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ServiceNow platform updates target hybrid team workflows

The latest version of ServiceNow's Now Platform aims to improve remote employees' workflows and broaden its developer ecosystem with a new mobile app builder.

ServiceNow has released a new version of its Now Platform that aims to improve employee workflows in hybrid work environments.

At the heart of the latest version, code-named Rome, is the Employee Center, designed to be a digital command center for organizations managing hybrid workforces. The offering helps to cut down on the time it takes for employees to get information they need from various departments across an enterprise such as IT, human resources and procurement.

The new ServiceNow Rome release got a boost on Thursday when ServiceNow and Microsoft jointly announced they would integrate several functions of the Employee Center including IT, HR and procurement, into Microsoft Teams. It marks the first major expansion of the two companies’ partnership, which was signed in July, 2019. The Employee Center can be used as a collaborative application within Teams working across multiple applications in Teams including chat, channels and meetings.

A second new offering, called Employee Journey Management, helps guide employees through a number of tasks that cross over multiple departments including onboarding, work transitions and offboarding. The product also makes it easier for HR managers to personalize resources and plans when developers are using no-code tools and do so all on a single platform.

Inspiration for focusing on employee workflows, as opposed to ServiceNow's traditional focus on IT workflows, was the goal of reducing occasional fatigue some users have experienced in working remotely over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has gone on much longer than anticipated.

"When we flipped to a hybrid work environment, we thought it would be six weeks of inconvenience and then be back to normal," said Dave Wright, ServiceNow's chief innovation officer. "But as it turned into a much longer situation, in developing Rome, we focused more on employees, not to unlock more productivity, but reduce the fatigue of remote employees doing repetitive tasks by automating them. It gives them a choice in how they want to work."

However, one analyst noted that repetitive tasks or general burnout aren't to blame for employee turnover.

"Burnout isn't the main reason for turnover," said Larry Carvalho, principal consultant at Robust Cloud LLC. "Higher-paying alternatives and work-life balance are reasons for turnover. To say a better HR application experience reduces burnout is a wild assumption."

Taking a tool positioned for IT service desks and extending it to non-IT workloads is something that maybe has caught ERP vendors unawares. The Oracles and Salesforces may have to play catchup.
Charles BetzPrincipal analyst, Forrester Research

Redesigned interface

Using new AI technology, along with capabilities already built into the Now Platform, ServiceNow said the new release can more easily pull information together from multiple departments targeted at individual employees. Knowing users start their search for new internal information in the same way they use Google, the new product's interface accommodates that tendency.

"We have redesigned the homepage to bring search to the forefront to ensure that the AI search capabilities we launched earlier this year are right there when employees first log in," said Scott Smith, technical product marketing manager at ServiceNow. "It's helps put information at their fingertips faster," he said.

One analyst agreed that the nature of the improvements aimed primarily at remote employees is well timed as the pandemic drags on with no clear end in sight. Making the Now Platform more collaborative across departments and providing employees with an experience that makes them feel in closer touch with colleagues can create a more collegial corporate environment.

"At the moment, this is a pressing problem for companies large and small," said Charles Betz, principal analyst with Forrester Research. "The moment is now for enterprise customer service management vendors in this new environment to act on this. [ServiceNow] and their competitors have ample opportunity to capitalize on this."

Broadening out the Now user base

It could prove a smart move for the company to use the Now Platform's existing and new capabilities and broaden out its focus to employee workflows, Betz said. The move could give ServiceNow an advantage over Salesforce and Oracle, with whom ServiceNow is on a collision course, with the latter hoping to utilize its strength in the ERP and CRM markets.

"Taking a tool positioned for IT service desks and extending it out to non-IT workloads is something that maybe has caught ERP vendors unawares," Betz said. "It reminds me of the Wayne Gretzsky quote of skating to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. The Oracles and Salesforces may have to play catch-up."

Dave WrightDave Wright

As ServiceNow went through the development of Rome and could see hybrid work environments enduring well past all predictions, the company began to focus more intently on providing seamless experience to users. But as the company talked to a range of different businesses, it realized that a seamless hybrid experience differed from industry to industry, Wright said.

"For life sciences, they wanted to know what we could do, not for customers, but customers' patients, or with governments, what we could do, not for them, but their citizens," Wright said. "We realized this kind of concept was something they knew from the past, if you think about the old corporate intranet where information was just presented to people. But now people need to process that information as well."

If chief experience officers end up dealing with many more permanent remote employees because of better remote software, ServiceNow plans to re-platform its recently acquired Mapwize to the Now Platform, the former being an indoor-mapping program for hot-desking employees as they reserve seats and workspaces. One analyst believes a melding of the two could reduce real estate expenses.

"Top of mind for many C-suites in managing hybrid work is managing real estate expenses," said Stephen Elliot, a group vice president with IDC. "CEOs have realized gains from employees not traveling, which many have grown comfortable with, but there are new business decisions to make with adjustments to real estate and energy concerns. Bringing together Rome (and Mapwize) could be advantageous."

Fitting in with the theme of accommodating the needs of remote workers, ServiceNow also introduced its Mobile App Builder, a low-code offering that allows third-party and in-house developers to create mobile applications for iOS and Android devices using a single interface on the ServiceNow Platform.

"You can build a mobile interface on the ServiceNow Platform and be able to create drag-and-drop components," Wright said. "And if you haven't before, we have added a guide that takes you through the process to build an app and deliver it quickly."

Robust Cloud's Carvalho agreed, saying the App Builder "is a good tool" for when there is no mobile access alternative built into the applications being used.

The Mobile App Builder might broaden out the ServiceNow developer ecosystem, specifically for mobile applications that can be created by internal developers and third parties.

"There's a big push to open up the aperture on application development on the Now Platform," Elliot said. "[ServiceNow] needs to make it easier for enterprises to create mobile apps more easily that can be used by remote workers."

Other AI offerings bundled with the new release include: Automation Discovery, which identifies the top 10 opportunities for automating work from over 180 topics with ServiceNow applications, including Virtual Agent and Agent Assist; and Health Log Analytics enhancements, which drive Service Operations with anomaly detection and suggested remediation across hybrid environments.

As Editor At Large with TechTarget's News Group, Ed Scannell is responsible for writing and reporting breaking news, news analysis and features focused on technology issues and trends affecting corporate IT professionals. He has also worked for 26 years at Infoworld and Computerworld covering enterprise class products and technologies from larger IT companies including IBM and Microsoft, as well as serving as Editor of Redmond for three years overseeing that magazine's editorial content.

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