Driving IT Service Automation through ServiceNow
ServiceNow is pretty well established as the world’s leading IT ServiceDesk platform and a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for ITSM. However, like any enterprise IT management toolset, it requires a considered investment in terms of design input and resources to fully leverage the benefits. In this blog I’ll walk through a few common use cases to provide a better insight into how it can transform our ways of working – in this case for IT operations.
If we take IT asset management as a starting point – how many organisations have a complete picture of how many desktop or data centre assets they have, where they are located, who owns them and what software is running on them? So, the ServiceNow journey starts with Discovery – an automated discovery component which will not only discover end user, data centre and network components but it will intelligently feed them into the ServiceNow CMDB in the correct format. Meaning that the data is now available to a whole range of stakeholders via ServiceNow including:
Software Asset Management (SAM) takes this further by also collecting and collating license utilisation information. Organisations can use SAM to reconcile and optimise software license utilisation for Microsoft, VMware, Citrix, Oracle and leading software vendors. This can make vendor audits much less painful and, most importantly, ensure that there are sufficient licenses to run key services. It’s not a good look when you run out of licenses when users are trying to get a VDI session.
Once ServiceNow has built up a picture of IT assets the next step is to look at some of the proactive IT management functions which it can perform, starting with Event Management.
Event Management has been around as a concept forever. But for many organisations it still looks like a manual, reactive, people-centric function. Like many event aggregators, ServiceNow can take feeds from multiple sources such as network management tools, security platforms, system logs, data protection services, VMware, Azure and AWS. But there are a number of features which make it a more compelling proposition than standalone event aggregators.
Service Mapping automatically groups devices, servers and applications into ‘business service’ views like Payroll, HR, Email etc. This makes it easy for stakeholders to see the health of their services. There is little point in generating thousands of alerts if a. no-one is actioning them and b. stakeholders can’t see a digestible view of what is going on.
Operational Intelligence provides an additional layer of functionality by applying machine learning to the collected data. It assesses what would be considered normal behaviour and sets dynamic thresholds, including seasonal adjustments, so that potential service outages can be identified and reported.
In addition to flagging potential issues in a console, Event Management seamlessly integrates with ServiceNow ITSM so that incidents and major incidents are automatically registered, and the appropriate communication protocols followed. Of course, this means that once alerts are in the ITSM, there is a clear record and nowhere to hide in terms of event-generated incidents being swept under the carpet...
Helpfully, ServiceNow’s AI’s engine intelligently categorises and routes cases to the correct team for resolution. This intelligence minimises the potential for the wrong classification of an incident or the misallocation of cases and helps to reduces routing and resolution time.
Orchestration can play a role in further reducing operational overhead. Orchestration has the ability to perform a wide range of automation activities from simple password reset and user management to Active Directory tasks, resource provisioning (e.g. VMware, SQL, Azure), containerisation and release automation and SaaS and social platforms. This can be at 2 levels – automating a response to an event or incident or simply automating a new request for a resource.
Building on Orchestration, ServiceNow also has a comprehensive Cloud Management function. This facilitates the automated provisioning and management of multi-cloud server and application environments. It integrates seamlessly with existing DevOps and containerisation technologies. But it also helps to address one of the most common challenges of public cloud – controlling spend – through the ability to set budget thresholds and control spend across multi-cloud environments. The benefit of Cloud Management is that it integrates natively with other components such as Discovery (of assets) which means that server and application resources can be tracked and reported from a single source.
Most of what I have covered relates to the management of data centre and cloud environments. But the importance of the end user features of ServiceNow ITSM should not be overlooked in terms of reducing operational overhead.
This starts with an intuitive Self-service Portal where end users are able to search interactive knowledge bases for guidance, troubleshooting tips and information. But this only works if you create meaningful content and continue to maintain it and keep it fresh and relevant.
A slick Service Catalogue offers users a source for self-serve functions - the ability to log issues, request a new device, a desktop application, access to resources, a new user account or even a new server or application environment – the list is endless. Behind this sits ServiceNow’s powerful workflow designer to enable automation of these functions – for example by calling functions in Office365 or Microsoft SCCM.
Where a user doesn’t utilise the self-service portal, ServiceNow has an intelligent Virtual Agent. This can handle relatively complex, natural language interactions with users. A crucial benefit of the Virtual Agent within ServiceNow is that it will have contextual information about the end user already such as device type, applications installed, location etc.
Underpinning the Virtual Agent platform is a powerful graphical designer for mapping out conversational topics - and it is worth applying some design effort here to establish the most common engagement scenarios, for example ‘How do I access the guest WIFI on the 3rd floor?’. It is possible to take this further through integration with digital voice assistants, though this is probably more practical for homeworkers than for office-based users.
This is just a quick snapshot of some of the key features of ServiceNow relating to IT operations. As a CIO imagine the ability to view IT asset and software licensing data, monitor application availability and performance, track cloud utilisation and spend, and to analyse detailed service performance within a single platform. In many ways it really is the digitalisation of IT provision, which is what we should all be surely aiming for.
- by Alan Stock, who heads up Novosco's ServiceNow practice