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Cloud Field Day 2 Preview: ServiceNow

July 21st, 2017

Cloud Field Day 2, part of the Tech Field Day family of events is happening in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, from 26-28 July and I’m super excited to be invited as a delegate.

We are hearing from a number of companies about how they cloud!

ServiceNow has a SaaS suite of products and is trying to take traditional enterprise IT Service Management to the next level. It has had a number of leadership changes recently so seems to be shaking itself up for new things.

ITSM products have been often maligned and I have been fairly vocal over the years in my scorn for some ITSM/ITIL products. They often insert an inordinate amount of unnecessary bureaucracy between getting things done and protecting your IT estate. This causes all sorts of problems. IT teams try as hard as they can to navigate around the horrible tools they are forced to use, hence some shadow IT. ITSM bureaucrats continually add more and more process to trap more and more potential issues, more process = more hassle. Processes get so complicated and change is avoided at any cost. It can take weeks to shepherd a change through the system and finally get approved. People dump as much as they can in a change to avoid having to repeat the process. Business users have to log IT issues in a system that makes them feel IT doesn’t care. IT SLAs are tracked through the ITSM tools so solving tickets becomes wack-a-mole for IT staff.

ITSM Dispair

BMC Remedy is the target of much of my derision for very good reason, it is absolutely abominable to use as a user. It is built for auditors and bureaucrats to ensure everything it tracks is documented to within an inch of its life so there’s an audit trail. It is a disaster to use as a IT professional trying to get anything done as the interface and workflows are like navigating a Minotaur’s lair. I know Remedy has progressed over the years but in numerous cases I’ve seen, no-one can actually upgrade as they’ve had to customise it so much to be useful, it is impossible to upgrade. Remedy is enterprise ITs culprit No. 1 for putting the “No” into Innovation.

Somewhat counter-intuitively to my disdain for many ITSM tools, I actually believe that ITIL and ITSM have a very valid role to play. ITSM is all about ensuring your IT environment operates as well as possible. Enterprises particularly in regulated environments need to know what changes are happening and by whom and what problems there are. Compliance is part of the package as you can be fined for not behaving and being secure and stable is part of running a proper IT shop.

I love the tag line of “Deploy safer code, faster”, which is what everyone is aspiring to do. (taken from Barclays’ Jonathan Smart in his DevOps Enterprise Summit presentation).

This is why we have DevOps. Remedy and others somehow forgot the faster part and arguably make the safer part questionable as everyone tries to buck the system. I would love to see ITSM at the speed of DevOps and beyond with as little friction and human intervention required as possible. I recently saw a comment somewhere about “using chaos monkey a little more, and change management a little less”.

We need ITSM that can plug into DevOps style automation, be the simplest possible tool to manage change and issues, be the easy auditing tool to gather the reports the compliance people need and even have some smarts to help you run IT better.

Fred Luddy, the previous CTO of Remedy left in 2004 to found ServiceNow and has been trying to reinvent ITSM since then. I am very interesting to hear what ServiceNow has to say in its first Tech Field Day presentation.

ServiceNow is a SaaS based product so already the upgrade nightmares are no longer your problem. It has an interesting take in that it isn’t just an ITSM tracking tool in itself but connects to many of your on-prem legacy IT systems. It can grab incidents and performance data from many of your existing tools and can automate across a number of your existing investments. This means you don’t have to rip and replace your existing tools with ServiceNow but rather use ServiceNow as a clever management solution to bring them all closer together.

Make the Machines Learn

Recently ServiceNow bought a company called DxContinuum that does Machine Learning as well as a company called Qlue which does artificial intelligence and has announced a new offering called “ServiceNow Intelligent Automation Engine“. It would be interesting to hear how this could be leveraged. Think of how much information an ITSM system has about your environment. All IT assets and how they are connected together. What problems are being reported by users or via monitoring tools. What changes are happening? What strange things happening in your environment could be a security breach. It seems obvious that machine learning and artificial intelligence can be of huge assistance. Correlating an alert generated in one system to a change that is being tracked in ServiceNow. The alert can be automatically suppressed during the change avoiding another false positive the IT team needs to close. A number of users report an issue with a system that can automatically check whether a change is happening (and inform them) and if there’s no change gather some first level information and aggregate it so for example the call is automatically logged to the right IT team saying an increasing number of users in Australia can’t access the new Fidget Spinner design app. IT users have had to do a lot of manual mapping which is painful and the automated tools often don’t link things together correctly. I’m certainly interested to hear how more clever machines can help ITSM.

I also saw a demo of a service desk person being able to roll back a change, this could be very useful. In a DevOps style workflow when everything is infrastructure as code. Things may have been tested to death but something still went wrong. Using a service management tool to tie the pieces together and work out a firewall config or AWS instance change or anything else is the source of the problem is so useful. Being able to easily roll back is even better, sometimes the robots can’t do everything well.

Business, not just IT

ServiceNow also has a business workflow builder called the Now Platform so you can fairly easily create workloads for any number of tasks. This has enormous potential. If ServiceNow knows so much about your business, creating worklows that can link separate parts of your business processes together to make life simpler for your customers and users is great. This also elevates the use of an ITSM tool above just tracking IT problems and changes but becomes the glue that connects your business together. They use the marketing line “Building Business Apps at Lightspeed” which is its take on digital transformation at a business level. I’d be interesting in hearing some interesting use cases for this and if these workflows can be shared or open sourced.

Back to the world of clouds, I would like to find out how ServiceNow is embracing public cloud workloads such as AWS, Azure and GCP. There is a vast trove of information siloed within each cloud, how can ServiceNow be a cross-cloud ITSM broker correlating a configuration change in AWS which affects connectivity to a system in Azure. We are very much in a multi-cloud world and enterprises are sometimes struggling to tie all the clouds together to provide a simpler provisioning process, hiding the complexity of what workload is deployed on what cloud. Trying to have common policies across clouds is tough and never mind trying to track costs across clouds. What about deciding in what cloud to run something? It’s not just cost but performance, security, locality that all has to be figured out, ServiceNow may have a lot of the information to help make these kinds of decisions. I can see huge opportunity to tame the current cloud confusion and chaos.

Can’t wait to hear what ServiceNow has to say, it will be interesting to hear from a company that isn’t only focused on the tech of cloud but is also focused on providing multi-cloud service management and better hooks into running your business better. I gather there may be some announcements so that’s always exciting!

Gestalt IT is paying for travel, accommodation and things to eat to attend Cloud Field Day but isn’t paying a penny for me to write anything good or bad about anyone.

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