Recently I spent some time talking with Allan Leinwand, CTO at ServiceNow. If the Leinwand name sounds familiar, it might be because, in a previous life, Leinwand was the person who famously took gaming company Zynga from its Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud-centric model to a hybrid model. At the time Zynga’s choice was held up by many as a proof point for the contention that public cloud was a flawed model – of course, the reality is that Zynga simply got to a size that meant its own private cloud was justified for some core workloads, and Leinwand was the man to build that infrastructure.
Anyway, fast forward a few years and Leinwand is now CTO of ServiceNow (disclosure – ServiceNow is a Diversity client), a cloud vendor that has flown pretty far under the radar. That ServiceNow remains relatively invisible is surprising given that it is the second cloud company to hit $1 billion in revenue. The first company that got there was, of course, Salesforce, a company that is in the news on a frequent basis. ServiceNow has less exposure – maybe because it is primarily known as a vendor that deliver IT service management, an important tool, but one which is generally seen as boring.
Leinwand has been busy at ServiceNow building enterprise clouds, but now his work is spreading as the company aims for a $4 billion revenue figure by 2020. While their history is very much in the ITSM space, offering an IT helpdesk system in the cloud, they are aiming beyond that and want to be the preeminent provider of more generalized enterprise workflow. What that means is moving on from pure helpdesk applications, and enabling organizations to create their own custom applications leveraging the core ServiceNow technology stack.
If that is a strategy that sounds familiar, it might be because it is a platform play that mirrors the approach of Salesforce. In their case, Salesforce is looking to allow its customers to extend the core Salesforce platform and to build applications on top of it. According to Leinwand, however, ServiceNow has a fundamentally different approach to this problem space.
One of the key justifications for Leinwand claiming that the ServiceNow platform is fundamentally different from the competition out there lies in their “One Platform” approach. Leinwand used the “Franken-platform” moniker to describe other’s approach towards building platform where acquisitions with existing code bases are integrated via external APIs at best. ServiceNow takes a different approach and re-platforms all of its acquisitions onto a single platform and configuration management database (CMDB) for IT workloads. What this means is that a single underlying data model is in use consistently no matter what applications are being built on top of it. The thrust of this is that whereas other platforms that are created through a conglomeration of different departmental tools (for example marketing, sales or HR), ServiceNow’s platform is horizontal and, at its essence, focused on inter-departmental workflow.
This “consistency” angle extends out to the tools with which developers can build applications on top of ServiceNow’s platform. The company supports industry standards (AngularJS) natively within its platform. Leinwand holds this up as a win for enterprise agility, obviating the necessity for developers to learn new languages and frameworks.
Given Leinwand’s background at Zynga, I was interested to hear his perspective on the best ways to build enterprise-facing clouds. As he sees it, the ServiceNow platform is built for what he calls an “always on” enterprise workload. He differentiates this from the more usual cloud model which favors multi-tenant architecture. In the multi-tenant world, of course, a number of different users will be working off a single instance of a database. In Leinwand’s view, this approach constrains the amount of customization that an individual user can obtain. It also introduces inflexibilities when it comes to update control and availability.
In contrast to the multi-tenant model, ServiceNow is built with a multi-instance architecture. Each user enjoys separate application logic and database processes. What this means is that ServiceNow users don’t suffer what sees as critical constraints that users of multi-tenant platforms do – limitations in terms of upgrade scheduling, data cloning, API calls and the like.
The canonical use case
Leinwand described to me a customer use case that he holds up as the canonical example of the flexibility of the ServiceNow platform. In their example, a shipping company wanted to track the location and status of its 100,000 shipping containers globally. The company wanted to obtain latitude/longitude coordinates and have these shipped back to a server. Of course, they could have built an app using standard web components, but their mission was to build something fast and cheap. The organization already understood the ServiceNow construct, and could quickly roll out a new application using ServiceNow’s scripting language integrated into Google maps.
It is hard to argue that the traditional model of platform-building, is acquiring components and gluing them together into a whole, is a somewhat fraught process. End users have to deal with the pain of reconciling diverse architectures, source codes and development methodologies. ServiceNow has a compelling story to tell and a valid proposition with its approach of re-platform all component pieces onto a single platform with a consistent data model. Obviously, other platforms have built more market awareness of their low code/no code development tools, but the market is still young and it is still early days for customer adoption. If ServiceNow can deliver on their stated points of difference, there is a good opportunity for them in this space.