It was pointed out to me yesterday by a colleague that some of the analysts during the first Knowledge18 keynote were being a bit snarky about new CEO John Donahoe’s messaging - with some claiming it was more like an off-site presentation on the company’s rebranding, whilst others questioned what ServiceNow’s platform differentiator is.
This article aims to explain why I think those analysts are missing the mark.
By way of background, I’ve been attending Knowledge since around 2013/2014 and have closely followed ServiceNow since then. I have long argued that it’s platform is incredibly compelling, but that it needed to make some changes that took it away from the ITSM fanbase. I’m finally seeing those changes come to fruition.
This article is based on a number of conversations with executives, customers and attendees. Here’s my take on why I think ServiceNow shouldn’t be underestimated. That being said, there are still some blind spots, but more on that later…
Solving the experience problem based on roles, not technology
Knowledge events of the past typically saw keynote presentations (and most conversations) based on how brilliantly ServiceNow took on workflow challenges for IT consumers and service desk users. That’s all well and good, but it wasn’t going to make ServiceNow a platform that could compete with the likes of Salesforce, Oracle or Infor.
What ServiceNow is now doing, is pushing that conversation to the background. The workflow engine is obviously still the crux of the platform, but it isn’t using it as a selling point - why? Because people don’t care about workflows. What do they care about? Good service and good experiences.
This year we saw presentations on how end user roles - an IT fulfiller, an employee, an executive, and a DevOps manager - can have their day-to-day jobs improved through better experiences, supported by the ServiceNow platform.
For example, ordering a new laptop is possible via a conversational chat bot, which seamlessly integrates into live conversations with an IT fulfiller at the service desk if needed. The IT fulfiller also has their work in one simple screen, supported by knowledge being surfaced using AI tools - reducing requirements on search. All mobile, supported by artificial intelligence (where needed) and automated. I actually heard some attendees gasp at how seamless the demo was - granted it’s a demo and I’m sure slickly rehearsed, but nonetheless it was impressive.
Another example, saw an executive need to increase her mobile data allowance when abroad. She did this on her mobile, having a quick conversation with a bot. She then needed to approve a bonus urgently, which again was carried out with few simple clicks via an app.
There was no insight into how the workflow engine was working in the background. And that’s good. Users don’t care. Enterprises have typically had so many manual workarounds and these tasks usually meant navigating a wide array of systems - ServiceNow provides an end-to-end experience that appears to be intuitive and easy for a variety of functions (HR, customer service, IT, security, etc). I think us journalists and analysts have become so accustomed to thinking about complex IT problems that we forget that what matters is the end user and their interactions with that technology.
Solving for the API and integration challenge
Speaking to customers this year, it’s clear that they find ServiceNow valuable for another key reason beyond the experience benefits - the integration challenge. One major customer explained how it is using ServiceNow to better streamline end-to-end processes (as expected). ServiceNow sits on top of applications and pulls data out to provide a service on top. However, what was interesting was that said customer (and I’ve seen other examples this week) was retiring old legacy systems as a rapid rate, as it got better insight into the end-to-end process, using the ServiceNow platform to redesign those processes. It was supplementing new cloud technologies where possible, or just retiring old tech completely.
That customer said to me that the enterprise cloud vendor that wins will be the one that can solve the API/integration challenge. Why do you think Salesforce has just acquired MuleSoft? Why do you think ION has been so critical to Infor’s success? It’s because these API/middleware/integration options give enterprises some flexibility and insight into how they can move forward. And ServiceNow has been taking on integrations for a number of years now - claiming that it doesn’t compete with the other major enterprise vendors, but is complementary.
One customer told me this week that as ServiceNow further and further encroached on to their legacy SAP systems, it was allowing them to think about, for the first time, what to do with those old systems.
ServiceNow is enabling both smooth, automated experiences, whilst also giving enterprises the opportunity to redesign and rethink their old process and ageing architectures, thanks to its integration approach.
Today it announced how it is launching a similar tool for DevOps - integrating into all of the open source technologies (e.g. GitHub, Jenkins etc) and providing a simple service experience on top for DevOps managers. You only have to glance at Twitter using the #Know18 hashtag to see how keen buyers are for it.
That’s not to say ServiceNow has solved this completely. There is a notable silence on solving the accounting problem - where there’s an obvious opportunity to ‘servitize’ traditional accounting back-end processes. I wonder if that’s because of an integration problem with those systems. But if it can bring that to the fore too, it could be on to a winner.
Culture is important
One of the criticisms from the analyst community this week was that CEO John Donahoe’s keynote was largely focused on the company’s ‘purpose’, strategy, what it wants to do with its people. In other words, it was all a bit ‘soft’ - none of that nitty, gritty techie stuff we are all so accustomed to.
However, this should not be dismissed as trivial. It matters. ServiceNow is trying to adopt a culture that will improve its employee and customer experience - very much in a similar vein to Salesforce. For example, I’ve been told ServiceNow has just hired a new chief diversity officer.
Whilst some will laugh all this off as ‘soft’, I disagree that it’s unimportant. One customer told me this week that they were already considering how to expand their ServiceNow footprint, but felt that because Donahoe’s keynote clearly resonated with their company culture, they were convinced that pursuing the partnership was the right thing to do.
We should all know by now that enterprise buyers are becoming less willing to work with vendors that don’t reflect their company culture - a shift to a multi-vendor, cloud-based landscape has aided this. They no longer feel tied to one technology provider that uses aggressive sales tactics. Some may think culture is trivial, but I would argue that it’s an investment that will ultimately make its business more profitable. Donahoe, coming from the consumer world, gets that.
allowed willing to talk
Another reason I know ServiceNow is on to something here is that customers are willing and happy to talk - and are put in front of us readily. There’s an increasing trend amongst the old guard technology vendors to keep customers under lock and key, with communications teams freaking out at any whiff of a journalist speaking to one unaccompanied.
However, the conversations I’ve had this week with customers at Knowledge have been frank and honest. Is it all perfect? No. But they’re keen to make it work and are generally very pleased with how the platform is improving their internal and external experiences.
Last night ServiceNow held a drinks reception for media, where it invited a stack of customers to join. Free flowing drinks and journalists and customers mixing? A nightmare for many technology vendors out there. ServiceNow on the other hand was more than happy for us all to get stuck in. That’s telling.