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Tackle over-customization and return to out-of-box ServiceNow solutions

If you think your organization has challenges with complexity, you are not alone. In a survey of 2,500 business leaders, two-thirds said their organizations were too complex and inefficient.

For many organizations, this complexity may be from common roadblocks of over-customization after implementing powerful tools like ServiceNow. To maximize the benefits of your ServiceNow investment, it’s crucial to address these issues head-on. Fixing over-customization means balancing platform adaptation with cost-effectiveness and industry standards.

Christine MorrisIn this article, we’ll explore tips from ServiceNow veteran Christine Morris, shared in a recent interview. She discussed common challenges associated with over-customization, along with strategies for reverting to out-of-box (OOB) ServiceNow solutions. This return to OOB can help you regain efficiency, reduce complexity, and ultimately unlock the full potential of your ServiceNow platform.

With over 20 years of experience in information technology, Christine is the senior director of platform and service management at Cask, a leading ServiceNow Elite Partner. She leads a team of functional experts and architects who deliver innovative and value-driven solutions across the ServiceNow ecosystem.

Understanding the pitfalls of over-customization

Organizations often find themselves caught in a dilemma. They customize their ServiceNow platforms extensively, believing it’s the path to meet their unique needs and achieve maximum efficiency. As time passes, new features and functionality are introduced, and these customizations can become more of a problem than an advantage.

The result is a system that’s bogged down, unable to take advantage of the latest capabilities. The upgrade process is cumbersome, and the system is too complex to manage effectively. “People took the advice that customization is good, and they followed that path and went over the top with extensive customization,” Christine says.

Over the years, many organizations have embraced the ServiceNow platform, initially encouraged to customize and tailor it to their specific requirements. This approach allowed for a high degree of flexibility and customization but set the stage for potential issues down the road.

In Christine’s experience, it was common for organizations to build custom tables, task types, and custom pieces of software within ServiceNow. This resulted in platforms that were highly customized but also extremely challenging to maintain, upgrade, and adapt to new features.

Signs you need to reconsider customization

As a top cloud-based platform that provides technical management support to large corporations, ServiceNow is the backbone for roughly 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies. However, just because ServiceNow is a powerful tool that helps businesses succeed doesn’t mean owners don’t create problems from over-customizing ServiceNow.

Returning to OOB solutions in ServiceNow means rolling back some of these customizations, removing unnecessary complexities, and restoring the software to its default settings. This process can help organizations streamline their operations, improve platform performance, reduce risks associated with custom code, and ensure compatibility with future software updates and enhancements.

The decision to return to OOB solutions often happens when organizations encounter specific challenges. Here are some signs that your organization might be in a position where over-customization is impeding progress:

  1. Inability to leverage new features: As the ServiceNow platform evolved and introduced new features and functionalities, organizations with extensive customizations found themselves needing help to take advantage of these capabilities. If your organization can’t embrace innovation in the same way, this can put you at a significant competitive disadvantage.
  2. Unusable service catalogs: One area where over-customization often occurs is in the service catalog. Customizations in this area can restrict your organization from efficiently offering services, resulting in a subpar employee or customer experience.
  3. Workspaces that don’t work: Customizing views and forms to an extreme degree can prevent your organization from benefiting from features like the new ServiceNow workspaces, which are designed to enhance productivity and collaboration.
  4. Integration and dependency challenge: Over time, complex customizations can lead to integration and dependency challenges. If your organization is struggling to maintain a web of interconnected components, it may be time to reevaluate your customization approach.

Determining your path forward: Unwind or start fresh?

Once you’ve identified the challenges stemming from over-customization, it’s crucial to determine your organization’s path forward. There are typically two main options for addressing over-customization: unwinding customizations or starting fresh.

Unwinding customizations involves identifying and undoing specific customizations that are no longer serving your organization’s needs. Given the complexity of intertwined customizations, this approach is like finding a needle in a haystack, Christine says.

Starting fresh, or “greenfield” implementation, is a more comprehensive approach. It includes building a new instance of your service management platform, often with minimal or no customizations. This approach provides a clean slate for adopting OOB features and best practices.

Securing funding for the transition

Transitioning from over-customization to an out-of-box approach often requires financial investment. To secure funding for these strategies, consider the following tips from Christine:

  • Align with organizational goals: Ensure your transition aligns with your organization’s strategic objectives. Emphasize how this change will enhance the employee or customer experience and drive efficiency.
  • Build a solid business case: Construct a compelling business case that outlines the benefits of moving away from over-customization. Highlight how leveraging new features and automation can lead to cost savings and operational improvements.
  • Evaluate cost offsets: Identify opportunities to offset costs. For example, if you’re moving to virtual agent capabilities and reducing the load on your service desk, showcase how this change can result in significant savings over time.

Handling data and records during the transition

A critical aspect of transitioning away from over-customization is dealing with existing data and records. Understand your organization’s data constraints, such as data retention policies. Ensure compliance while making informed decisions about data migration.

It’s also important to resist the temptation to migrate old data directly from a heavily customized system. “Attempting to migrate old data from a customized system to a new clean one often means you’re just importing those customizations,” says Christine. Doing so often carries over unnecessary customizations and defeats the purpose of starting fresh.

Finally, consider storing old data in a separate SQL database or using ServiceNow’s capabilities to archive or migrate essential data while maintaining access for historical purposes.

Preventing over-customization moving forward

To prevent over-customization in the future, it’s important to implement a robust governance framework.

“Establishing an effective governance board to make comprehensive platform decisions is crucial, instead of indiscriminately granting administrative privileges to everyone,” says Christine. One of the tips Christine has learned is leveraging the valuable insights and best practices in governance roles from ServiceNow’s Customer Success website.

Here are three essential steps to consider when implementing a governance framework:

  1. Establish a governance board: Create a governance board responsible for making platform-wide decisions. Avoid granting administrative rights to too many individuals, as this can lead to chaotic customizations.
  2. Develop a strategy: Start with a strategic approach before making customizations. Consider the long-term impact and downstream consequences of each customization.
  3. Educate and train users: Provide training and resources to administrators and developers to help them make informed decisions about customizations and their implications.

Addressing over-customization and transitioning to OOB solutions can be a daunting task, but it’s essential to ensure your organization can take full advantage of its ServiceNow platform.

By identifying the signs of over-customization, determining the right path forward, securing funding, and implementing a strong governance framework, you can pave the way for a more efficient, agile, and future-ready IT service management environment. Ultimately, the goal is to unlock the platform’s true potential while maintaining a streamlined and manageable solution that meets your organization’s evolving needs.

Ready to simplify your ServiceNow experience?

If your ServiceNow instance feels weighed down by heavy customizations, Cask is here to navigate your path forward with a low-cost assessment.

Let our experts identify the most strategic approach to reinvigorate your ServiceNow solutions, ensuring you stay aligned with industry best practices while cutting unnecessary costs.

Connect with us today to start your journey back to streamlined operations and optimized performance.

We’re with you for what comes next

You're working in a rapidly shifting environment.

Global dynamics, AI advancements, heavy competition–the only certainty is change.

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

Let's navigate the future together.


We’re with you for what comes next

You're working in a rapidly shifting environment.

Global dynamics, AI advancements, heavy competition–the only certainty is change.

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

Let's navigate the future together.


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