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ServiceNow automation buy sparks questions about integration

ServiceNow just bought its way into machine learning and predictive analytics, but the company's integration plans raise some eyebrows among industry observers.

ServiceNow automation customers stand to benefit from the company's latest acquisition, but some industry watchers are skeptical about how quickly the new technology can be integrated.

ServiceNow, the IT service management company, has acquired DxContinuum, a small firm in Fremont, Calif. that specializes in machine learning and predictive analytics for sales and marketing lead generation. The acquisition will give ServiceNow automation capabilities for its help desk offerings, enabling it to autonomously handle low-level business and technical tasks. Industry watchers greeted the deal with optimism, but sounded a note of caution about the complexities of integrating the technology.

Integrating DxContinuum technology will automate the response to a help desk ticket without a human to process or even read the request, said Allan Leinwand, CTO of ServiceNow in Santa Clara, Calif.

But not everyone is ready to believe that this automation integration will succeed for some complex tasks.

"Color me skeptical -- it's a bold claim, and they need to make it, but outside of very simple break-fix, it's very hard to offer up automatic fixes generically," said Alex Witherspoon, vice president of platform engineering at FlightStats Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based company that provides real-time aviation data services. Witherspoon has experience with ServiceNow tickets, as they are used by FlightStats' parent company and some partners.

Witherspoon envisions a more likely use for the DxContinuum technology: A human pushes a button to trigger an automated workflow suggested by ServiceNow's product.

What they're targeting is a definite need in the market ... but I'm uncertain whether they can deliver on it without customer organizations cleaning up their data.
Carlos Casanovapresident, Casanova Advisory Services

"When it's configured well, and the training is there, from the customer perspective the experience can be amazingly good, fast and painless," Witherspoon said of ServiceNow's IT service management software. But, Witherspoon added, the company is also in a do-or-die situation as it looks to extend into adjacent markets with its offerings.

"These IT management solutions need better integrations, and they are playing catch-up," he said.

Meanwhile, some IT pros are skeptical about ServiceNow's plan to integrate the DxContinuum automation technology.

In principle the acquisition makes perfect sense, said Carlos Casanova, president of Casanova Advisory Services in Providence, R.I., co-author of The CMDB Imperative and a TechTarget contributor. Casanova has enterprise clients that run ServiceNow implementations and has also represented ServiceNow at trade shows through a mutual partner.

But Casanova questions the efficacy of a DxContinuum technology integration if the underlying data source quality is unstable. Some of his clients struggle with the process of migrating data from legacy systems into ServiceNow's configuration management database due to poor data quality that can sometimes be found in enterprises, he said.

"The DxContinuum algorithms will be pushed to their limits if they are dealing with large amounts of poor and unstable data quality," he said.

ServiceNow has partnerships with firms such as BDNA and Blazent to assist clients with data quality management. This can be an arduous batch-job process for large organizations, Casanova said.

"What they're targeting is a definite need in the market, so I am excited about seeing this," Casanova said of the acquisition. "But I'm uncertain whether they can deliver on it without customer organizations cleaning up their data, and if they can, how long will it take to amass the amount of stable data to generate results?"

For its part, ServiceNow said the questions about data cleansing are not relevant to the scenario of machine learning with DxContinuum.

ServiceNow's Leinwand said the DxContinuum technology will be integrated into ServiceNow's help desk platform by the end of 2017. A spokesperson for the company later said the plan is to focus on the automated categorization of events and requests in the system in that time frame.

An FAQ on the DxContinuum website says the company's model requires at least two years of historical data to offer insights, but the company said the IT operations data acquired by ServiceNow will lend itself more quickly to insights than that.

In a statement, ServiceNow said 95% of its current customers have enough data to benefit from DxContinuum's model.

As a software as a service (SaaS) company and a leader in the ITSM market, ServiceNow can draw from a big well of data. The addition of DxContinuum's algorithms could reveal valuable insights along vertical industry lines, said Robert Stroud, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. Leinwand said the company plans to get even more granular, and offer prioritized alerts for each customer.

That won't happen overnight. DxContinuum is a small shop with few resources and customers at this point, and it's not a proven technology yet in terms of its ability to scale, Stroud said.

Still, machine learning is all the rage in the IT management space, and ServiceNow had to build its own IP or do an acquisition in this space, Stroud said. This also will lead ServiceNow into further new markets, Stroud predicted.

"We're seeing more and more interest from clients about how to solve problems in back office environments such as HR and marketing using collaboration and workflow automation tools from IT," he said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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