One platform which has scaled new heights over the past year, geared to orchestrating processes in the cloud, is ServiceNow. One area that is becoming increasingly critical for these platforms is driving up the excitement of the leading – and emerging – services providers to train their staff to deploy, develop and help manage the solutions. Hence, it is no coincidence that we’re seeing SNOW rise in prominence with the service providers with ex-SAP chief Bill McDermott at the helm.
HFS’ IT services leader, Dr Tom Reuner, supported by analyst Martin Gabriel, have spent the past few months talking with an exhaustive quota of end-customers of ServiceNow, in addition to drilling into HFS’ customer perception surveys, to draw up the definitive Top Ten guide to ServiceNow Services in 2021. Premium HFS subscribers can access their copy of the report here.
So let’s hear a bit more from Tom about this evolving market…
Phil Fersht, CEO HFS: Tom – why has ServiceNow become the orchestration platform of choice for so many enterprises in recent times? What has changed to drive such a level of interest?
Dr Tom Reuner, SVP IT Services Research, HFS: Suffice it to say, Phil, the attraction of ServiceNow is in the eye of the beholder. For me, it is one of the key enablers for operationalizing the OneOffice. Let me peel back the HFS nomenclature for a moment. ServiceNow is the operational layer that helps organizations to deliver digital customer and employee experiences. In a nutshell, it is achieving this by offering workflows in the cloud that are underpinned by a single data model. But crucially, these workflows are cross-functional and organizations are looking to obtain that single pane of glass with all the operational data.
So what does cross-functional really mean? Many organizations started their journey with ServiceNow with IT workflows as they got fed up with the lack of agility of their often highly customized ITSM solutions such as Remedy that are still on-prem. But many organizations are expanding ServiceNow beyond ITSM toward IT Business Management or SecOps within IT, while others are literally taking the platform and leveraging it in business functions such as customer service, HR, and procurement. Thus, ServiceNow is a conduit for overcoming the organizational silos that we at HFS keep talking about. As one service provider put it, you have to earn your right in IT workflows to expand the platform to other business units.
Another strong alignment with the OneOffice mindset is that ServiceNow is delivering digital customer and employee experiences that delight folks rather than frustrate them. Those experiences could come from portals but increasingly are coming also from mobile devices. A good example is returning to work projects and even vaccination management as we are hopefully getting toward the tail end of the pandemic. You only get to high levels of customer and employee satisfaction if your operations are underpinned by consistent data sets and actions can be adapted easily.
How is the service ecosystem evolving around the NOW platform, Tom? What are you seeing from the major providers and the emerging niche firms?
There is an immense dynamism in the broader ServiceNow ecosystem. I would point to three major trends. First, clients are starting to scale the cross-functional journey with ServiceNow. We are seeing organizations managing GBS operations with ServiceNow end-to-end. They are taking the platform across HR, F&A, procure, and beyond. This is a far cry from the beginnings of ITSM. Second, ServiceNow is pushing an industry-led go-to-market. Thus, service providers have built out deeply verticalized offerings. Compelling examples are Operational Resilience in the financial services space and on the telco side, Network Performance Management offerings that get deeply integrated with the OSS/BSS landscape. And you can see those two trends clearly in ServiceNow’s financial performance. In Q4 2020 only 62% of new contracts were around IT workflows. And many of the leading service providers have an even lower percentage of contracts around IT workflows.
The third trend is the war for talent and with that, the unavoidable acceleration of M&A activity. Given the scarcity of talent, ServiceNow pure plays are being acquired by the GSIs. The most recent examples are NTT DATA acquiring Acorio and Cognizant gobbling up Linium. Both pure-plays had a strong focus on the US market. But we have also seen private equity (PE) firm Sunstone Partners acquire three ServiceNow pure-plays (Evergreen Systems, Cerna Solutions, and Novo/Scale) to create a new pure play challenger with global ambitions. It will be intriguing to see how this new company called Thirdera will fare.
So against the background of those trends and developments how are service providers reacting to this and who is standing out from the crowd?
Pivoting to broader transformational programs where the platform is being taken beyond IT workflows into what ServiceNow calls ESM ( i.e. customer and employee workflows) and more recently even into industry-led solutions is where the wheat is being separated from the chaff. It is here where the leaders like Accenture, Infosys, KPMG, EY, and DXC Technology are standing out. Many clients are looking for more than just implementation services that are commoditizing fast and that are often driven out of offshore factories. Put in other words we are seeing the OneOffice mindset come through. Organizations are progressing toward a more holistic data model and are looking to drive workflows across organizational boundaries. Beyond the leaders Atos stands out as the leader in the “Voice of the Customer”, IBM has made significant progress and is building out deep industry solutions while LTI gets strong client references for highly scaled IT workflow projects.
However, outside of the usual suspects, the unsung heroes of the ServiceNow ecosystem are often the leading pureplays or boutiques. For example, Enable Professional Services is the champion in Australia and Asia with strong ESM credentials while Plat4formation is at the cusp of innovation in manufacturing and beyond. Cask excels with a transformation focus in the US market while GlideFast has a strong sales momentum in the same market as well as a high CSAT score. As an analyst engaging with these organizations is immensely rewarding as you glean so much more information about the market.
Has Bill McDermott made a big difference, in your view?
There many ways of looking at it, Phil. For starters, he is a brilliant sales guy. I remember him from my days at Gartner donkey’s years back when he was heading up sales there. Looking at it from the ServiceNow angle, Bill’s tenure marks a new phase in their corporate development. His predecessors built the core functionality and established the brand. The next phase is strongly accelerated growth. You can compare this to the evolution of Salesforce. Therefore, the next logical step is verticalization. Bill hasn’t devised the strategy but he is excellent at communicating it. He keeps talking about ServiceNow being the platform of platforms. Which is a clever way of emphasizing cross-functional workflows. Yet, those workflows only happen through integration with all the applications and toolsets.
Having said that, there is a bit of a cult cropping up. Almost all the service providers we talk to point to “having discussions with Bill” and quite frankly just drinking the Kool-aid. But as the platform is being expanded into completely new use cases, having this communication “magnet” is immensely helpful. And we should keep in mind that ServiceNow has always avoided being pigeonholed. It was never the ITSM company. If anything, not too long ago it positioned itself as the “cloud company”. Now the positioning crystalizes around “Workflows for the Modern Enterprise” and as mentioned, the notion of the platform of platforms. Given the heterogeneity of the capabilities, having a highly visible figurehead is immensely helpful.
We recently saw ServiceNow acquire one of the small RPA providers, IntelliBot. What was that all about Tom? Why did they opt for a small firm in this space and not go for one of the larger RPA firms?
What appears to get lost in much of the ‘excited’ commentary of the Intellibot acquisition is that we have to move beyond a siloed mindset. This is not about RPA or AIOPs. This should be about moving toward cross-functional workflows. Put another way, ServiceNow is not entering the RPA market. As with all its acquisitions, it is looking to re-platform the capabilities of Intellibot. Or put yet another way, it will not offer Intellibot as a stand-alone offer. The aim is to expand the workflow experience toward the automation of legacy systems. Intellibot’s low code credentials have the additional bonus of allowing users to create automation. Therefore, comparisons to the leading RPA provider are misguided. This is a tuck-in acquisition that allows the integration of legacy applications and data sources. As such, this is more akin to SAP acquiring Contextor. For SAP the direction of travel is opposite to ServiceNow. Rather than allaying concerns of clients to migrate to the new world of HANA, ServiceNow is the cloud-based innovation that is aiming to integrate with the plethora of legacy systems. They aim to offer a connector to all leading applications and tools etc. Deeper process intelligence capabilities are the next logical steps, but again only focused around ServiceNow data, not as a competitor to the likes of Celonis.
You invented the “Intelligent Automation Continuum” during your earlier days with HFS. Is that still relevant, or have you changed your thinking? Are enterprises starting with basic RPA before graduating to more sophisticated technologies or is something else happening?
As a failed historian, it is always a tad indulgent for me to go down memory lane. To some degree, I am amazed that the Intelligent Automation Continuum is still being talked about and that clients still find value in it. While the market has moved on, the thought-process behind the Continuum remains valid, I would argue. But as with many things, automation really is in the eye of the beholder. For me, Intelligent Automation was always about end-to-end process automation and the need to integrate and orchestrate both legacy technologies as well as innovative offerings such as the cloud. But I was expecting a convergence of IT and business scenarios. So much so that I declared “RPA is dead” back in 2016 just to make a point.
Looking at some of the more detailed discussions on the Continuum, the idea was never that you have to start with basic RPA to progress to more sophisticated technologies as you put it, Phil, but rather two other fundamental points. First, that all the approaches and technologies plotted across that Continuum are both overlapping and interdependent. Therefore, clients have to find ways of orchestrating those. Second, the direction of travel is toward unstructured data and probably less obvious toward less well-defined processes. Cognitive and artificial intelligence is meant to overcome the limitations of these two dimensions.
And with that, we are back to ServiceNow. The cross-functional workflows and the integration capabilities of ServiceNow’s Integration Hub are taking us back to those discussions to progress toward end-to-end automation and decouple routine service delivery from labor arbitrage. We have to re-focus on those outcomes rather than getting side-tracked by the task automation pushed by the RPA incumbents. It is here where the ever-expanding capabilities of ServiceNow are coming in. But to be frank, I don’t think the RPA camp has taken too much notice of how much ServiceNow has changed.
So finally, Tom, what will be we talking about in the next couple of years as we see AIOps matures and other data-centric technologies become more prominent? How are operational process solutions going to take shape?
For me, it is really building on the points that I was just trying to make. The focus should be on the convergence of IT and business and enabling this cross-functional mindset to overcome organizational silos that we keep discussing in the context of the OneOffice. But to get there, we need enterprise-wide service management and monitoring. Yet, we are still miles away from getting even close to that. There are many missing pieces on that journey. But I expect deep investments around operationalizing Data Science, be it around process intelligence or AIOPs. The focus must be on integrating disparate inputs including metadata from logs or data that is adjacent to the actual process. However, the ability to ingest disparate sets of information has to be matched by the ability to execute and ultimately automate actions. Over time we have to progress to the non-deterministic application of dynamic scripts. Thus, this is also more about the platforms such as ServiceNow and Celonis, rather than about all those points solutions. I am tempted to close out with the thought process behind the Continuum: the focus on end-to-end automation and the need for integration and orchestration. But then again, markets rarely evolve rationally.
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