ServiceNow pulls on its platforms, talks up machine learning, analytics in biggest release since ex-SAP boss took reins

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As is the way with the 21st century, IT companies are apt to get meta and ServiceNow is no exception.

In its biggest product release since the arrival of SAP revenue-boosting Bill McDermott as new CEO, the cloudy business process company is positioning itself as the "platform of platforms". Which goes to show, if nothing else, that platformization also applies to platforms.

To avoid plunging into an Escher-eque tailspin of abstraction, it is best to look at what Now Platform Orlando actually does and who, if anyone, it might help.

The idea is that ServiceNow's tools make routine business activity much easier and slicker. To this the company is adding intelligence, analytics and AI, it said.

bill mcdermott formerly of SAP

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Take the arrival of a new employee. They might need to be set up on HR and payroll systems, get access to IT equipment and applications, have facilities management give them the right desk and workspace, be given building security access and perhaps have to sign some legal documents.

Rather than multiple people doing each of these tasks with different IT systems, ServiceNow will make one poor soul do it using its single platform, which accesses all the other prerequisite applications, said David Flesh, ServiceNow product marketing director.

It is also chucking chatbots at that luckless staffer. In January, ServiceNow bought Passage AI, a startup that helps customers build chatbots in multiple languages. It is using this technology to create virtual assistants to help with some of the most common requests that hit HR and IT service desks, for example – password resets, getting assess to Wi-Fi, that kind of thing.

This can also mean staffers don't have to worry where they send requests, meaning if, for example, they've just found out they're going to become a parent, they can fire questions at an agent rather than HR, their boss or the finance team. The firm said: "Agents are a great way for employees find information and abstracts that organizational complexity."

ServiceNow has also introduced machine learning, for example, in IT operations management, which uses systems data to identify when a service is degrading and what could be causing the problem. "You get more specific information about the cause and suggested actions to take to actually remediate the problem," Flesh said.

Customers looking to use this feature will still have to train the machine learning models on historic datasets from their operations and validate models, as per the usual ML pipeline. But ServiceNow makes the process more graphical, and comes with its knowledge of common predictors of operational problems.

Lastly, analytics is a new feature in the update. Users can include key performance indicators in the workflows they create, and the platform includes the tools to track and analyse those KPIs and suggest how to improve performance. It also suggests useful KPIs.

Another application of the analytics tools is for IT teams - traditionally the company's core users - monitoring cloud services. ServiceNow said it helps optimise organisations' cloud usage by "making intelligent recommendations on managing usage across business hours, choosing the right resources and enforcing usage policies".

With McDermott's arrival and a slew of new features and customer references, ServiceNow is getting a lot of attention, but many of these technologies exist in other products.

There are independent robotic process automation (RPA) vendors who build automation into common tasks, while application vendors are also introducing automation within their own environments. But as application and platform upgrade cycles are sluggish, and RPA has proved difficult to scale, ServiceNow may find a receptive audience for its, er, platform of platforms. ®

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