ServiceNow wants to be an enabler of business transformation. But that’s a hard challenge when you’re known as a tool for IT.

At the recent Cloud Field Days event, I spent a couple of hours visiting with ServiceNow at their lush new executive briefing center. While there we talked to a variety of different people and got a deep dive on ServiceNow’s vision of the future. The company has come a long way from its San Diego roots. it is now firmly ensconced in across the globe, claims 40% of the Global 2,000 companies as customers and is moving in on the 6,000 employee count. And if that wasn’t enough, ServiceNow was proud of the fact that in the greater than $1 Billion revenue category, ServiceNow is the fastest growing enterprise software company. (Somewhat hilariously, of the dozen or so companies presenting at Cloud Field Days, at least two of them claimed to be the fastest growing enterprise company in the $1 billion club – oh well.)

Which is interesting since, historically at least, ServiceNow has been seen as a vendor who offered an IT helpdesk system. The growth they have enjoyed, however, isn’t all driven by IT service management (ITSM) rather, ServiceNow has been actively pursuing its aims to become a vendor that offers tools to enable organizations to digitize their more general enterprise workflows. Instead of simply being a helpdesk application, ServiceNow wants to be the platform that enables their customers to build their own custom applications on top of ServiceNow’s technology stack and platform.

If that idea reminds you of another vendor, that would be because it is very much the strategy that Salesforce is following. Salesforce started off as a CRM vendor but quickly grew, via its Force.com development platform, to be a more general digital platform. But arguably (and this will become the crux of this post) Salesforce has an easier job of telling this broader story. You see Salesforce’s bread and butter, CRM, lies very much at the heart of the business side of organizations – sales and marketing are the domain of the CMO and, as the argument goes, the CMO is increasingly becoming the person who commands the lion’s share of new IT budget.

ServiceNow, on the other hand, comes from a history of being very much an IT tool. IT practitioners loved (and still love) the flexibility that ServiceNow gives them as a service desk tool but also as a tool to enable IT-related processes. Things like getting a new employee set up with organizational user credentials, a laptop, and software access, for example. This is different from core business processes, and especially different from customer-facing ones, so there is a significant challenge here.

This is a problem that isn’t a technological one. There is no functional reason why the ServiceNow platform can’t be used to run all manner of business processes. After all, the company was founded with a vision of not making the mistakes of the past. One of the more successful IT service products on the market is BMC Remedy, something of a legacy piece of monolithic software. Indeed, Remedy has been the target of much industry derision. It is generally accepted as being an abomination when it comes to usability. While it has all the audit and control mechanisms that appeal to auditors and organizational bureaucrats, it lacks any focus on making it easy for an end user to actually achieve something. It is the epitome of all that is wrong with enterprise software.

Fred Luddy, the previous CTO of Remedy left that role in 2004 to found ServiceNow and he, along with the entire ServiceNow organization, has been trying to reinvent ITSM since then. So the technology is all there, but the question that remains is a business one. Can ServiceNow articulate the narrative, be heard by those who matter, and generally compete with a Salesforce-style business-unit sales motion. As my friend, and fellow Cloud Field Days attendee, Tim Crawford pointed out:

Can IT really be an enabler for business change?

At a recent roadshow I did around New Zealand, I presented to a large number of IT professionals about the future of the cloud and how that tracked to the future of business. I encouraged these practitioners to find ways to really become enablers of business change, rather than simply being seen as a cost center. You see IT, for all the right reasons, has created for itself a very poor perception. Since IT’s role is, at least in part, to ensure compliance with relevant regulations and the security and sanctity of organizational data, they have, over time, been seen to be the organizational party-poopers. IT has become, in many cases, the “department of no.”

The question then needs to be asked as to whether an organization that has grown tired of what they see as IT’s inability to actually offer them anything of value, will now have faith that IT can recommend a tool, or an approach, to really move the needle for the business. Again, from Crawford:

A photo booth or liquor bot doth not digital transformation make

At the event, ServiceNow too the opportunity to show off their platform being used to power three different proof of concepts:

  1. A connected photo booth that could scan an employee card, take a picture and email or publish the photo on social media
  2. A “liquor bot” that could produce different flavored drinks from an iPad app
  3. An Amazon Alexa integration

All three of these examples used ServiceNow’s platform as the back end – showing how ServiceNow could be an effective bus to both integrate with various different APIs, but also create process-driven outcomes from those integrations.

LiquorBot picture by @datachick

But while these examples are good ones, and indeed show off the technical breadth of the platform, they do little to assuage the concerns of this commentator about ServiceNow’s ability to transform this promise, into actual enterprise adoption beyond the service desk.

A different cadence, different skills, different conversations

I spent much time challenging Jonathan Sparks, Senior Director of Platform Product Management for ServiceNow, about the challenges involved in leveraging this broader business opportunity. It was actually an intensely interesting conversation and one which was highlighted by the varying focus that the different delegates at Cloud Field Days had – there were some very technical attendees who were focused primarily on the “what” of ServiceNow’s offerings, while those of us at the business execution end of the continuum focused more on the “how.”

Sparks didn’t argue with my contention about IT not traditionally being seen as an enabler of business transformation. He also seemed to accept my comments about IT being seen as more of a blocker than an enabler in many cases. The reality is that no one knows whether the future will be one in which technology is sufficiently user-friendly and robust that most buying decisions can be made by the CMO and other business units, or whether IT will still have to have a strong role to play.

Sparks did agree that for ServiceNow to achieve its ambitions, a new type of sales approach needed to happen, one which saw ServiceNow attack distinct verticals, articulate more of a business-centric narrative, and attempt to throw off the shackles of its ITSM-specific past.

MyPOV

There is no question that ServiceNow offers a platform that allows organizations to both digitalize existing processes and (more importantly) re-invent new ways of doing things. The platform building part is largely done and now is where the rubber meets the road and ServiceNow has to build the organizational muscle memory to sell to a new type of customer. The company has the benefit of being big enough to invest significant resource in this project, yet small enough to still be relatively agile. it’s going to be fascinating watching their future.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

2 Comments
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  • Wow. Truly, in IT as in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” “what’s past is prologue.”

    Much of the discussion highlighted in Ben Kepes’ excellent piece had its genesis — and generated no small amount of controversy then — when I was a Senior Product Marketing Manager at ServiceNow from February 2012 through August 2014. Since then, there appears to be greater recognition of the enterprise’s ever-growing dependence on IT to do, basically, anything important. Multiple, major ransomware and malware attacks have also raised awareness of IT’s business value, among IT and non-IT people alike, if media and analyst coverage are accurate indicators. These developments seem to be contributing to changes in the conversation between IT and “the business.”

    IT has also had more opportunity (and likely faced more pressure) to improve its ability to articulate its value in terms that resonate with its non-IT constituents. And the ServiceNow platform has had more time to mature. I look forward to seeing how we look back on this phase of the evolution of ServiceNow, and of enterprise IT generally, one to two years from now.

  • Hi Ben,

    I am glad you were able to come to our Cloud Field Day event, but sorry that I missed meeting you in person – hopefully next time we’ll be able to visit.

    I appreciate you sharing this point of view. This feedback is important for us to hear not only how the industry perceives us, but what we can do to be more effective and efficient as an organization.

    With any new opportunities come challenges, but as was alluded to, I believe we have the right technology, the right people, the right culture and the right strategy to take advantage of where the market is heading. Now, we need to help other organizations put the same in place so that they can digitally transform their business.

    And, as Michael pointed out above, not only has the ServiceNow platform matured over the past couple of years, but so has IT functions within organizations who are addressing more strategic business needs. We believe we are well-poised and ready to meet these needs.

    Looking forward to continuing this dialogue.

    Allan Leinwand, CTO, ServiceNow

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