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ServiceNow takes pragmatic view of COVID-19 economy in 2021 - launches new products to support customers

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez September 16, 2020
ServiceNow executives recognise that budgets are being cut and projects reprioritized - but it wants to be at the forefront of providing strategic leadership.

Image of someone working with a mask on during COVID-19
(Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay )

ServiceNow's executive leadership team is taking a pragmatic approach to how the COVID-19 economy is going to play out over the next year or so for organisations and technology buyers. The workflow cloud vendor sees budgets being constrained and projects reprioritized through 2021, but hopes that it can provide the tools and leadership needed by companies to help them adapt.

We spoke to Paul Smith, SVP and GM EMEA at ServiceNow, and Chris Pope, VP of Innovation at ServiceNow, ahead of the company's latest Now Platform release - Paris - which includes a number of new COVID-19-specific products. The release builds on a number of additional announcements aimed at helping companies navigate the world of work during the global pandemic.

You can hear more about Paris at ServiceNow’s upcoming Now at Work event on 6th October, for which you can register here. 

ServiceNow's pitch isn't a new one - that its workflow engine can serve as a platform of platforms for existing systems of record, to quickly enable new experiences for both employees and customers. However, it sees this approach as more pertinent in a COVID-19 world where customers are shifting to not only new ways of working across distributed teams, but also new business models.

Commenting on what he's hearing from customers and seeing in the market, Smith said:

We're all living through 2020 and the changes that 2020 has brought and will continue to bring. I think the only constant that we have seen through 2020 is this massive, sustained and rapid change that every organisation on the planet is having to go through. Organisations that respond are the ones that will survive and thrive in this COVID-19 economy. The ones that don't, unfortunately won't.

We're all seeing decision making cycles in companies massively compressed. Things that used to take months to decide are now taking weeks to decide.

It's an interesting one because every organisation I speak to is clearly under some form of budget pressure in FY21 as they basically preserve cash for the challenges that are still yet to come. That is an undeniable business reality. That's why we are in this COVID-19 economy. But at the other end, the imperative to launch new business models and new services to preserve what revenues they have today and to continue to grow those revenues is still a priority.

Smith gave an example of a "well known German auto manufacturer", which had 58 projects at board level priority prior to the pandemic, but now just has 11 for the next rolling 12 months. However, he added that these 11 projects have been "prioritised ruthlessly and are very well resourced".

What's new?

As noted above, ServiceNow has already made a number of announcements regarding COVID-19-specific features, including health screening, workplace safety management and PPE inventory management. Today, for its Paris release, it made the following products generally available:

  • Business Continuity Management - which enables automated business impact analysis, business continuity plan development, and crisis management. The aim is to help organisations anticipate disruptions and develop action plans to help minimise the impact.

  • Hardware Asset Management - ServiceNow already has a comprehensive software asset management product, but has now extended this to hardware. This automates the IT asset lifecycle by tracking the financial, contractual, and inventory details of hardware and devices, from purchase to disposal. This is particularly relevant when considering distributed teams and work.

  • Legal Service Delivery - which aims to provide legal operations the visibility they need to make decisions fast and enhance productivity by eliminating manual emails and phone calls.

Working closely with customers

ServiceNow VP of Innovation Chris Pope explained that the development of the Now Platform has been carried out in close collaboration with customers, where often customers are the ones driving the new features. He said:

We had a need when our customers came to us and said ‘look, the situation here around return to work, safe workplace, contact tracing, we've got a lot of the pieces of the puzzle in place for ServiceNow already, can you help us accelerate these things?'.

Some of our customers went ahead of us and they got there before us, which is great. So we are really learning from them - what have you done? Why have you done that? And can we scale it to an enterprise level?

Pope said that the traditional approach to technology projects and buying has largely been "blown away", with speed and agility being placed front and centre. Customers, he added, are recognising that they need to make changes quickly and are deciding which platforms will see them through the current crisis.

Clearly ServiceNow wants to be at the forefront of that decision making process and Pope hopes that if ServiceNow can lead with an understanding that customers operate in a multi-faceted and complex environment, it can become a trusted partner. He explained:

I think people have to realise that they're not necessarily going to have the budgets or the scale that they had before. Deal with it, bottom line, it is what it is. I think rather than the traditional, ‘well I've got budget this year and I need X next year and X percent increase', it's the other way around...What are the problems you're actually going to try and solve next year and how are you going to do that? I think customers have to think differently about solving those problems, whatever they may be.

I think they're looking to us to be as prescriptive as we can and show them. I use this phrase: we talk to customers how we want to talk to them, not how they want to be spoken to. It's so subtle. But me using my language and personalising it to you and contextualise it to you, it's going to resonate.

We need to show ideas and thoughts about our world and how we can solve that problem and not just ‘ServiceNow is the be all and end all', because it's not. We use different platforms ourselves. How do you join all the dots? That's where the magic comes in and they want to hear those stories.

My take

I think it's fair to say that the fallout from COVID-19 for modern cloud vendors will both be an opportunity and a challenge. On the one hand buying decisions are being accelerated and cheque books are being opened. However, on the other hand, there is more choice than ever and if you're not resonating with buyers and boards, then you could be left out and not see another opportunity for years to come. ServiceNow needs to work quickly to both develop its platform to support this, but also gear up its sales teams and partner networks to take advantage of the conversations taking place, in an intelligent way. As I've noted previously, the Now Platform has a huge amount of potential - almost overwhelmingly so - and ServiceNow needs to refine and simplify the outcomes for buyers so that they clearly understand how workflows and service design can be used within the context of an already very complex landscape to thrive.

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