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Managing the Cognitive Load of Website Monitoring

Sam Williams • July 25, 2019

We can monitor everything, and we can alert on everything, but in the end, cognitive overload can quickly exhaust the support team who is responsible for getting up in the middle of the night to address operational issues.

Just like your digital experience, support team members can also suffer performance issues when their workload is exacerbated. The problem makes more sense if you have an understanding of the 3 different types of cognitive load:

  • Intrinsic Cognitive Load relates to aspects of the task fundamental to the problem space.
  • Extraneous Cognitive Load – relates to the environment in which the task is being done and the frequency of the task.
  • Germane Cognitive Load – relates to aspects of the task that needs special attention for high performance.

In a properly designed monitoring situation, you would minimize the intrinsic cognitive load through the use of proper design and training. You would also want to eliminate the extraneous cognitive load which adds little value or help to the problem domain. The real triage magic falls under the category of germane cognitive load, which is where you need to be able to identify issues and resolve them with an almost superhero-like presence.

Consequences of Poorly Managed Cognitive Load

An alerting infrastructure can create a situation where too many alerts come through and the sleep of the staff is interrupted so frequently that impaired cognitive function is almost a guarantee for some. People joke about this, but it is a real threat.

For some, handling these late-night rotations where alerts are going out every few minutes can be shocking, scary, or an even downright dangerous to one’s mental health.

The  Secret to Successful Monitoring

Successful monitoring is conceptually easy, but successful alerting is a much larger challenge. The issue is understood and addressed better if you examine Cognitive Load Theory. According to Cognitive Load Theory, when extraneous load increases, it steals limited working memory, reducing humans’ ability to attend to complex information. Being woken in the middle of the night do deal with an alert is a huge boost to the extraneous cognitive load.

Staffers are already working at a deficit since they are usually roused from a sound sleep. Properly understanding your environment and determining the most severe issues and crucial alerts are essential to conserving your staff’s extraneous load and maintaining a highly performant team.

We constantly examine our clients’ SLO’s used to standardize trigger conditions and customize the relevance of each alert for each client to optimize the cognitive load being placed on our support team.  Our monitoring tools allow us to gather all pertinent information needed in one place, generally in the form of monitoring dashboards that are specifically tailored for each client. 

This way, we are able to display the monitor time-series data on one pane of glass and further decrease the extraneous load when we need to rapidly resolve problems.  We aggregate all other information sources into a more generalized, digestible resource which puts all the other important data points at our fingertips.

At the same time, we are constantly refining and perfecting our monitoring infrastructure to reduce cognitive load and deliver ever-improving responses to our clients should an error arise. As our client needs change, we evolve our group in conjunction and perform iterative evaluations of our existing technology stacks to ensure their needs are met and exceeded.

Conclusion

The entire goal of our Application Support and Hosting practice is to provide a world-class hosting experience for our customers. We strive to make things work as seamlessly and reliably as possible. We provide monitoring tools for our environment, our teams, and our customers.

At the same time, to accomplish our goals, we need to create and maintain an environment where our staff can react quickly and utilize their full cognitive abilities to solve problems and address issues. All monitoring data coalesces into resources that help us provide a best-of-breed solution that guarantees the greatest possible system uptime.

If you are truly interested in providing a world-class eCommerce website to your customers you really should reach out to us and see the extent of what we can provide. Our Sales Engineering Team will be happy to help you make sense of it all!


Sam Williams

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Sam Williams

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