by Stephanie Overby

TeaLeaf Technology Tools Lets You See Your Website As Your Audience Does

Jun 15, 20024 mins

A slow-moving site. “An error occurred while processing your request.” A less-than-satisfying search. All sit near the top of Web users’ frustration lists?and all are major menaces to companies relying on often undependable but increasingly mission-critical Web-based applications.

Application integrity issues are highly visible to customers, but they can be nearly invisible to IT operations. Incorrect data on a page may go unnoticed to IT because the page appeared in a reasonable time and raised no red flags, says Jasmine Noel, director at Framingham, Mass.-based Hurwitz Group, a technology research and consulting company. And when a problem arrives from a user complaint or a console alert, the IT team may have no way of creating a complete record of what happened.

TeaLeaf Technology, a privately held 1999 spinoff of SAP, has entered the ever-expanding field of system management software for Web-enabled applications to provide a potential solution to the problem of such unreliability and invisibility. The latest generation of the software, IntegriTea, allows companies to capture, record and play back entire end user Web application sessions. (The product was originally developed as skunk works?under the name “project black box”?at SAP Labs to understand how customers were really using the company’s Web-based applications.) IntegriTea captures user session data, encrypts and compresses it, then sends it off to an IntegriTea server. The software also monitors and scans the contents of this data for conditions such as Web server errors, ODBC errors and long response times. If it finds a problem, IntegriTea can then generate alerts for IT staff. In addition, IntegriTea lets users gather application-specific data from the application server to combine with webpage information.

By capturing every user interaction along with code-level events, IntegriTea provides the IT organization with a more complete picture of the performance of its Web applications. As a result, it can help solve a number of Web application issues?not only detecting content errors and failed processes, but also verifying third-party content and services, recovering lost orders and enhancing security.

“We felt like a lot of stuff was happening on our site that we didn’t have visibility to?who’s coming, what are they doing, is their experience positive or negative,” explains Lisa Scovel, who implemented IntegriTea at “TeaLeaf allowed us to see not only what our customers were doing successfully but also what they were attempting to do that may have been unsuccessful, like searches, incomplete transactions, abandoned registrations.” Scovel says made massive changes to its registration and checkout process after experiencing firsthand some of the frustration its users encountered. “The tool allows us to isolate the sessions of someone who says they were having a problem on our site at 10:40 p.m. or resolve a dispute if someone says they put a product in their cart at 6:34 p.m. at $6.99, and the price changed when they checked out.”

“It’s a good product for anyone who needs to know exactly what happens on a website,” says Tim Grieser, systems management research analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher, CXO Media). Although there could be some privacy concerns when saving entire user experiences, the product addresses that with its encryption process, leaving the onus on the user-company to cover this issue with its stated privacy policy. The only other potential drawback is storage. “The amount of data you wind up saving could be huge, and TeaLeaf has schemes for compressing the data, which alleviates that to some extent,” Grieser explains. “But as of yet it hasn’t been used for a long period of time by a high-traffic website to see how that will work.”