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Getting back to out-of-box

Your Host:

Sean Dawson

Our Guest:

Christine Morris

Christine Morris joins Sean Dawson as they uncover the challenges of over-customized ServiceNow instances. Hear their insights on identifying when it's time for a “re-platform,” evaluating costs and funding options, handling legacy data, and establishing governance frameworks. Christine draws on her deep experience leading IT for global enterprises to provide practical strategies for unwinding customizations. Tune in to learn how to tap into ServiceNow's full potential by getting back to basics.

SEAN: Welcome to the Cask Distillery podcast, where we unlock the full potential of ServiceNow, with expert insights and practical strategies only here on the Cask Distillery Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Dawson. I’m a client architect here at Cask. And we’re going to be talking today about getting back to out of box. You know, so many platforms out there can be over-customized, and poor functionality has been broken: You can’t upgrade, you can’t use new features and functionality.

And I have with me today a very special guest: Christine Morris. And Christine has 20 years of experience as IT leader for Fortune 500 organizations across a broad range of industry segments. And in addition, she’s been a platform owner for a global manufacturer. And I get to call her a coworker. We work a lot together. So welcome, Christine. Thanks for coming.

CHRISTINE: Thanks, Sean. It’s great to be here.

SEAN: Yeah, it’s gonna be fun. And I wanna start out kind of high level, you know, like, what is replatforming at a high level? Like, what is it all about? And we’re gonna dive deep into it, but what is it at a high level? So people understand what we’re talking about.

CHRISTINE: Well, you know, the ServiceNow platform has been out for many, many years, and early on in, you know, the platform days, it was “You can do anything with ServiceNow,” and you were encouraged to customize. And so, you know, what’s really happened at this point is that people took that advice, and they customized. And they built custom tables. And they built custom scope types. And they built, you know, tons and tons of custom pieces of software. And then ServiceNow kind of took a turn and really started iterating on future releases, growing the platform out to expand way past just the fundamental ITSM ticketing system into, you know, really, you know, kind of an ERP. And you know what? You know, for clients that had been on since those days of customization craziness, they couldn’t even take advantage of those features.

So I myself was a platform owner. You know, I, we had, I think, every module under the sun, and we had customized and customized. And, you know, every time a new release would come out, you’d get excited, you’d go look, and you realize, “I can’t use this.” So, you know, what ends up happening is you have to make a decision at some point to say, “Is it time to try and go to a green field?” So there’s kind of a couple different ways you can do it. You know, there’s trying to unwind what you’ve customized—which is very much like a needle-in-a-haystack kind of scenario—or starting fresh.

SEAN: So, is there, like, for those listeners out there and people watching this online, who, how do I identify who should be considering this?

CHRISTINE: Well, I guess it’s really, you know, really the . . . those early adopters, you know, folks that have been on the platform for a long time, especially, you know, pre-Aspen release days, when releases didn’t even have a city name. You know, it’s those folks that have attempted to branch out past ITSM and introduce new features and found that it won’t work—you know, it’s ultimately not going to function due to those customizations.

SEAN: And you had mentioned this earlier—kind of in the beginning—is ServiceNow features that won’t be available. It—there’s a risk to it—but what have you seen in the market for features like customers that have gotten caught and couldn’t do things? Any examples of so people could, like, go, “Oh yeah, that’s me.” Anything, you know, as an example that you can share that you’ve seen with features that aren’t available and how it impacts people?

CHRISTINE: Yeah, I mean, I think from, you know, customizations of the service catalog is a huge one. You know, people have, you know, I think there are a lot of partners out there that have these prebuilt customization catalog accelerators. And, you know, a lot of times what we’re seeing is, you know, people can’t even use the fundamentals of the system anymore. So, you know, catalog is one that’s, you know, really grown and is really fundamental for the platform. I think, you know, the workspaces—so, some people have just customized their views and customized their forms to such a degree that they attempt to start using the wonderful new workspaces, and they can’t even use those.

SEAN: Is there anything organizations should consider when they’re replatforming? Like, kind of boxing it in? Like, what are the things that they should be worried about thinking about when considering replatforming?

CHRISTINE: So, it really has to start with, you know, a comprehensive assessment of your current instance, you know, so that you can really make that decision as to whether it’s, you know, is it time to replatform, or can I undo some of these customizations? You know, you have to look at the, you know, the dictionaries of the various tables, You have to look at the integrations, the dependencies across the various modules, you know, and really understand what you’ve done from a customization standpoint, so that you can really identify those pain points and their challenges and figure out, you know, that’s when we have to decide,
“OK, is this an unwind situation, or is this, let’s start with a new greenfield?” 

You know, one of the things that we commonly see is that folks have to, you know, in some instances, because the platform is wonderful, they’ve built amazing things that they may want to take with them. So it’s evaluating, you know, do you really, is this something that’s continuing to give value and doesn’t really have a place, you know, a current place or home on the new platform?

SEAN: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think you kind of alluded to it already is, with the assessment, that’s kind of how an organization would figure out how bad it is. Because I—sometimes, you don’t know until you’re, like, really analyze it. So how—on the other side of this is how do we know if you’re gonna start over or unwind? 

CHRISTINE: So, I mean, I think it’s really bringing in a partner: somebody who really understands, you know, what the platform is doing and can evaluate those backend tables and figure out, you know, what’s there. Have we done just a custom—a couple custom integrations or a couple custom fields that can just be undone? Or is it, you know, is it, you know, tons and tons of information? And one of the other kind of helpful tools for that is, you know, doing a health check with ServiceNow where they can run their tool and really kind of see how far you are off from, you know, a configuration versus customization perspective. 

And then it’s evaluating. It’s evaluating. The cost is another piece of it. So, you know, if you’re going to unwind and it’s small, you know, then it’s a cheap and easy approach. If you really—you know, I think what typically happens when we do these, you know, assessments for our clients is that it’s not easy because of all the cross-platform things. So, it’s evaluating what value, you know, what features can you take advantage of and really kind of figuring out what that business case is.

SEAN: Yeah. And that leads me to my next question. Because you mentioned about financials and thinking about the cost of it. But, and I know you went through this in your career, but how do you go about getting funding when you do need to go back to out of box? Like, let’s say you’ve looked at it. You’ve assessed it. You’re, like, gosh, this is gonna be, you know, this amount of money may be bigger or smaller than you expected. But how would you, how would you recommend getting funding when you do need to go out of the box? Go back to out of the box.

CHRISTINE: So, one, it’s understanding, you know, your organization’s, you know, goals and things that they’re looking to achieve. So in many instances, you know, you’re, they’re looking to enhance the employee experience. You know, so having, you know, line items from a planning perspective that really resonate with your leadership team is huge. I think that that’s a big piece of it. And then it’s understanding, you know, what parts of the platform or what features you’re gonna take advantage of that, in the end, result in actual cost savings. So if it’s something as simple as moving to Virtual Agent, you know, and you have an outsourced service desk where every phone call is a cost and has a dollar value, you know, so using some of those new features to kind of offset the cost of replatforming is, you know, I think, one of the things that we’ve seen most successful because, in the end, if you’re—

SEAN: So building kind of a . . . go ahead, 

CHRISTINE: I mean, in the end, if you’re introducing features that are ultimately, you know, doing automations, you know, shifting calls away from the service desk, enhancing that self-service feature in many instances, it can pay for itself. And it’s, you know, figuring out that that model just, you know, so that you can show.

SEAN: So it’s looking forward, too. It’s not just—what I’m hearing you say is don’t think about just fixing what you’ve got but what you’re gaining out of it as well. Like, what are the features, and then, you know, utilizing even, you know, your ServiceNow team to figure out what the ROI is for those new features and business value and helping justify it that way. But it’s not just a cost. But it could generate revenue, you know, depending on the feature. That totally makes sense.

So since we’re talking about platforming and, you know, we could be getting new features, but what happens to all the data and the records that we have today when we’re considering this? If we’re gonna be doing a reboot or a zboot or, you know, refactoring, what do we need to be thinking about?

CHRISTINE: So, I think it’s really important in that planning phase when you’re, you know, starting to look at replatforming, is to figure out, you know, one, what are, what are your organization’s constraints around data? You know, do you have to keep your change management records for three years? So, understanding that is gonna be key. But then it’s, you know, if you take old data from a customized system and try and put it into a new, clean system, what often happens is you’re just carrying over customizations. 

So, you know, there’s a couple of different ways that we encourage—we don’t—we encourage folks not to bring that old data, because, you know, there was a reason you were getting away from it. And there’s a couple of different mechanisms, you know. Of course, you can store it in an SQL database somewhere so folks still have access to it. You can also, you know, take that ticket data if, you know—especially if you’re an ITSM Pro customer of ServiceNow—you can actually import ticket data into performance analytics. So you still have your data and your analytics there. But, you know, you’re not pulling in all those custom fields and, you know, muddying up your clean tables that you’re trying to get to.

SEAN: Yeah, I understand. So, the next area that I wanted to get into here with you is kind of on the preventative side. You know, we might have listeners thinking, “Sell, gosh, I don’t want to end up here.” So what would you say is the process to address over-customization?

CHRISTINE: So, I guess the biggest piece is really having the right governance and framework. You know, one of the things that we see, you know, with clients is that they give out, you know, admin rights to everyone, you know. You go in, there’s like 30 different administrators. When you’ve got that many cooks in the kitchen, you know, the recipe, it’s a recipe for disaster.

So it’s having the right governance framework, you know, so that you’re making wise decisions. You’re not customizing, you know, and one of the things that, you know, as we partner with our clients, it’s, you know, getting that strategy and that approach in place first. So that when, you know, because any developer—developers love to make cool stuff, but the developers don’t always think about what is the downstream impacts. What are you gonna do to yourself, you know, three releases down the road? So having that governance board that’s really going to make decisions for the platform holistically is critical—and not handing out administrative rights to everyone.

You know, people, you know, there’s a lot more features within the platform now where you can give somebody, you know, the ability to create a catalog item but not necessarily, you know, hose up your backend and put you in a situation that you can’t get out of.

SEAN: Yeah. Yeah. And I think we mentioned customization first, but when we talk about avoiding, you know, needing to replatform, it’s kind of that customization. Replatforming is not just about customization. But let’s say they went down a road that they needed to go because, you mentioned earlier, things weren’t available at the time. And now, all of a sudden, we’ve got to reverse it. So we can’t really avoid that. 

But you mentioned something. When we talk about avoidance or “watching out for,” this is governance. And within the governance framework, what are some resources, you know, listeners can go to to look up what governance is? What do they need to consider? What roles needs to be there? Like, with ServiceNow, is there any area you’d recommend, you know, our listeners go towards and get some more information on that? 

CHRISTINE: I mean, ServiceNow has got a great site called their “Customer Success.” So it’s got a lot of, you know, kind of prebuilt models, best practice information on what those roles are from a governance perspective that can really help you set that appropriate structure in place.

SEAN: OK, great. Because I think that will help. I think it really helps our listeners to know where to go, because a lot of times we get questions after these episodes come out, it’s like “Where do we go for that stuff?” So, that’s great. Thank you for that suggestion. 

So that’s it for our time today. Thank you so much, Christine, for joining us, and thanks for the time.

CHRISTINE: Great to be here. Thank you.

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We’re with you for what comes next

You're working in a rapidly shifting environment.

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We get it. And we’re here to help you harness the full potential of ServiceNow to simplify transformation.

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