How CDW transformed into a professional services business, with ServiceNow as the platform for change

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 14, 2021
When it comes to transformation stories, give me something ambitious. That's exactly what I got from CDW's presentation at Now at Work 2021. It's about changing your business to deliver what your customers want - and embracing a platform to drive those changes.

CDW - ServiceNow - Tim Acona
(CDW's Tim Acona presenting at Now at Work)

Real world transformation stories never get old. But let's face it: many of them were jump-started by the pandemic. Browsing through ServiceNow's Now at Work 2021 library (North America), a different kind of transformation story quickly jumped out: CDW on Now: A platform for business success.

Why? CDW began its transformation before the pandemic hit, and they bring lessons-a-plenty.

Heck, presenter Tim Ancona even has ServiceNow in his job title. As the VP of ServiceNow Solutions for CDW, he's been bringing ServiceNow to bear on CDW's transformation efforts since he joined the firm.

CDW Corporation is one of those companies with a vast reach - even if you don't read about them every day. A Fortune 200 company, CDW's purview is to provide technology products and services for business, government and education. But as Ancona told Now at Work attendees, there's a lot more to it. One day you're providing laptops -  the next day you're doing so much more. As Ancona told us:

We work with corporate customers, public sector, you name it. We're typically providing laptops, desktops, printers. If you go back 35 years when we started, that's really all we did.

But CDW's customers wanted more. Ancona added:

We've continued to evolve our business, as our customers have really demanded that we evolve. They've come to us and said, 'We're getting all this technology? Can you help us implement it? Can you help us manage it.?' And along the way, we started to do that.

I'd say that worked out. As of 2020, CDW is a $580 million professional service business.

"We started seeing endless possibilities of the way we could transform"

But new business models falter on legacy technology. CDW's history with ServiceNow goes back to 2013, predating Ancona's arrival by six years. As Ancona explained, CDW began with a classic, ITSM-based ServiceNow implementation:

[CDW] implemented ServiceNow like everybody else does. They started using service catalog, incidents, all those different things that you would expect. They got great return for the investment that they made. They came to rely on it to manage IT.

At the time, Ancona was working at a spinoff venture of his own company, called Aptris. At Aptris, a big ol' ServiceNow light bulb went off:

We already had a professional services management system that I was kind of satisfied with. But over the course of a couple years, as we started working with our customers, and implementing ServiceNow for them, we started seeing that there were endless possibilities, of the way we could transform their business, and therefore: shouldn't we be doing the same thing in our business?

Aptris made their ServiceNow bet:

Around 2015/2016, we said, 'Hey, let's make an investment, and transform our business to make us more efficient, more effective in the way that we serve as customers, the way that we serve each other, the way we do our business.'

So what we did is we went about building out ServiceNow, such that we would run our entire professional services business on ServiceNow. We would do everything. We would do opportunity management, which is a little bit different as a build-your-own-workflow. We would do demand management; we would do project management. We would do case management... We would continue to build and use, so that we would have a single pane of glass that we could look at, and understand everything going on in our business.

Ancona's view of the business changed:

From my perspective as CEO, looking at, 'Where do we stand on opportunities? Where do we stand on projects?' And all the different things that go along with those cases. I can look at say, 'How are we doing billing?' - all that within one system.

CDW's ServiceNow transformation - stage two

The potential to work more closely with CDW kept popping up. In October 2019, the two companies made it official, and CDW acquired Aptris. From there, the ServiceNow momentum spread, into what Ancona calls "stage two" of CDW's ServiceNow use.

The trigger for stage two? The CDW team decided to take the Aptris approach to ServiceNow company-wide. This involved an evaluation of options, including Changepoint, which was already in use by CDW for professional services management. But, as Ancona explains, Changepoint was becoming outdated for what CDW needed. After an internal demo by the Aptris team, ServiceNow got the green light: 

Two hours later, after the demo, they commented to us and said, 'You know what, Tim, what you guys built satisfies 85-90% of our requirements. We think we should go with ServiceNow.' And then the real work began.

I'm not going to lie: stage two sounds a bit complicated. Sometimes, after an acquisition, you have to clear the technical decks before you can move forward. Phasing out Changepoint, merging ServiceNow installations, going back to standard Service Now configurations so the CDW team can scale - those are all stage two chores. Ancona gave us the bottom line:

Now we have to take what we built for 100 people, that had grown to over 250. Now we had to take and scale that to over 3,000 engineers. So we've had to take a look and say, 'Is it ready to scale?'

Scaling to 3,000 requires a different rigor - and a low tolerance for manual processes.

When you support 250 people, you can have a few manual processes. But for 3,000, you can't. So this release 1.75 is about automating many contract management things, like fixed fees, milestone contracts, and all these different things you need in order to scale to 3,000 co-workers and beyond. So that's kind of the walk phase.

And where is CDW as of today?

We're right in between that walk phase and a run phase right now. Today, we're in the final stages of building out this release, which will be released in the next month or so. That means that the entire business will move from Changepoint over to ServiceNow.

The wrap - "the driver behind all this is project management"

So what will it look like when stage two is complete? Ancona:

At the end of stage two, we're going to be ending up with these things. In fact, we're doing these things now... We've got a customer support capability. So our customers can very easily go in and check the status of a project, and check the status of a case. If we're doing ongoing support for them, a co-worker can go in and get support on their PC. Maybe they need to order something - whatever that might be.

Stage three will involve integration to a range of "enterprise-class applications." But what's really driving all this change? Why make this all-out push? As Ancona told us, it's about a different approach to project management:

The driver behind all of this is project management. Today, as a broader CDW, we don't have a great view of all of our projects; we don't have a great view of where they all stand - red light, green light, yellow light. Once we get this complete, that will give the entire business a view of all the projects, how many projects are in demand mode, meaning they haven't been staffed yet. How many are staffed, but maybe on-budget, maybe behind budget, maybe ahead of budget.

How many are on time, not on time, and be able to do all this at a roll-up level, so that if I'm in a particular region, or a branch or line of business, I can see the way my part of the business is functioning. So those are the things we're doing right now.

That's the thing about the transformation game: it's never done. You're just one pandemic pivot or big acquisition away from another curveball. But when your tools can scale and adapt to whatever's next, you're much better off. Change remains a discipline, however,  and that always comes back to people. As Ancona puts it:

I spent my entire career being the consultant. Now I'm the consultant and the customer. I have to tell you, it's hard to be the customer. It's a hard job, and I have a new appreciation for everybody that has day jobs... Are we done? Of course not. Are there changes? Absolutely. In fact, one of the things we're doing is we're implementing change management in ServiceNow.

I won't detail all of stage three here; I recommend checking the slides in CDW's Now at Work presentation. Suffice it to say, it's ambitious. This comprehensive approach will extend CDW's ServiceNow platform from asset and field service management to finance automation, from ITSM to integrated risk management. One thing Ancona is geared up for? Extending the ServiceNow platform to HR service delivery: "My HR team is super excited to be able to come to the table and have an awesome onboarding experience."

That should keep Ancona's team busy until Now at Work 2022.

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