agree on the new definition or approach. That’s the process playing out now in organizations the world over. So it’s exciting to have a front-row seat: to see firsthand the development of new models and the creation of new digital experiences.
Given the complexities involved, businesses will not get this totally right on the first attempt. Initial optimizations and refinements are unavoidable. There will be an extended period of testing and learning. As an industry, we need to put new management techniques into the background to see how effective they are at maintaining performance. Organizations will need to put these new experiences in front of employees to see how they react.
Right now, there are several different vantage points from which organizations are attempting to establish and maintain oversight of digital experience and answer key questions about how an experience is being received and what they can do to improve it.
Two of these vantage points dominate hybrid workplace monitoring discussions: Digital Employee Experience (DEX) and Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM).
Exploring DEX and DEM
DEX is often defined as “the quality of a workforce's daily interactions with the technology they use to get work done.” Gartner® builds upon that, noting that DEX “can provide a deeper understanding of employees’ experiences with digital technologies and enable digital workplace teams to build an approach focused on employees’ individual preferences.”1 Forrester defines DEX as “the sum of all the perceptions that employees have about working with the technology they use to complete their daily work and manage their relationship with their employer across the lifecycle of their employment.”2
We believe that a defining characteristic of DEX solutions is that they ask people to rate their experiences and sentiment toward the digital tools and environment they use. This feature puts a strong emphasis on user engagement, as well as device and patch management via remediation. When combined with information collected from the employee’s device, a composite picture emerges of whether people are productive and happy. A build-up in these indicators over time may suggest areas where system changes are needed to reduce bottlenecks to satisfaction. User expectation setting around the frequency of critical patches can also be a component of DEX. Some enterprises also use these metrics to understand general employee concerns with experience—identifying macro issues that influence employee retention or attrition. The correlation between user experience and employee retention can interest upper management, especially CEOs struggling to retain talent. This association explains why DEX is a particularly hot topic at the moment.
But there are challenges with a DEX-focused approach. One is that it’s based on lagging indicators of performance: employee sentiment scores that are collected perhaps once or at most a couple of times a day. While this will paint a broad view of employee experiences over time at the macro level, it will not put the enterprise in a proactive posture to solve the issue quickly or proactively anticipate probable issues. Ultimately, responses will always be reactive after a problem has already occurred. Another issue that has cropped up with DEX approaches is that survey requests interrupt end users' critical tasks when they are in a flow state, particularly in high-pressure client-facing situations. For example, if a car dealer salesperson is on the showroom floor trying to close a deal with a customer, the last thing they want is for a random survey window to pop up and intrude on the demo as they are showing information to the customer.
Additionally, in a world where organizations no longer own the applications that employees use, the infrastructure hosting those applications, nor the routes to and from the application, understanding how to react so that you can react without delay is critical. By relying primarily on sentiment analysis and device-specific metrics, it can be difficult to pinpoint where in the digital delivery chain a problem lies, and the delayed investigation may simply extend a period of low sentiment scores. Users may also experience bad performance but not decide to inform IT. In this scenario, IT may have no idea an issue ever occurred, but the user still feels dissatisfied.
You can’t address what you don’t see.
A different approach is to instrument the environment and the end-to-end digital delivery chain in such a way that issues can be recognized and acted upon before the front-facing experience is impacted. This approach serves as the heart of Digital Experience Monitoring (DEM).
Gartner defines DEM as “technologies [that] monitor the availability, performance and quality of experience for an end user or digital agent as they interact with an application and the supporting infrastructure. Users can be external consumers of a service, internal employees accessing corporate tools or a combination of both. DEM technologies seek to observe and model the behavior of users as a continuous flow of interactions in the form of ‘user journeys.’”3
DEM is capable of satisfying goals to make employees more productive or to improve digital performance. Its key difference compared to DEX is that it is based on leading—not lagging—indicators. It allows organizations to take a more proactive approach to digital experience by identifying active ways to make the lives of employees better. Changes can then be proactively made without waiting for a downturn in sentiment or lower productivity.
Another key difference is that DEM focuses on understanding a use case where the user’s vantage point sits across the Internet from where an application or service is located. In a cloud-first world, this situation applies to most of the scenarios we see today. You cannot understand and deliver digital experience without profoundly understanding how the Internet works. DEM was designed from the outset with this focus in mind, whereas DEX was designed for more traditional on-premises environments and has been ported to the hybrid world more recently.
We believe that DEX and DEM are effectively two sides of the same coin. They offer different ways to manage, measure, and improve employees' digital experiences in the workplace. The former focuses on qualitative feedback and device management, the latter on understanding (and troubleshooting) the Internet environment and the SaaS applications being used (whilst also factoring in device behavior and private infrastructure such as data centers, VPC, networks and applications, etc.).
A key disadvantage of DEX is that it prioritizes the employee's emotional state. The information it collects can power an ongoing conversation about general satisfaction but doesn’t dig into why an issue exists, and that lack of context makes it difficult for IT teams to pinpoint the root cause of employee dissatisfaction. DEX vendors provide insight into the device environment — CPU metrics, patch status, etc.—but they don’t necessarily show performance across the Internet and SaaS environments, which is where the majority of employee productivity is increasingly happening (over applications like Webex® by Cisco, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Workday, Salesforce, and more). Collaboration app issues caused by Internet issues are much more frequent causes of bad digital experiences than CPU or patch issues on the physical device.
To use a travel analogy, if DEX is focused on understanding road traffic (devices are like cars taking very specific and linear routes), then DEM is more like air traffic control—it’s tracking fast-moving and complex aircraft across a much more sophisticated environment: the Internet. And like the sky, the Internet is ever-changing. You hope it will be sunny and clear, but it can often be turbulent and cloudy. It’s like shifting from a relatively set linear 2D environment to a fluid and shifting 3D one. You need to know how best to fly your plane in bad conditions.
DEM prioritizes the management of this digital ecosystem and it is focused on Internet, network, and SaaS application experience. It proactively tracks all the dependencies and interdependencies (for example Wi-Fi, Internet, network, and SaaS application performance) that drive the digital experience, and it produces insight that can enable a data-backed discussion on what measures can be put in place or actions taken to enhance the digital experience for all proactively. Proactive recognition can be used to combat “digital friction” caused by unreported performance issues by, for example, SaaS environments and Internet routing changes. Likewise, the deeper digital perspective offered by DEM can assist IT in expediting resolution of systems that employees identify as underperforming. DEM allows you to understand cloud, SaaS, and ISP behavior—and then externally share context regarding a digital experience problem with the relevant third-party provider and ensure they make changes (adjust traffic routing, adjust architecture) to fix the issues impacting the user’s experience.
By using DEM and understanding the entire service delivery chain of the digital experience, IT can also proactively address infrastructure and SaaS applications ahead of critical events. They might, for example, solidify the network infrastructure ahead of a live "all hands" call, where hundreds or thousands of users from across the organization will connect. See a real-life example here.
Proactive Insights Drive Continuous Improvement of Digital Experiences
Here is a visual analogy that can also explain the difference architecturally: Think of your employee as being a passenger on a plane. The DEX approach is to survey the passenger on the quality of their experience while their plane is flying through a storm. To make things even more interesting, let’s say that two of the four engines also malfunctioned and cut out due to fatigued parts, making for an even worse passenger flight experience. Yes, with DEX, you collect qualitative data indicating they had a bad experience during the flight. But you could not avoid the multiple incidents that caused the bad experience, or provide context on the cause. DEX won’t give contextual information on all the pieces impacting the wider environment the passenger inhabits. In this case, the sky (Internet) and the engines (SaaS application) caused the issues, but DEX was concerned with the interior cabin that the passenger was sitting in and whether their TV, cabin light, and air conditioner (physical devices) were working.
With DEM, you can view data related to interior cabin conditions, and you're also able to understand the full end-to-end environment—engine performance, wind speed, and the nature of the weather that’s heading in your direction. You would know that your engines are at risk of cutting out, and you can see the bad weather ahead. With DEM, you would be able to inform decision-makers so that you can plot an alternate course, avoiding the storm and landing at an airport before your engines cut out. Domain specificity on the cause of an issue trumps general user sentiment when it comes to proactively ensuring digital experiences.
This analysis is not to suggest DEX doesn’t provide value, far from it, but simply to highlight that it is a device-centric and retroactive approach, which is not purpose-built for cloud-first scenarios. As a result, it does not position a business to proactively understand and influence the cloud-driven environment that ultimately dictates most employees' SaaS application experiences. Lagging indicators can only tell us what might have happened (through a device-centric lens) and keep a tally of the psychological impact. The default DEM approach gets IT in front of the issue before it occurs—understanding the impact of network behaviors (i.e., SD-WAN, ISP, CDN, BGP and DNS policies) or gating security factors (VPN, firewalls, CASB, etc.) at the digital “last mile” that could impact your future application performance. Ergo, why explain why something went wrong in the past when you can change course and avoid an issue (and all the associated stress) in the first place?
Different Approaches for Different Audiences (With Some Overlap)
Audiences matter here. It’s worth remembering that DEM is much more tightly focused on Digital IT Ops—network teams, digital workplace, and IT support teams who actively want to solve digital issues before they happen. DEX arguably provides the most value to device management, digital workplace, and HR teams looking to provide ongoing feedback to executive management about general engagement and the sentiment around experiences and how these impact employee attrition/retention at a macro level. So, DEX can help with your device remediation and patch management approaches, and it can give some executive-friendly DX data that HR can use in board room meetings—just don’t expect it to fix your actual Internet, network, and SaaS app-related issues.
DEM and DEX: Co-existing in the Next Generation Monitoring Stack
In many organizations, DEX and DEM are likely to ultimately coexist. DEX’s sentiment analysis focus means it is probably the lead tool used for Human Resources and facilities management-led workforce transformations. Where DEX is already in use, IT teams may be able to leverage the investment to measure sentiment shifts, following changes they initiate based on intelligence from their DEM tool. In this scenario, DEM is still performing the primary behind-the-scenes monitoring and proactive resolution that ensure excellent digital experiences. For IT Ops and digital workplace teams looking to achieve full digital awareness and proactive management of the end-to-end digital experience, DEM will be the primary solution.
For organizations still exploring which digital experience path to take, it is worth factoring in the differences in current approaches and choosing a path that best aligns with the evolution of digitally driven hybrid workplaces.
1. Gartner, Top Use Cases For Digital Employee Experience (DEX) Tools, Tom Cipolla, Dan Wilson, 2022.
2. Forrester, ‘Digital Employee Experience Is Not A Tool — It’s A Perception’, by Andrew Hewitt and Cheryl McKinnon, May 2022
3. Gartner, Hype Cycle™ for Monitoring, Observability and Cloud Operations, 2022, Pankaj Prasad, Padraig Byrne, 20 July 2022.
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