Orchestrating the orchestrators the key to digital transformation: ServiceNow

Chris Pope, Vice President, Innovation at ServiceNow, talks with ChannelBuzz about the fundamental transformations of the digital economy, and how they can best be managed to maximize business value.

Chris Pope, Vice President, Innovation at ServiceNow

The concept of digital transformation is ubiquitous in IT today. Chris Pope, Vice President, Innovation at ServiceNow, was in Toronto this week, and talked with ChannelBuzz about what his company sees as the specific value that they bring to digital transformation, to translate it from what can be a high-level concept into  operational business value. The core message is that while digital transformation is largely about the creation of efficient platforms, their full value can only be unlocked if they are all managed together. That’s the role of ServiceNow, Pope said, to manage all the managers to make sure that work processes work together harmoniously and efficiently

ServiceNow was once one of those platforms themselves. They began in 2003 providing IT service management [ITSM] software, which is a fancy term for help desk ticketing. They, however, transformed themselves, to focus not just on managing an area of the enterprise, but to become a manager of managers, with a full platform of subscription-based services.

“We act as the orchestrator of work,” Pope said. “We orchestrate other orchestrators. Today, we have all these digital platforms. But how do you leverage them to transform the way that work gets done?”

Pope noted that one of the benefits of digital transformation was breaking down the old paradigm which equated good enterprise software with software that was complex.

“Enterprises have been proud of complexity,” he said. “I think the perception has finally changed. A key reason for this is that that the generation coming into the workforce has different expectations. They are used to the consumer world, where complexity is hidden. It doesn’t exist.”

The result, he said, has been a shift in the enterprise to a platform-based world. The catch though, is that there are more than one of these platforms to manage.

“Most organizations settle on four to six platforms, like Workday or Salesforce, and the hyperscalers like AWS and Azure, and they are great at what they do. But when you need to join them up, it gets tricky. We need to present it all in a way that users can get what they want when they want it.”

That Pope stressed, is the key. The work that each that each of those platforms do is magnificent in their own way, and brings all kind of value to the enterprise, but unless you hook them all up, you still aren’t getting the maximum value from each in terms of delivering true business value.

“With digital transformation, the key for us is being able to provide a single consistent experience in those four to six core platforms,” Pope stressed. “We act as the broker and integration layer between their platforms for finance, payroll and HR, and also manage the work. All these things exist independently, but we bring them all together for the customer and the employee. And we engineer the complexity away from the end user and handle the workflow and the dataflow so that it’s a delightful experience.”

The original generation of these kinds of solutions have existed for years. ServiceNow’s founder, Fred Luddy, was the CTO at Peregrine Software, whose assets were eventually acquired by HP, and became the foundation of their offerings. But Pope said that moving forward, the momentum is all on the side of next-generation players like themselves.

“While the technologies that were chosen in the past may have been good at the time, its just a different environment now,” Pope said. The incumbents, companies like BMC and CA, are dead on the vine from a product roadmap perspective. “Today, we bump into Salesforce more often than not.”

Pope also stressed that the age of digital transformation has fundamentally changed how these kinds of products are positioned and sold.

“Customers don’t know which way to turn, but the risk of doing nothing is worse,” he said. “It’s all connected now. It’s so much easier to do, and platform complexity is no longer a barrier to entry. It’s a very different approach.  The key is to be able to tie things to a strategic use case. Enterprises don’t give funding any more for a project. It has to be tied to digital transformation or the employee experience.

“From a competitive perspective, our main danger is that customers get stuck in a rut and get into tech replacement projects,” Pope continued. “They upgrade, but just transfer their old way of thinking into a new platform. The way we approach it is that we don’t talk to customers about products. It’s about what problem they are trying to solve. We talk in terms about how work actually happens in an organization and ask them if they could reimagine the whole process, how they would do it, and what technologies they would need. We find that nine times out of then, they already have a lot of the technology that they need. They just need that last bit to bring it together, and to be able to take it all from good to great.”

Pope noted that often the simplest of issues cause the most pain – like checking into a building when you are a visitor.  He acknowledged that some vendors have come up with excellent products like digital receptionists to handle these specific problems.

“The issue is that in dealing with things this way, you will wind up with 30 new point products – a lot of spoke solutions, he said. “That defeats the whole purpose of the consolidation around the four to six platforms, the decreasing technology estate, where you don’t have to manage and patch so many things.”

The critical thing with any solution today isn’t its level of functionality, but the ability to connect it, Pope stressed

“You don’t need to have everything being done at a Level 5 maturity. Level 3 is good enough, if it balances functionality with costs, and we can join it up to other things.”

All of this means that digital transformation can be an operational reality, not an overused buzzphrase.

“The digital platforms are there now,” he said. “But it’s about how you reimagine the business processes and core processes, and how you free up resources to do new things. It’s about using automation to do the mundane, so we can do the things we never get to because we are running at a million miles an hour.”

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