ServiceNow Says IT Service Automation's Time Has Come

CEO Frank Slootman, backed by KPMG survey results, says time is right to build services that cut across devices and employee groups.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 17, 2014

4 Min Read

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IT professionals want a cloud-based service mechanism to replace businesses' heavy use of email, spreadsheets, and other half-measures for accomplishing standard processes, according to a KPMG survey of 275 IT professionals taken during the ServiceNow Knowledge 14 conference in San Francisco last April.

Some 90% of the survey responders said their businesses needed a more service-specific process than undifferentiated email, where key steps in things like HR onboarding or employee payroll processes sit as messages amid hundreds of other messages unrelated to those processes. They also expected IT to be responsible for establishing and maintaining such services.

That such a conclusion should come out of a ServiceNow user conference is no surprise. ServiceNow pioneered the idea of a standard, automated process for the IT help desk, and its customers are believers in automated services. They tend to understand the benefit of capturing the steps of a service in software that can be maintained centrally, while being accessible to employees throughout the company.

"I used to send 12 emails a day to HR because I was managing a group of people," recalled David Wright, chief strategy officer of ServiceNow, as he discussed the survey results, released by KPMG Wednesday. Using email isn't a defined business process. The sender must spot responses and provide additional feedback, notifications, and approvals as appropriate.

[Want to learn more about ServiceNow? See ServiceNow Pushes Beyond Automation.]

Nearly three quarters of the survey respondents said more than half of their companies' business processes still rely on email instead of service automation, according to a KPMG report on the survey. They also cited use of spreadsheets, business process automation forms, and Lotus Notes.

Another survey finding mirrored the first: 92% said the role of IT was changing from caretaker of the infrastructure -- keeping existing systems running -- to supplying the new services needed by the business.

Belief in the need for a standard service model -- one on which many services could be built, modified, and upgraded -- was nearly universal at 98%. Again that should be no surprise, considering the Knowledge14 survey population. But the results also fit neatly into ServiceNow's roadmap. ServiceNow wants to expand its footprint beyond IT departments to supply other departments and business units with service catalogues and query/response processes captured in software, fronted by a user interface. The service catalogue and query/response process will run in a ServiceNow data center and be available to authorized users 24 x 7.

One result seemed unusually optimistic: 56% said they planned to implement enterprise service management as a replacement for manual, paper, and email processes throughout the company. In some organizations, there are custom automated processes that need to be replaced with processes built from more standardized software components and run in a central data center.

Frank Slootman, CEO of ServiceNow, said in an interview in April at Knowledge14 that many business services that are repeated thousands of times a year share common elements, and IT staffs that know how to build one service from components in the cloud that could repeat the process across many services.

"A large financial service company will have 150,000 service incidents a month. These institutions know if they can drive the incident volume down, they can drive their costs down. That is what service management is," he tells InformationWeek.

ServiceNow wasn't the first business process management firm, and many of its predecessors are still offering systems that successfully automate business processes. But they can't provide the same general-purpose model, modifiable and repeatable around the company, that ServiceNow can, he claims. And only ServiceNow has positioned itself with 16 data centers around the world to support an enterprise service model.

"A lot of the market will shift from Microsoft productivity applications to service models with set workflows, check-off and approval points, and timed, guaranteed resolution periods, as opposed to email," he says.

ServiceNow is bringing an orchestration and workflow engine to its product line that can build services aimed at different departments. It provides a graphical engine for diagramming a task and setting a workflow on a whiteboard. It also includes a routing engine to ensure it completes a set of steps, along with request and response forms, among other attributes.

Slootman says his firm will offer enough service-building tools by the end of this year for companies to start building services from the same set of components, although specific tools and processes for specialized departments, such as purchasing, will be rolled out at a later date.

Another aspect of building such services as cloud services is that they can be invoked from different devices, an increasingly important attribute in the mobile-device equipped workforce. Project managers with advanced degrees may still want to use the specialized systems they cut their teeth on, but he claims basic project management is just another basic set of common services. "Ours is for everyone else," he says.

IT leaders who don't embrace public cloud concepts will find their business partners looking elsewhere for computing capabilities. Get the new Frictionless IT issue of InformationWeek Tech Digest today.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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