ServiceNow Knowledge17: New leader, new plan, new product

ServiceNow Knowledge17 was held recently in Orlando, Fla. The annual conference saw a new line of leadership at the Santa Clara, Calif.-based cloud computing company take the stage to present their vision and plan. An already highly successful company, ServiceNow is coming from a phase of high growth over the past few years and is looking at how to reach the next level and continue its rapid growth.

The talks at ServiceNow Knowledge17 showed a mature organization that puts its customers first. This was set off by new chief executive officer John Donahoe’s thoughts on servant leadership, and how he sees himself at the bottom of an inverted pyramid that makes up the organization’s hierarchy.

A slew of updates from ServiceNow were intended to highlight how they solve customer pain points rather than focus on this year’s product release — Jakarta. Yet there were many exciting updates, and a continuation of ServiceNow’s efforts to expand its footprint in the enterprise beyond IT. Let’s look at the key updates from Jakarta and see what they mean for ServiceNow’s customers.

Easy setup for new users

Donahoe spent a lot of time talking about what he heard from ServiceNow customers. His first learning was that new customers find it hard to get up to speed with ServiceNow. While ServiceNow does make things easier than legacy software, it has set a high bar for itself — to provide a level of ease that is typical of consumer apps.

Typically, hailing a cab, or booking a table in a restaurant are tasks that are easy because of mobile apps, connected technology, and the possibilities the cloud enables. However, the enterprise has lagged behind consumers when it comes to getting things done. Every task is complex, involves multiple teams, and goes around in infinite loops. ServiceNow, once set up, makes any process simpler, easier to control, paperless, and much faster. However, to get to this state of setting it up is not as easy and intuitive, as there’s a lot of data, metadata, security and compliance, and organizational complexities to get through.

Considering ServiceNow has over 5,000 customers, it already knows the challenges that businesses in the same industry would face when implementing its platform. ServiceNow has included Guided Setups, which help new users get up and running with their implementation in quick time. This feature is inspired by ServiceNow Express, a lighter version of the platform, and will integrate best practices from ServiceNow’s vast pool of customers.

Entry into Software Asset Management

This year didn’t have too many big updates from ServiceNow largely due to it being a transition phase for the top leadership. However, one big announcement was ServiceNow’s entry into Software Asset management (SAM).

SAM, or IT asset management, is an entrenched market with big players like SolarWinds, Microsoft, Oracle, and ManageEngine. SAM involves the monitoring and controlling of software that’s used across an enterprise. These software typically have expensive licenses, are used across the enterprise, and need to be compliant with governmental legislations. When done well, SAM can save enterprises a lot of money and ensure they are safe from regulatory penalties.

Typically, the head of IT has an audit of all software used across the organization every few months. This is an intensive effort that requires special tools, sometimes external consultants, and often ends in confusion. ServiceNow is setting out to bring the benefits and strengths of ITSM, which IT is familiar with, to the practice of SAM. Currently, it only supports Microsoft and Oracle licenses, which are the two biggest enterprise vendors, but they will soon need to add more vendors to compete with the more mature tools in the market.

CSM communities

Abhijit Mitra, head of ServiceNow CSM, highlighted the progress CSM had made in this, its first year. He pointed out the kind of fast adoption they’ve seen, and was quick to highlight the new feature available in CSM — communities.

CSM communities is a group, or forum, of customers, where they can interact with each other and experts. When a customer faces an issue, they can post a query on the community, and have other customers respond to the query. Once they find a solution or workaround, they can mark it as the best answer, which will in turn help other customers who face the same issue. This makes for happier customers as their queries are resolved much faster, and improves the quality of customer services as its customers themselves who validate the responses.

Predictive analytics across the board

Perhaps the most inspiring, out-of-the-ordinary kind of update was about how ServiceNow is baking in machine learning into the core ServiceNow platform. They have used IBM Watson for a while to get a start in machine learning, but their recent acquisition of machine learning startup DxContinuum has given them the required talent to take on the challenge themselves.

ServiceNow is using this capability at the platform level, so all ServiceNow products can benefit from the advancements made by machine learning. How this works in the real world is it helps identify anomalies that are otherwise hard to catch by humans, or even traditional monitoring systems. It spots changes in the system at an early stage, and is able to predict the outcome if the situation persists. It will then alert customers about the severity of the issue and context around it. It will raise an incident automatically and inform of the time remaining before the entire service goes down. Armed with this information in advance, internal teams can take action to fix the issue, and keep the service up and running even before it actually goes down.

This kind of incident response is more proactive than reactive, and is the Holy Grail for ITSM, customer support, and pretty much any customer-facing team.

Benchmarking for a broader perspective

Another interesting new feature in the works is benchmarking. This harkens back to Donahoe’s comment about customers wanting to learn from each other’s experiences and cut short their ramp-up time, or find a way to do something better. Today, a lot of customers’ perspectives is limited to just their organization, and they have no way of knowing if they’re better or worse than a similar organization. ServiceNow wants to enable this by giving users a benchmark indicator for common metrics.

Taking this a step further, ServiceNow wants to provide solutions for organizations to improve their performance. In the future, this could even mean modeling different types of data and predicting where each option would lead.

There are many other improvements, like the new time-tracking module that lets users enter timesheets in an intuitive, powerful interface. There’s faster performance of forms and lists, a smoother HR onboarding process, and many other updates that build on ServiceNow’s already excellent service-management platform.

All-in-all, ServiceNow Knowledge17 wasn’t the busiest conference in terms of new features and updates, but it had its fair share of announcements. Primarily, it was the first day out for the new executives, and a reminder that ServiceNow will continue to go to its roots in being a customer-centric organization. It’s no wonder 15,000 IT and enterprise professionals thronged to hear from this relatively young company as it expands its reach in the enterprise.

Photo credit: ServiceNow

Twain Taylor

My interests lie in DevOps, IoT, and cloud applications. I began my career in tech B2B marketing at Google India, after which I headed marketing for multiple startups. Today, I consult with companies in The Valley on their content marketing initiatives, and write for tech journals.

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