by Peter Sayer

ServiceNow bets on citizen developers in latest enterprise push

News Analysis
Mar 16, 2021
Enterprise ApplicationsITSMServiceNow

ServiceNow offers enterprises a platform on which to formalize the informal workplace processes eroded by the move to working from home.

Leading remote teams  >  A businessman virtually works with a distributed network of teams.
Credit: ipopba / Getty Images

COVID’s erosion of informal mechanisms in the workplace has been a boon for enterprise service management (ESM) vendors. For example, if you worked on a large corporate campus pre-pandemic and had an HR question, you could literally wander the halls to find your answer.

“That world is gone,” said Charles Betz, principal analyst covering infrastructure and operations at Forrester. “That’s why enterprise service management vendors have done very well.”

ESM vendors all saw revenue increase last year, according to Betz, as enterprises recognized the need to publish services in service catalogs where employees working from home could find them.

ServiceNow is among the key ESM vendors profiting from this shift: In January it posted its sixth consecutive quarter of year-on-year revenue growth over 30%. The company has also just posted an update to the Now Platform software on which its ESM offering is built.

The workflow paradigm

ServiceNow’s Now Platform “Quebec” release builds on last September’s “Paris” release, with new tools for process and workforce optimization, and a significant expansion of the development tools for ServiceNow’s low-code platform.

Stephen Elliot, IDC’s program vice president for management software and devops, sees improvements in three areas with this release: allowing enterprises to take advantage of ServiceNow faster; further differentiating ServiceNow’s offering through artificial intelligence and more automation; and a focus on continuous optimization of the way teams work and collaborate.

Those are all issues of concern for ServiceNow users, he said: “Increasingly, customers are looking at, ‘How fast can I learn this? How many people can hop on? How easy is it for me to work with my peer groups?’”

ServiceNow, he said, is looking to increase its role in enterprise automation: “They really want to be that platform of platforms, the thread to pull all the workflows together.”

Low code isn’t low risk

Although ServiceNow is making it easier for anyone to begin coding with the Quebec release, enterprises must think carefully before giving just any end-user access to the new tools, warned Forester’s Betz.

“You can have the easiest-to-use development tool in the world, but if the person using it is not a logical thinker, bad things are going to ensue,” he said. That means ensuring (low) coders have a clear understanding of the enterprise data model and how the steps in the process they are automating depend on one another.

But he also made a case that software development — whether no-code, low-code, or pro-code — should no longer be reserved for the IT team, rolled up under a dedicated leader.

ServiceNow’s answer is to add a new category of workflows to the IT, employee (HR), and customer workflows it already supports. The new Creator workflows are intended to support the process of automating other workflows using two new low-code development tools. The first, App Engine Studio, is a visual development environment that guides the creation process, while App Engine Templates are workflow building blocks that already embody some of the necessary logical thinking.

Coding is increasingly taught with highly visual paradigms, so App Engine Studio will reduce friction for new citizen developers in the enterprise, said Betz.

He suggested that CIOs wait for new coders to come forward themselves and let them develop something low-risk that they’re interested in: “There’s a lot of harmless workflows that are done in spreadsheets or emails. If somebody shows they’ve got an aptitude for it, have them move onto bigger and better things.”

If that sounds too freewheeling, then App Engine Templates can provide a way for ServiceNow to respond to a different need: governance.

CIOs are looking to put guard rails around development tools such as this, to take care of access rights and security, according to IDC’s Elliot. “ServiceNow is in an interesting spot,” he said. “They can put these guard rails in out-of-the-box templates right off the jump for developers or business analysts to write these things.”

Optimizing processes and productivity

Automating processes is all very well, but it doesn’t necessarily speed them up: There can still be bottlenecks. An enterprise might have a process in place for onboarding new employees that takes eight weeks from end to end, and it’s only through investigation and analysis that it can pinpoint security approvals, say, as the main cause of delay.

“In the context of a process management framework it’s not necessarily easy to run those kinds of analytics,” said Betz.

To respond to that need, ServiceNow has added new visual tools for process optimization and workforce optimization, identifying bottlenecks in workflows and monitoring staff workload and productivity.

These are the most revolutionary elements in the Quebec update, according to Betz.

The modern knowledge worker has been undermanaged or inappropriately managed, and the lack of visibility into knowledge work remains a problem for many enterprises, he said. The consolidation of workflows on platforms such as Now opens up the possibility of running analytics to identify processes in need of improvement, and where best to make those changes.

“Companies say that staff are their greatest asset,” he said, but “to start managing processes as enterprise resources is absolutely spot on here.”

With this release, ServiceNow is becoming an ERP-class solution, he said: “It’s no longer ERP for IT, it’s ERP for knowledge work.”

CIOs can also make use of these process management tools to ensure software development does not go off the rails, Betz said. Agile teams are often hostile to internal shared services such as infrastructure and are reluctant to rely on them, fearing they will take too long. If CIOs can optimize internal shared processes to the point that developers can rely on them, they will be less likely to try to do everything themselves.

“You’ve got to be customer-focused because they will just go to Amazon and spin up a dev instance if you don’t produce it for them, and then you’ve got all kinds of security and compliance headaches,” he said.

The Quebec software release also includes new UI builder capabilities, Employee workflow tools for HR services, more AI enhancements for predictive AIOps, personalized search, and chatbot creation. It became generally available on March 11.