7 min

Digital transformation is huge, getting bigger and is the key to the future of business. Nothing exactly new in that suggestion, and neither is there much new about the suggestion that such success hangs on a strong focus on platforms – which in practice will mean the emergence of one, dominant platform to provide the necessary unification. After all, it has been the model for how technology gets its feet under the corporate tables since the emergence of Microsoft Windows.

It is also nothing exactly new when a company claims to be a platform provider. Since the centre-stage of IT implementations filled with cloud services it has become increasingly difficult to find a tech vendor that does not claim to offer a `platform’.

Tip: Nobody knows what ServiceNow does, or what it can do for you

But there usually comes a time when one company makes the bold claim to be `the one’, the company capable of dominating a technology or service, the big gorilla in a burgeoning marketplace. That was the bottom line of the ServiceNow Knowledge Conference, held in The Hague, Netherlands, and CEO, Bill McDermott, turned up in person to deliver the message.

That fact alone demonstrated a degree of seriousness on the part of ServiceNow in getting that message across, but that is perhaps only to be expected. More important is the future position of the platform he is promoting. In the same way that Windows, and MS-DOS before it, gave applications developers a common platform on which to base their developments, it also allowed users to start building systems that were both uniquely matched to their requirements and constructed from common components that rapidly reached commodity status. For many users, the results were far more valuable than the sum of the parts, and that is the mark of a good and successful platform.

It is also the stated goal for ServiceNow, the development of not just the operational systems management element that makes sure it runs, but the full orchestration of increasingly automated `business workflow’. It is likely to be the all-important anchor for just about every business application, and will probably extend into every consumer device as well to ensure collaborative operation and security. It will also extend down into IoT and the emergence of Edge Computing as a key component of managing the limitless complexities of orchestration that will inevitably result.

This is, whichever way you look at it, a bold claim for McDermott to make, for the target is likely to end up as the lynchpin of most future information infrastructures for many years to come.

Ops management, plus a great deal more

McDermott also sees the new San Diego platform from ServiceNow as the platform on which flexible but reliable digital transformation can be undertaken. Speaking during his keynote presentation he quoted Management Consultants, McKinsey: “They have stated clearly that a company that runs on an integrated platform will run 100 times faster than a company that doesn’t.”

He suggested that platform-based transformation could be a $12 trillion market where the platform is the glue that can unite different applications, services, divisions and complete companies in delivering across omni-channel outlets. He suggested that, for most businesses, the time had come when if they did not invest now, they will fall behind in the mid-term and won’t be around in the long term. Yes, it is a threat, but with the pace of change now in motion it is a real threat, with the only difference being the timescales will vary between different market sectors…..though not by much.

In McDermott’s view another factor pointing at the importance of a common platform as the foundation of future business activity is the growth of the `citizen developer’.

Citizen developers are writing code on the ServiceNow platform to build new applications on the fly. There’ll be 750 million of them built in the next three years alone.

“Citizen developers are writing code on the ServiceNow platform to build new applications on the fly. There’ll be 750 million of them built in the next three years alone, it’s very important that we get involved in this to help build applications onto the platform,” he said, adding that in its latest, San Diego incarnation, it now had the Robotic Process Automation, process mining, AI operations, and  Machine Learning tools embedded into it to provide the high levels of compliance and Governance controls to ensure that those Citizen Developers do not step outside operational boundaries with encoded flights of fancy. What is more, he was adamant that it can do this `at mass scale’.

Also read: ServiceNow fully enters low-code market with App Engine Studio

“And there has never, ever been, I think, an effective coming together, as there is now, of applications built by pro developers and applications built by citizen developers. Usually the low code apps that have been built in waves tasked or spread out throughout the business. No one can get control of them. The governance is shoddy the security is non-existent.”

The Gorilla Question

There is a danger in the aspirations of a CEO such as McDermott: there beckons an enticing, substantial opportunity that spans most market sectors and technology implementation ever likely to be seen, and the urge to want to totally dominate can often be seen to rise up. At the post keynote Q&A session with the press, he was asked whether the ServiceNow plan revolved around the objective of becoming the global `big gorilla’ of platform providers, effectively eating the lunch of all the others. or did he see the company becoming the platform for platforms, acknowledging that there will be a strong and growing role for a wide range of specialised platforms?

In this latter role, the brand can often appear to slide gently into the background while new applications, services, and their attendant platforms, claim the glory. That, however, is the market he is targeting, for it is the classic Tolkienesque `one that will pull together and govern all the others’ which has to exist and be widely accepted if any of it, from here-onwards, is to work even remotely well.   

 “We integrate seamlessly with 650 of the largest platforms in the world. These platforms do things, companies invested in them. And they have no interest in ripping and replacing what they put a lot of thought into. What they do want to do, though, is they want a hyper-automation layer that enables all the things that they’ve invested in to be productive in this new environment. So we will be the platform of the platforms. Our interest is not in working against other platforms, our interest is in helping the customer achieve their digital transformation goals.”

Also read: ServiceNow focuses on iPaaS with IntegrationHub and Flow Designer

And highlighting another common quirk of the IT industry, where companies are launched with a goal that, in practice, technology is not yet capable of fulfilling. According to McDermott, this is exactly the market ServiceNow founder, Fred Luddy, had in mind – a low-code capable platform that will take and lift up value creation from other platforms. It is just that the technology, and the level of understanding of the user base were not yet in the right place.

He also sees such a platform playing an important role in what he terms `the talent war’, which he reckons is one of the biggest in the history of business.”You cannot take good enough care of your employees, there’s not a chance that you can, because you have to retain them, you have to inspire them, you have to onboard them properly, you have to train them, and you have to provision all the services, so they love your company and your culture.”

A key tool here will be AI. He sees it playing a major role in staff retention, particularly in roles where staff turnover his high. “Number one goes to the call centre, up to half the call centre turns over each year. Why do they leave? Because humans don’t want to do the tasks that the computer is supposed to do. There used to be this debate: is AI going to replace the people? No, AI is not going to replace the people. On the contrary, AI may be the very reason you get to retain the people and make the people much more productive. Because the computer now should solve 90 to 95% of the repeatable problems.”

You can’t possibly give your customers a Michelin three-star experience unless you first give your employees a Michelin three-star experience

He sees staff experience of a business as the other side of the classic customer experience issue, where to common point is that both can – and do – `resign’ from a business that is giving them an unsatisfactory or valueless experience. As McDermott observed:

“You can’t possibly give your customers a Michelin three-star experience unless you first give your employees a Michelin three-star experience. employee and customer are now co-joined in this digital transformation journey.”