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ServiceNow ITSM users recharge workflows with familiar tools

Digital transformation hasn't required Flex and the city of Santa Monica to replace the IT service management system they already had, and a new IT ops workflow is on the way.

Two ServiceNow ITSM customers reinvented their back-end workflows amid the upheaval of digital transformation without replacing their existing service management platform.

Modernizing IT services often requires new tools to support fundamental changes to IT workflows, but enterprises must weigh the benefits of updated tool sets against the implementation and training costs of transitioning away from products they have -- particularly those at the heart of their business management processes.

Some enterprises that encounter this dilemma have found that updating existing products with new add-on features is an easier and more affordable choice, and that regardless of the tool set they use, retraining people and refactoring processes are usually the most important factors in keeping up with the latest IT trends.

One such enterprise, electronics manufacturer Flex Ltd., headquartered in Singapore, added AIOps alert-reduction software from Loom to its ServiceNow IT service management (ITSM) platform in 2018. In 2020, ServiceNow acquired Loom, making AIOps a permanent part of that ITSM workflow, which Flex plans to expand beyond root cause analysis into auto-remediation.

Last year, the city of Santa Monica, Calif., faced the same urgency around modernizing IT workflows that most organizations encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city produced a new mobile app for citizens in four months for less than $25,000, in part because it stuck with its ServiceNow ITSM back end instead of seeking a new vendor.

Both customers said they plan to evaluate a new Service Operations Workspace integration that links ServiceNow's ITSM and IT operations management (ITOM) products, which shipped this month, to promote more collaboration between service desk teams and IT ops.

"We're adding more and more to the ServiceNow [toolchain]," said Joseph Cevetello, CIO for the city of Santa Monica. "That was a conscious decision, because it's an extensible platform, and it's good to have similar systems operating under the same umbrella."

ServiceNow's Service Operations Workspace dashboard
ServiceNow customers plan to evaluate a new integration between its ITSM and ITOM tools, Service Operations Workspace, released this month.

City of Santa Monica upgrades, expands ITSM

In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city found itself providing more virtual services to citizens, but struggled without a strong virtual interface. It added that interface with a new 311 mobile app, developed with ServiceNow consultants and a third-party developer. The app connects directly to the ServiceNow back end via the Customer Service Management tool.

"Typically, those 311 apps are separate, standalone applications that you then [use] to open up an incident, but you don't necessarily work the incident and resolve it within that same system," Cevetello said. "I challenged ServiceNow [and said], 'I want to use my workflow engine, to be able to expose it to the public so that it's all one system [and] take advantage of what we already had.'"

I challenged ServiceNow [and said], 'I want to use my workflow engine, to be able to expose it to the public so that it's all one system [and] take advantage of what we already had.'
Joseph CevetelloCIO, City of Santa Monica

Connecting the city's mobile app to its ServiceNow back end wasn't the only effort to expand the platform and improve its efficiency. The city also recently completed a project to update the infrastructure that underlies the ITSM system, bringing the city's configuration management database (CMDB) up to speed with ServiceNow's Common Service Data Model (CSDM). CSDM, first introduced by the vendor in 2017, was integrated with its CMDB in 2020.

Using the CSDM format makes for a simpler, more organized, well-integrated approach to using ServiceNow's various products that attach to the CMDB, Cevetello said.

"We were getting very customized," Cevetello said. "Especially with something like ServiceNow, I'm all about being as out of the box as possible as we continue to expand the complexity of the ecosystem that we're on with ServiceNow."

The consolidated back end and another ongoing effort to overhaul the city's Service Portal user interface will set the stage for adding further products from ServiceNow and third parties to the platform, including ServiceNow's ITOM. The city will also consider a new Service Operations Workspace, rolled out this month under the San Diego release of the Now Platform, that links IT ops and service desk workflows into a single interface. This interface also builds in chat and video conferencing using Microsoft Teams, which the city's service desk employees already use.

"There are definitely efficiencies that we can gain by having a single interface that people spend more time in ... rather than going outside the tool into Teams or picking up the phone," Cevetello said.

Flex augments ITSM with AIOps

Manufacturing enterprise Flex Ltd., formerly known as Flextronics, began using ServiceNow ITSM more than 10 years ago, early in the product's evolution.

"The way we used to monitor was very static," said Eswar Reddy, Flex's senior director of IT operations. "We used to have static thresholds, and alerts were tied to those thresholds. Now, the system is learning; even if the overall system load is 15%, if there's suddenly a spike to 20%, it sends an alert."

That updated monitoring integration with ITSM came with Health Log Analytics (HLA) -- a feature that put Flex on a path to automated root cause analysis and, eventually, self-healing systems, Reddy said.

"We have correlation across layers -- the application, database, storage, network, all of the infrastructure layers, along with transactions and user behavior -- that we are able to see right away [if there's an incident]," he said. "As soon as there is an alarm, the system gives you a root cause where the issue is likely to be, so we zero in on that easily."

So far, the self-healing functions performed by HLA have been relatively simple and straightforward at Flex, as with other enterprise AIOps early adopters, encompassing simple tasks such as triggering bots to perform automatic system restarts. AIOps correlations mostly inform human operators, whether illuminating the likely root cause of problems or highlighting user behavior trends that affect system resilience.

Reddy's team will still pursue AIOps' original self-healing vision, but he said it has taken longer to arrive than most people in the industry expected.

"I think it was definitely oversold," Reddy said. "It takes a lot of effort to get our existing team members to adopt it and see the benefits, and tune alerts to make sure that really true alerts are coming up and showing up in our dashboard."

Flex might eventually add the Service Operations Workspace, provided that it's well integrated with HLA, Reddy added.

"Since we are using ITOM and ITSM, our team is already using the Operator Workspace for daily HLA alerts monitoring," he said. "I am hoping to see the same dashboard populate with ITSM events as well soon so that it becomes a single dashboard to manage, which means greater productivity for our ops team."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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