Demystify application development in ServiceNow with Angie Williams and Sean Dawson. Hear them delve into the dynamics of overcoming technical debt and aligning digital strategies to business. They also discuss leveraging ServiceNow’s potential to innovate and create customer applications, along with finding the balance between custom development and leveraging ServiceNow’s capabilities. Tune in to illuminate your path towards innovation and seamless service delivery with application development.
SEAN DAWSON: Hello, and welcome to the Distillery podcast, where we unlock the full potential of ServiceNow, with expert insights and practical strategies, only on the Cask Distillery Podcast.
We’re gonna be talking today about solving the mystery of application development and ServiceNow. I’m your host, Sean Dawson. I’m a client architect here at Cask. And with me is someone that I work together with: Angi Williams. Welcome, Angi.
ANGI WILLIAMS: Hello. Thank you for having me.
SEAN: Angi is incredible. She has started out as an application developer in her career. She got her Masters of Science in IT at University of Virginia. She really worked around aligning digital to business strategy—which is one of the things that we’ll get into today—enterprise architecture, and had been working in the federal space even while at school. She became ultimately an ITIL four strategic leader and has over 20 years of consulting in the federal government and commercial spaces. Welcome, Angi, to the podcast.
And by the way, we’re gonna be talking with Angi today about solving the mystery of application development in ServiceNow.
So welcome, Angi. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today.
ANGI: Thank you, Sean. I’m happy to be here.
SEAN: And I love your background. I mean, you are, I know you’re traveling all the time, but my goodness. Thanks for, thanks for bringing this to us today.
ANGI: I’m happy to. It’s beautiful Washington State.
SEAN: Yeah, it looks great. I wish I was there. I’ll be, I’ll be on vacation soon.
What Is the Mystery?
SEAN: So, let’s get into, you know, our, you know, the mystery of application dev in ServiceNow. And the first thing I kind of wanted to talk to you about and ask your opinion on is, “What is the mystery all about with ServiceNow and app development in ServiceNow?”
ANGI: Really, there are several mysteries that really encapsulate ServiceNow in custom application development. One item is that sometimes the word “custom” has a negative connotation, when really, custom should be embraced as long as it is done the correct way.
Then the mystery so far as custom application development is concerned is, you know, “When do we need to make that decision, whether we’re going to use custom application development or leverage an existing ServiceNow product, or it might make sense to do a mixture of both?”
SEAN: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a good point. I remember different things in my career. It’s very similar, where you have to think about, “Are we gonna build, or are we gonna buy?” And you could also look at buying as a module or consulting or help doing it. So, yeah, there’s a lot to think about, but it’s a good point about doing it the right way is, is the key with that.
Why Custom Application Development?
SEAN: So is there anything else somebody should consider, you know, within custom application development or why? Why should they even consider it?
ANGI: Absolutely. There are several considerations. First of all, if there is a unique use case that is not a best fit to be developed on an existing PaaS or SaaS product in their enterprise ecosystem, then custom app development is a great option. Additionally, if the use case requires true innovative solutioning that does not already exist in the marketplace, that is another opportunity.
Then an interesting aspect about that as well is that if there are certain accessibility requirements for your users that cannot be achieved through an existing pass or SaaS product in your ecosystem, then you will want to determine if a custom app development is the best fit. Then finally, if the use case requires over-customizing an existing PaaS or SaaS product, such as ServiceNow, that would result in an application that cannot be easily maintained, enhanced, or scaled.
SEAN: Yep. And we call that, like, “technical debt,” right?
ANGI: Correct. Correct. That would result in technical debt.
SEAN: Yeah. And, I’ve also called it, like, painting yourself into a corner. When I’m talking to people about doing something custom, to your point, you want to do it right. You want to think about it and not paint yourself into a corner. So as you’re . . .
Best Place for Custom Application Development
SEAN: . . . two years down the road, and you’re trying to do something else, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, we have to either unravel and, you know, put resources towards it or sometimes even replace for certain tools, not necessarily ServiceNow.” But yeah, it’s definitely something great to think about.
So, is ServiceNow, in your mind, the best place for custom application development?
ANGI: Great question. So, for determining whether or not ServiceNow is the best choice for the custom application development, there are a few factors you will want to consider.
First of all, for a rapid time to value, with a high degree of flexibility. If you were looking for a shared data model, for example, will the custom application leverage an existing data model in the ServiceNow platform?
Also, you can leverage the automation engine where you can actually use widgets to develop a little bit faster than you would if you were doing a fully custom .net solution, for example. Again, if you want to have a scalable solution across all lines of business as well, you will want to look at ServiceNow for custom app development.
Additionally, another consideration is that if you already are invested in the ServiceNow platform and you want to extract the maximum value of your investment, then you want to consider your legacy applications and being able to develop them using ServiceNow’s automation engine. That way, you can also leverage that through innovation.
And then, finally, I would recommend looking at ServiceNow for app development if you see that there is an existing ServiceNow product and you’d like to leverage some of the functionality for your custom application. That’s another wonderful opportunity to leverage ServiceNow App Engine.
SEAN: As you were talking, I was thinking about, you know, the background of ServiceNow. And I don’t hear it as much I . . . I don’t hear this as much now as I used to, was “the platform of platforms.” And that was all centered around that ServiceNow could connect and really do anything. And that’s kinda what you’re talking about there, with App Engine and connecting, that ServiceNow was originally designed outside of ITSM. It was built to connect things and build things. And ITSM came first. So that fits right along with the great core of ServiceNow. It allows us to be able to kinda build anything we want really cleanly and connect to stuff and build. I love it.
App Engine or ServiceNow
SEAN: So, you had mentioned a couple of things. You have App Engine and existing ServiceNow product. So, should we use an existing ServiceNow product, or App Engine, or both?
ANGI: So, that’s where you will want to make that decision. And your consultant would be able to help determine what is the best combination, or is it solely using App Engine or solely using a ServiceNow out-of-the-box product such as ITSM. And that’s where the consultant will be able to analyze your specific use case and determine whether it would make the most sense to leverage functionality from an existing product and then also creating a custom application using App Engine.
SEAN: And on the other side, we had talked about, you know, is ServiceNow the best place for application development. But do you have any markers or callouts, you know, to point to know when ServiceNow is actually the right place to be at and the right place to build on?
So, a little bit of an an extension of that, if that makes sense, is there something to look for in that regards?
ANGI: It might be easier to put it in the context of when is ServiceNow App Engine not the best choice. And really, you would want to think if there is already a specific niche technical functionality already available in the market, such as CAD or Esri for geospatial products. Additionally, the other item that you want to consider is that you do not want to custom develop a solution if it’s already existing as a product and ServiceNow.
SEAN: Yeah, that, that makes sense. So another side of this is the, is the business objective. So what are some examples of business challenges solved through app development and ServiceNow that you’ve seen that we can, we can leverage and talk about and highlight so people can relate?
ANGI: Absolutely. So we have actually had the opportunity to develop hundreds of custom applications, leveraging App Engine as well as a combination of App Engine and additional products in the ServiceNow line. One of the most popular applications that we’ve done—actually, we’ve done it for many different clients—and that is reservation scheduling. And this could be for all different types of reservations. It could be scheduling for events such as conferences, meetings. It could be as simple as reserving a space for an internal meeting, or even for external users who may have the opportunity to leverage a space, for example, at a library.
And that is something that is not a directly out-of-the-box functionality in ServiceNow. However, it does have the ability to leverage workplace service delivery as well as create a custom application using App Engine. And an example of that, we do have a client that actually hosts large events that is available to watch on TV, with the entire world. They do need to manage VIPs. And for that, obviously, that’s not gonna fit necessarily nice and neatly in the ServiceNow WSD product. So we were able to leverage though the function from WSD, such as the calendar, which is a very powerful tool in there, as well as create the rest of the unique use-case requirements through App Engine.
Future of Application Development
SEAN: And I, as you were talking, I, you got me kind of thinking: We’re talking about existing things that we’ve done. But what about the the future? Is there anything you see coming in the future? I know, you know, ServiceNow has obviously got a road map. But what do you see coming in the future with regards to app dev, stuff that we’ve gotten from Knowledge 23, maybe some highlights of, hey, here’s some things to look forward to. Do you have any input there or anything that you saw from Knowledge that you, we could talk about here?
ANGI: I would say that one of the most interesting aspects that I think sometimes can be overlooked—well, when clients overlook accessibility, that is something that can actually have a financial impact to a company or to an organization. And that is where we can really leverage ServiceNow’s Application Engine to make sure that a solution can be developed so that your users will be able to have the same experience as those users who do not require accessibility considerations.
I know that ServiceNow puts quite a bit of effort into making sure that their products can be as accessible as possible without sacrificing the functionality. However, sometimes it’s going to be very challenging to meet all the accessibility requirements that your users may need. And that is where ServiceNow App Engine really does shine.
SEAN: So you’re talking, when you talk about accessibility, you’re talking about it from, like, a service portal or, you know, a front-facing thing, not exact, not like in UI16 or, you know, NextGen interface and stuff like that. We’re talking about customer-facing stuff. That’s great stuff. I know you put some effort into that too.
Is It Worth It?
SEAN: So I have one last question for you around how you uncover the value in application development. Like, how do we determine is it worth it?
ANGI: Great question. And that really is one of the most important aspects around determining whether it makes sense to use ServiceNow App Engine or to use a ServiceNow product or actually to use a combination.
So there are a few items you’ll want to consider. First of all, you want to make sure that you understand your business challenge and the audience to solve for. You also want to be able to conduct a success planning and evaluation to know what success looks like. What will the future state be? Also, you want to make sure that you conduct a gap analysis of the products that you’re reviewing to your need and determine where do the gaps exist, and can those gaps be met by doing custom application development using App Engine or a combination.
Another important aspect, and this is for both federal and commercial clients, is estimated time to value. Often, there may be regulations or congressional mandates that dictate when you must have that solution ready. And that’s where ServiceNow App Engine can really provide the benefits of being able to rapidly develop a solution to meet those federal regulations or congressional mandates.
Additionally, you’re going to want to consider what do you own in ServiceNow, and what does the platform already offer. That should be an important factor in decision-making.
Next—and this is another area where your ServiceNow consultant can really provide a quite a bit of value—and that is being able to review the ServiceNow road map. So they would actually take a look at what is to come in the ServiceNow product in the upcoming versions. They will want to consider the cost estimate of addressing technical debt and rework. Should they develop something in App Engine that may be forecasted to come out of ServiceNow’s existing product in a future version?
Additionally, along the same lines, tradeoffs: What innovation or opportunities are we missing if we develop something that may come in a future upgrade?
Next, you can also think about if the ServiceNow existing product doesn’t meet your need, you can leverage App Engine. And this, you will also want to think about, well, maybe the product doesn’t meet our need completely, but it has some great functionality that we can leverage. And that’s where you’ll want to consider whether using a combination of App Engine and functionality from an existing ServiceNow product might be the best bet.
Additionally, App Engine provides another benefit: It allows you to ride under the security umbrella of any existing security requirements, such as the authority to operate for the federal government. That way, you can actually leverage the security controls that are already implemented on the ServiceNow platform with just minor adjustments for your new application.
Finally, you can accelerate outcomes and reduce that technical debt. Everyone knows legacy platforms are very difficult and costly to update, to maintain. And if you are leveraging ServiceNow for App Engine to meet your business needs, then you can really avoid that technical debt that’s created by maintaining those old legacy platforms.
So really, I mean, ServiceNow is an innovation engine. It’s built to empower you to innovate and create customer applications, just like ServiceNow has done by creating/employing customer workflow, ITSM, and others. And a point that I would like to make, as we mentioned earlier about sometimes the negative connotation of the word “custom” or “customized,” ServiceNow is meant to be configured in or customized using best practices and value scores to decide whether to pursue proposed customizations. And you really can accelerate that value by creating custom widgets and applications. The only, the warning that I would put out when you’re doing that, you just want to be cautious when customizing the ServiceNow products by using the value scores that ServiceNow has provided. But absolutely create custom apps and or widgets to increase engagement and solve business challenges. That’s what it’s built for. It is an innovation engine.
SEAN: I like that. I like that term. You mentioned something earlier, you mentioned, it’s just the word “business” in there. And I wanted to ask you about your opinion on this and what we could guide, you know, our listeners to is. Typically, ServiceNow is considered an IT tool. It does so much more than that. We know that. But you’re in that silo. Any advice for people that are in the IT silo? When you’re thinking about a custom map, who should they be talking to? Is it just IT?
ANGI: Great question. It should not be just IT. You wanna talk to a few different types of users. You want to talk to the business, the people who will be delivering the service for that business need, but also your users. That is an important aspect. I think sometimes we in IT, we like to assume that we know what the users want, but that’s not always the case. And it is important to make sure that we understand the users, as well as the stakeholders in the business, who will be delivering the service.
SEAN: Great, great. Thank you. Well, Angi, I know you’re busy. Thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us today. And thank you so much for your advice and guidance here. And yeah, thanks a lot.
ANGI: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure. I enjoyed the discussion.