ServiceNow targets low-code developers to rethink enterprise workflows

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez March 11, 2021
The latest release from ServiceNow - Quebec - adds Creator Workflows to the Now platform, enabling low-code developers to reimagine broken or difficult processes.

Image of ServiceNow Quebec release
(Image sourced via ServiceNow)

ServiceNow's ambition to support enterprises in what it calls the enterprise ‘workflow revolution' has expanded to include more features that support low-code developers, announcing capabilities that enable employees to quickly build and redesign processes. 

The introduction of Creator Workflows comes in the latest release of the Now Platform - Quebec - and adds to ServiceNow's existing IT, Employee and Customer Workflow portfolios. ServiceNow claims that Creator will allow people at every technical skill level to build apps at speed, whilst also giving the business control and governance features. 

Low-code or no-code development has become a popular topic amongst enterprise buyers, who are looking for tools to enable large parts of their workforce to build out applications that don't necessarily require a huge amount of heavy lifting. The idea is that if you give people the confidence to build for themselves - with the right controls - then the business can target opportunities more quickly, more effectively and with greater agility. 

We got the chance to speak with Chris Pope, VP of Innovation at ServiceNow, who said that the addition of Creator Workflow will allow companies to take advantage of ‘low hanging fruit' - or in other words, use cases where they've typically relied on emails or PDFs to get work done. Pope explained how customers should be thinking about low-code opportunities, and said: 

My team is running a hackathon for our marketing organisation soon and it's really interesting to listen to some of the ideas. Because people have these huge, grand ideas of what ‘good' looks like. But if you say to them, if I gave that all to you tomorrow, is that how you'd work? And no they wouldn't. So let's get back to basics. 

What are you trying to do? What's the outcome? If I give you a pen, draw for me what good looks like to make this process better. So we try to take customers on that design thinking process and make them think about what good looks like. 

Creator Workflows includes ServiceNow's low-code development tools, App Engine, and Integration Hub, which it claims will allow companies to "transform old, manual processes into modern, digital workflows at scale". In addition to these existing products, new tools have been added, which include: 

  • App Engine Studio - a low-code visual development environment that aims to allow people with no coding experience to collaborate and build applications 

  • App Engine Templates - which gives teams access to pre-built workflow building blocks, which gives users options for existing workflows that may be good enough to use without starting from scratch 

With low-code comes buyer concern that's very reminiscent of shadow IT, where sprawl and governance are a worry. However, ServiceNow's model is that IT or a centre of excellence should review any new workflows built before going into production. Pope said: 

That's why we've put the tollgate at the end. In non-production you can go as fast as you want, play with it, break it, do whatever you want. But when you get to production, the tollgate kicks in, because at that point you are part of a bigger plan, you're part of a single platform for the whole organisation. 

And we've seen examples where this experimentation has meant that companies have realised they don't need another platform, they don't need yet another single sign on, or to buy another product. It's already there. Just figure out how to make the process work better. And then you get to the tollgate, where the quality and testing happens. 

Building more AI into the platform 

ServiceNow has long taken an approach to AI that focuses on building the technology into the platform, where it perceives there are high value use cases. It wants to target AI where there is a high return on investment for the user, across the workflow process. 

Pope said: 

We're trying to be prescriptive in the use cases and the thinking of where you can apply it. So, where's the benefit? If you can predict nine times out of ten when someone submits a certain type of request, and this is where it goes and then gets resolved first time, happy days. Or you've seen this thing occur 20 times before, rather than wait for it to go wrong, get ahead of it now. That's a good thing. 

But at the same time it's in the core, you can build your own templates, you can build your own models. Because if you build your own applications, we're not going to know about it necessarily. So if you can apply that same thinking of: where is my data? What do I want to get out of it? What do you want me to analyse and how often? And then find a score of how predictable it is, that's easy to do. Rather than saying you need to write an algorithm that looks at seasonal trend analysis, or you need to learn R. That's not what it's about. 

For the Quebec release, the prescriptive use cases that ServiceNow has identified and that are available now include: 

  • ITOM Predictive AIOps - this tool aims to predict issues before they become problems and helps organisations automate resolutions 

  • Virtual Agent - AI powered conversation experiences are not new as such, but ServiceNow is adding capabilities that include topic recommendations and speed incident resolution 

  • AI Search - which aims to give users personalized, relevant and actionable information within their search window in service portals, on mobile and Virtual Agent

AI and automation are fundamental pillars of ServiceNow's strategy, in that they can create experiences of enterprise workflows that hide much of the complexity. Key to this is also integrations. Pope explains the essence of how ServiceNow is thinking about these platform upgrades, and said: 

If we are one of eight, ten, core platforms in a company- an SAP, a Workday, a Salesforce, an Office365 - inherently there is a lot of complexity already. And to make work just flow is hard. I think what we are trying to do is where we are trying to manage and orchestrate work across an enterprise, let's make it easier. I think by the end of this year we will have 1,000 integrations on the store, with the templates that are there to have all those reusable components.

But we are a workflow platform. That is what we do. We are not data intensive. We are not graphical intensive. We don't play rich media or video. We are workflow. You can automate the hell out of it, like Uber has, and that's great. Because all Uber really is, is workflow. But it's such a great experience that you don't see it, you don't see the complexity behind it. And that's how we position it and talk to customers. What's the problem you actually need to solve? 

My take

The headline grabbing stuff here is obviously the low-code development features, which will play well with companies that are looking to increase speed of delivery and become more agile. However, what I'm pleased about with this release, and the conversation with Pope, is the focus on use cases. I've highlighted previously how ServiceNow suffers from being a platform that can essentially be applied to anything that focuses on getting work done - and as such can leave people confused about how to approach it. This use case first approach is what's needed to cement in peoples' minds what the ‘workflow revolution' means for them.