ServiceNow acquires Lightstep as it aims to bridge the gap between ITSM and DevOps

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 11, 2021
ServiceNow doesn’t usually go big on acquisitions, but it sees an opportunity to bring observability for application performance management to its ITSM suite of tools.

Image of ServiceNow Lightstep logo
(Image sourced via ServiceNow)

Kicking off Knowledge 2021, ServiceNow's annual user event, the digital workflow vendor made an announcement that it will be acquiring observability leader Lightstep, for an undisclosed sum. 

You can access the Knowledge 2021 event here for a full range of executive and customer sessions, available to view on demand. And you can view all of diginomica's coverage from the event here on our dedicated hub

The announcement is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, ServiceNow doesn't tend to make a big noise about acquisitions in general - it mostly does small-ish buys and tends to quietly and quickly tuck them into the Now platform, where it feels it needs additional capability. Secondly, ServiceNow is very much broadening its IT play here, by branching into the world of DevOps, where the culture and mindset is very different to ITSM (where stability is the name of the game). 

That's not to say that DevOps and ITSM are incompatible, it's likely that the two need to converge in some way in the future. So it's certainly noteworthy that ServiceNow is making a play to be a vendor at the forefront of bridging this gap. 

It's also worth noting that this is a market that has seen a lot of activity in recent years, with the likes of IBM buying Instana and Turbonomic, and companies like New Relic and AppDynamics growing in popularity. 

Lightstep counts the likes of GitHub, Spotify and Twilio as some of its customers and provides a unified approach to observability, providing insights across metrics, distributed traces and logs. 

Announcing the acquisition of Lightstep, ServiceNow said: 

ServiceNow is already a recognized market leader in IT service management, IT operations management and digital workflows. With Lightstep, an emerging pioneer in next generation application monitoring and observability, ServiceNow will help DevOps engineers build, deploy, run and monitor state‑of‑the‑art, cloud‑native applications. 

Together, ServiceNow and Lightstep will extend the benefits of observability across the enterprise through digital workflows that convert real‑time insights into action across all the technologies, people, and processes that enable digital business.

ServiceNow is clearly looking to capture all of what powers the digital enterprise, bringing some of the control and governance authority it has gained over the years with the Now platform, to the DevOps world - recognizing that whilst speed to market is important, so is reliability and performance. 

Insights from ServiceNow

I got the chance to speak to Dave Wright, ServiceNow's Chief Innovation Officer, about the Lightstep buy, where he pointed to the changing nature of IT and technology in the enterprise, with internal development becoming more popular. He said: 

I think the whole concept of companies moving towards a more transformational experience, of looking at it how they start to use technology to improve their core business, rather than just make the periphery ‘good', has driven people to look at the fact that they need to be more responsive. They need to be able to build applications that support the business in a better way.

And I think COVID-19 kind of exaggerated that, because all of a sudden everyone had to have a direct to consumer model and people were starting to look much more at how they engage customers and how they retain customers. 

So we have seen this big boom in people building applications. What we wanted to do is to say: we have to look at not just how we manage the software that's out there, but how we help people to actually create that software. And then be able to make sure that software was functional. 

Wright explained that ServiceNow has been interested in the concept of observability for a while, but that Lightstep was the first organization that it assessed that was able to provide a "whole, full stack view", which meant that people weren't going to have to "swivel screen from three or four different products". Having this centralized view is very much in line with how ServiceNow approaches its broader capabilities. 

Reflecting the points made above, Wright expressed how ServiceNow is aiming to bring IT and DevOps closer together, where it wants to enable the innovation required from development teams in the modern enterprise, but still provide a level of assurance that comes with observability and governance. In Wright's words, he said: 

We want to be able to make sure that we can do what we've done for the world of IT, for the world of development. I suppose if the development mantra has always been ‘run and break glass', this is ‘run and don't break glass'. This is run, but be able to respond to issues that you create or to be able to understand exactly what difference an alteration to a piece of code makes.

Most companies run this bi-modal method. For us what this allows you to do is bring together the management of that mode one and mode two. I think there were a lot of companies that I spoke to where it felt like there was a separation, where you had the mode one team over here, and the mode two team using a completely different set of tools in a completely different way. I think this now starts to cement those and bring them together. 

It gives you the freedom to be able to develop at the pace that you want, but the governance and control to be able to understand what's happening. The other benefit that I suppose comes from more or less is by being able to tie it through to the platform, we have the capability to be able to take the automated actions that remediate something, or we can try different models to improve things. So it's that link between cause, effect and reaction is something that we'll be able to put in place as well.

My take

I think there is a real opportunity for ServiceNow to become an authority in the enterprise for all things ‘digital', here. Whether that be managing workflows, third party software, or the development of new products internally. That's not to say it won't come without its challenges - bridging the culture gap between IT and DevOps is no small task and ServiceNow should make it ambition to showcase how the ‘best of both' can be applied. It's also worth mentioning that Wright told me that in the short term, Lightstep will be integrated via API to the Now platform, rather than fully replatformed. This is partly due to different consumption models between the two companies, but I also think it somewhat hints at the fact that whilst ITSM and DevOps are closely aligned, they are still very different worlds. It's early days and this is definitely a strong foot forward for ServiceNow, but how it tells the story of success in bridging that gap will be key. 

For more diginomica stories from Knowledge 2021 visit our Knowledge 2021 event hub. Knowledge 2021 opened on May 11th and sessions are available to view on-demand until October 2021. This is the event registration link.

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