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What Davies Group has learned since becoming an early adopter of ServiceNow’s generative AI tool, Now Assist

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez May 14, 2024
Davies Group has started using ServiceNow as an enterprise-wide operational platform and sees opportunity with generative AI. However, it has also exposed where it needs to improve to see the full benefits.


Specialist professional service and technology firm, Davies Group, is a global organization that focuses on a number of highly regulated industries, particularly insurance, and employs over 7,500 people across the globe. It is VC backed and has acquired a number of businesses in recent years to expand its portfolio, which has driven a need to consolidate and standardize its technology stack. Part of this is broadening its use of ServiceNow beyond ITSM to become more of an enterprise-wide operational platform, where generative AI will play a key role in improving productivity and driving efficiencies. 

Davies was an early adopter of ServiceNow’s generative AI tool, Now Assist, which can act as a virtual agent to respond to requests, as well as provide summarization capabilities for users. This is one of the first customers using NowAssist that diginomica has had the chance to talk to (and Davies was the first UK organization to adopt NowAssist). The discussion with Darrell Burnell, Group Head of Technology at Davies, provides some interesting insights into what’s required to take full advantage of generative AI in this early instance - particularly as it relates to knowledge management.

Burnell joined Davies’ main IT group approximately two and a half years ago, coming on board via acquisition, which is when he inherited the ServiceNow platform. At that time it was solely focused on ITSM, but was being poorly looked after. There was only one developer providing oversight and there was no real relationship with ServiceNow. According to Burnell, communication with the vendor had broken down, the implementation wasn’t great, and the CMDB (the database that pulls data from systems into the ServiceNow platform) had a mix of genuine and dummy data. As Burnell notes: 

We hadn't even done the basics right. 

Being a highly acquisitive organization, Burnell saw an opportunity to standardize ITSM across all parts of the business, to improve efficiencies. He adds: 

At some point, we probably had every different type of ITSM platform that you can imagine. It's not efficient to run disjointed platforms. There's no joined up processes, it's a bad user experience, and it keeps those businesses in silos. So part of our integration strategy is around consolidation as much as possible. 

That's when you get the operational efficiencies, automation improvements. Every firm that we acquire, whether it's 50 or 500, will likely have some kind of mature or immature IT service. Part of our integration ethos and process is about trying to fully integrate. We will fully integrate and migrate them into our systems where possible. 

Over the past few years, Burnell has spent time laying the foundations to carry out this standardization work, which has included adopting Software Asset Management, Hardware Asset Management, Strategic Portfolio Management, Customer Service Management, and exploring HR now too. 

The ambition is for Davies to pull the data for all these processes into the ServiceNow CMDB, to gain efficiencies and improve the user experience. As Burnell adds: 

We're still on a huge journey, but I think we're in a pretty good place now in terms of foundations. 

There's still some work to do there, but I think we're at a point where we're now building, automating and workflowing through the integration hub that we've built. And it is starting to add that value. 

The ITAM piece means that we now have better visibility of our assets, our license management gets a little bit easier with procurement, and our budgeting process gets a lot easier because we're now able to do hardware lifecycle management and software asset lifecycle management. Those kinds of things are adding value. 

ServiceNow’s hope, as highlighted during our recent discussion with CEO Bill McDermott, is that the Now platform acts as an engagement layer for the whole enterprise. A place where users can carry out all their operational and enterprise functions, without needing to understand which system of record vendors are supported in the backend. This consistent experience, in theory, should help work ‘flow more easily’ across the organization and reduce the need for users to understand how to work a variety of different applications. 

I was curious to see if this is the path Davies is pursuing. Burnell said: 

We are, if we can get the price right. Again, it's that consolidation and standardization. Over the last year I've been touting a lot about ServiceNow and how we can improve. I think it now becomes a really key operational platform. We've already done integrations into Coupa. We're using OneTrust for a lot of our data, security and subject access requests, which is integrating and utilizing the asset and application information from ServiceNow.

It becomes a natural place from an operational perspective for everything to come together. I think if the costs stack up, then it makes sense…to start to bring it together into a single pane of glass 

At the moment if I want to book a desk, if I travel to the London office, I have to remember to go to install another app, go to a different portal, to find a desk and book it. Whereas, it’s so compelling when you go to a single place, because that's where I get my normal IT requests, but also now I can start to consume other services. I think it works really well. 

Adopting generative AI

Like other vendors in the enterprise technology market, ServiceNow has adopted a generative AI strategy, one that utilizes its own LLMs, as well as those provided by partner organizations. Its primary tool to take advantage of generative AI is called Now Assist, which can carry out many tasks - providing summarized notes on tasks or incidents, as well as executing process functions.

Davies has gone live with Now Assist for ITSM, but is being cautious in its approach. The organization went live three weeks ago with agent summarization, case summarization, resolution note summarization and transfer summarization. However, it has stopped short of releasing a fully interacting virtual agent on all users, one that would see Now Assist carry out tasks on behalf of those using it, as Davies has realized it needs to tidy up its knowledge library to make it worthwhile. 

Commenting on the success of the summarization abilities within Now Assist, however, Burnell says: 

If you transfer a ticket to another resolve group it summarizes it on the fly. It was doing it straight out of the box. There were some teething issues, but we were an early adopter, so we could provide feedback and improve. ServiceNow was releasing so quickly on fixing those issues, with our feedback going into the team, which allowed us to go live in three weeks. If you’ve got the license, the SKU, you can go and enable these plugins, and it's now enabled for those particular features. 

However, providing a full virtual agent will require more work. Burnell explains that on the backend of Now Assist you can enable different skills (e.g. summarization), but if you enable the virtual agent it exposes all of your organization’s offerings straightaway. He says: 

We couldn’t do that. You've got to decide what's a conversation? What's not a conversation? What do you want to expose through the virtual agent? That's been interesting.

There's some offerings that you just don't want us to access. For example, out of the box [it would have allowed users to go and] configure LDAP connections. Straightaway, we were able to see that I could go in there, and if I said I wanted to set up an LDAP, or randomly typed LDAP, it would then find the offering. 

All of a sudden your virtual agent takes you through the steps to configure an LDAP connection. It gives them access to too much, which gets confusing. So we had to go into a lot of configuration around that. 

Better knowledge management

Part of the problem for Davies, it has found, is that it needs to think differently about its enterprise knowledge management. The system whereby knowledge is stored in documents with menus for navigation, doesn’t necessarily work when the information is being surfaced using natural language processing and in virtual conversations. Burnell says: 

It exposed our immaturity around knowledge management, because it's now starting to show you the content, and all your knowledge articles. We need to make a quality improvement, because it’s only as good as the data it’s exposing. 

For the knowledge articles, when you're going through a catalog, you're taken through a journey, you're taken through a menu system. It’s really easy to find stuff, if you've got your catalog, you can find things because you're led down the right pathways. Whereas when you go to NowAssist, you're in natural language territory, so you ask for different things.

For instance, he adds: 

We've got something called a global mobility form, which is easy to find in a menu, and it's about authorization to travel abroad with your device and use it abroad. It means that we don't get security triggers if it sees us using something in a different country. 

When you see it in a menu, it makes sense. But if you go to a bot, you don't remember ‘global mobility form’; you’d say ‘I’m traveling abroad and need authorization’. 

So if your knowledge article doesn't have all that information in, it isn't going to find it. It's hard to find stuff if you haven't done good knowledge management, if your articles aren't worded correctly. So your knowledge management becomes really, really important. 

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