ServiceNow: Solid and uncertain -- a company in transition

ServiceNow is a fascinating company that has been a dramatic and very pleasant success for the past decade plus. It's now at a pivotal point in its history, and its the kind of pivot that gets it to its optimal goals or it just keeps moving along. Can ServiceNow do it? Read and find out.

Video: ServiceNow: Five steps to achieve value from machine learning

I've been doing this analyst thing for a long time, and as I've grown both older and more deeply involved in a profession that is strange in so many ways (this discussion will be on my other blog when I launch my website in a few months), I keep thinking that I've seen so much and, once in a while, it all.

Read also: ServiceNow beats estimates, acquires VendorHawk

That is, ultimately, never the case. You think I would learn and realize that I am never going to see it all, and when it comes down to it, I don't know that much either.

I was kind of at that imagined point recently, reveling in the fact that I thought I could figure out anything, and guess what? I went to Knowledge18 -- the ServiceNow user conference -- and found out, once again, I don't know anything. Or at least what I thought I knew was only a small portion of what I now know.

For those of you who don't know what Knowledge18 is, it's the annual user conference (I presume, the number keeps changing, so its more KnowledgeXX) of ServiceNow, an IT management technology company that has been historically focused on the work and the workplace, especially in the meat and potatoes work of IT service management. Fred Luddy, their founder and chairman of the board, made a very good foundational statement somewhere at some time that went like this:

"Build a cloud-based platform to enable regular people to create meaningful applications to route work through an enterprise."

Vinnie Mirchandani's excellent description of ServiceNow, in his dealarchitect post on Knowledge18, articulates this more succinctly than I ever could:

"ServiceNow is a 'blue-collar' company whose platform first found a niche in the bowels of IT shops... Importantly, all this was in the cloud when competition was still on-premise and clumsy."

If you want the full quote, go read the post. I highly recommend you do.

Upon examination, you will find that ServiceNow, in its chosen area of expertise, IT management, is a very highly regarded rock star and deservedly so. But as the bulk of companies do, they want to be so much more than just that.

A blue-collar company focused on regular people who want something that just works right and helps them do their job is a great description of, at least, their original intent. Their revenue growth over the years (thanks, Vinnie for the numbers) is proof that they nailed that. They went from $13 million in 2007 to $1.93 billion by year end 2017, which, I don't have to point out, but, well, is staggering revenue growth.

But ServiceNow, like any company that grows like that, doesn't want to rest on its laurels at $2 billion. At Knowledge18, they said that their Master Plan's Phase 3, which is apparently the one that they are now in, gets them to $4 billion. And Phase 4, gets them to what seems to be $10 billion, though I had a hard time figuring out in what timeframe. While Phase 3's objective seems attainable if they continue to follow the same path they are on now, I got the distinct impression that:

  1. They knew that they had to change dramatically to get successfully to Phase 4's $10 billion.
  2. They weren't really all that clear about how that was going to work -- in fact, actually uncertain -- but they were plunging ahead anyway.

Stretching a metaphor (quite) a bit, they are a teenager who has just had a big growth spurt and has some acne, and, despite the fact, they are now 6 foot, 7 inches and 240 pounds and can play football really well, are still pretty awkward and don't exactly know what to do with their new-found size. And, like all teenagers, are very uncertain about what they want to do with their life. But they are strong and popular in school and really can play football -- maybe even all-state level football. But, they don't know who they are yet exactly -- and you see it: That damned acne.

With that rather bad analogy, and before I get into what I think I've learned, and what I think of what I think I've learned, of course, this is a user event, so the ever-present "Event Scorecard" for 2018 will start out the post. Then, we'll get into the meat and potatoes of it all (though for my vegetarian friends, our vegetarian selection is the cauliflower hummus and arugula of it all).

Read also: ServiceNow launches Virtual Agent

If you want to see how the scorecard works, read the beginning of this post on the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit 2018, where I outline the criteria in detail.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Knowledge18 Event Scorecard:

Event Scorecard: ServiceNow Knowledge18

Category Grade Notes
Crowd Size A Given that this was my first ServiceNow event along with my small slice exposure (until this event) to the company, the numbers were, to most of the analysts at the event, quite a (pleasant) surprise. There were more than 18,000 people at this roughly $2 billion company's event, while, in 2013, they had 3,800 at their event -- numbers that dwarf or at least win a challenge with companies of like size or even larger. While I wasn't at any prior events, even so, with what I do know and what I saw, this strong IT focused crowd's size was quite something to behold.
Keynotes (Content) C ServiceNow is, without a doubt, a significant success and a company that wants to be even more significant, have more impact, and reach $10 billion in revenue in a fairly near future. To do that, the company needs to know its target audiences and address them in the way that the audiences will understand. They have to present their ideas in the metaphors of the audience. That means, if you are addressing an IT audience only, then you address them. If you are speaking to the line of business audiences, you address them in the way that they understand. This is especially important at a user conference that will be the locus of how a company is looked at for the next 12 months, by analysts, customers, and by those who are the future customers and who didn't attend the event -- something that is overlooked all the time by speakers on a main stage at a significant event. If you are a company in transition at the global level and are pivoting from one traditional area of your expertise to another area -- the transitional story -- like how you got from A to F, so to speak, has to be crystal clear, or you could confuse the present and not present audiences. Unfortunately, while some of the content at the individual product level, notably Abhijit Mitra's keynote for Customer Service Management made the pivot clear, had clear messaging, and was able to engage the audiences around new themes that worked with the products that CSM provided, this was not the case for the company as a whole. While the clearly dominant theme should be Fred Luddy's original vision for the company -- "a cloud-based platform that helps regular people work" -- themes have spun off in the pivoting of the company that attempted to tie their historic strength: ITSM, their Human Resources solutions; CSM in the bigger picture; and their workflow and rules engines together, among other things, with a "human" kind of right-brained message ("This is about you," which came across as kind of all over the map -- meaning with no clear particular audience being addressed). There were messages to the line of business (outcomes-based, customer, and employee experiences). There were their standard IT management messages including the interview with the Accenture CIO, the platform focus, and the high percentage of product demos that dominated the stage. On the more right-brained, "experiential" messaging, there was a significant lack of any subtlety or delicacy when it came to "all about you." The words "you," "us," etc., were repeated so frequently that they sounded insincere, even if they weren't meant that way. For example, if I were to provide positive content to "it's all about you," my emphasis on "you," meaning their customers, would have been a lot greater, with conversations with the best customers peppering the keynotes throughout the three days. But instead, I saw, even though often cleverly wrought, three days of product demos. They were useful but should not be the subject matter of three days of keynotes. There was a lot of transitional ungainliness -- speeches that needed considerable both content redesign and a much better overall narrative. That said, I suspect that ServiceNow will emerge just fine from all of this.

And rant start: This is as much a general comment about all conference speakers as it is a specific one to this conference: It's time to stop trying to get people to say good morning when nobody wants to or, worse, making them say good morning twice, as if they didn't have much energy the first time -- even when they did. It does nothing to energize the audience.

Even worse, as the last speaker, stop saying, "I know I'm the only thing between you and cocktails/dinner/parties/whatever." That is tired, stupid, boring, and not even slightly funny. And every speaker at every conference in the first or last slot does these things. Plus, if you are that much of an impediment to the evening, why the hell are you on the stage? Just get off the stage immediately and let people start drinking or eating early. Rant end.

All in all, the mainstage keynotes on day one didn't work, nor was day three anything to speak of beyond more demos, really. Day two they worked a bit better, but they were also primarily product demos, which are important but not as critical as what happens on day one. What gets this as high as a C was day two's slight improvement, and a fantastically well-executed, tightly knit keynote by Abhijit Mitra for Customer Service Management. It covered the vision, mission, and products with a clear overarching narrative. It totally worked and should be a model for how to make it work overall: Vision, mission clearly presented, overarching narrative that coheres with the products presented, the audiences focused on, and the customer base both represented at the conference and not at the conference, present and future. Plus, I'm more lenient here than normal, because its hard to produce conferences.

Conference Staging B+ While there may have been some issues with the content, the overall presentation, while something of a mixed bag, worked well on the whole -- and had the right elements of theater that are required in contemporary speeches and at contemporary technology conferences. They did some things really well, though a few things were a bit stretched. More did well than not, though. Where they shone throughout the conference was the use of skits to provide the basis for the demos around personas. They were actually kind of funny -- not SNL funny, but still good natured, good humored, and made people laugh at times -- and got across their points. They weren't overwrought (so much ITish humor is way too nerdy/geeky) and were something that even a non-IT person could (most likely) get. It just generally worked, despite (deliberate) overacting. Where things fell off was their attempt to be cool, using a lot of Top Pop 40 hits (e.g. The Middle, Shape of You, etc) and even a DJ outside the exhibition hall. The music in the ballroom was blaring the Top 40 about 50 decibels too high prior to the speeches. It didn't quite work and seemed to be of the "we do this because we need to seem to be hip," rather than organically tying it to the actual ambiance on the stage, as Adobe always does. That was reflected in the 100-yard-wide UltraHD stitched screen(s), which, while monumental, was/were underutilized, given its visual potential. The visuals they did have were attractive and occasionally engaging (the green screened views of cities, for example, which aligns with their cities-based roadmap names, e.g. London and Istanbul. Again, for the paradigm, see Adobe (watch the first 1:30 on this video) for how to sync the overall experience of music, videos, and graphics. But, all in all, the skits were refreshing, and a really nice way to present the demos and the value of the products.
Tracks/General Sessions B+ The tracks had a strong IT focus, of course. Because this is a smaller sample for me than usual, I'm a little tentative about my assessment, so please take that into account. However, from both anecdotal evidence and some attendance by me and a few other analysts at tracks (and who gave me some feedback), these seem to be solid presentations that actually aligned with the titles and descriptions, which mean it met attendee expectations. The audience's interactions seemed to vary a bit, but that's normal for this -- meaning high engagement in some sessions, low in others. But a solid effort to be sure.
Analyst/Press Relations B+ This is a very attentive AR/PR team with some very nice people. They made sure that each analyst or media person had their personalized schedule, had each part of their schedule in their Gmail or Outlook calendar or whatever they used, and made sure that there were one-on-ones for those who wanted them. They had tables and power not just in the media room but in the ballroom, which allow the analysts and press to do their job, while the main stage events were going on. The tweaks I would have made are small and probably just more first-world tweaks: Make sure that transportation to and from the airports was taken care of and that there were better food choices in the media/analyst workroom. Vegetarians, Gluten Free choices needed to be available. But it was the same food as the general audience had, and there were a lot of complaints by the audience about how bad the food was (see logistics) Also, they probably overdid the schedule invitations for each analyst (not sure what they did with press) to everything. Every single meeting that we might attend (slightly exaggerated) didn't have to be sent to us as an invite. Only the ones that each of us had in specific would be sufficient. But these are small issues, which makes them sound more important than they were. All in all, a strong thumbs up for the work put in and the lack of friction in the interactions, plus the overall kindnesses shown.
Exhibition Hall A This one is actually kind of "delicious." The two highest marks I have ever given (19 or 20 points that lead to a grade) to Exhibition halls were to SAP's Sapphire one year and Microsoft Ignite in New Orleans another year. This matters because they were both designed by Scott Schenker (you'll see why this is delicious in a second). So, I did my tour of this exhibition hall, and what do I see but a few signatures, such as: Very comfortable well-located concentrated rest areas; a customer 360 center; an analyst and media center located at the edges of the exhibition hall with easy egress to the keynotes and the exhibitors; wide avenues that flow to the booths, but at the same time have plenty of room for high-volume traffic; a gorgeously contemporary look and feel with unique touches; and architecturally bifurcated areas such as the CreatorCon labs that had angular red lit domes over the area -- beautiful, ubercool but clearly designed to highlight this specific area with a unique architectural twist that also flowed into the overall layout of the room. The ServiceNow pavilion area was a big circular wide area with lots of white carpet that had dividers around the circle for different parts of the pavilion that, rather than a bland wall, was actually shelving with copper utensils, flowers, and other interesting homey kinds of tchotchkes, which just worked. A brilliantly designed exhibition hall. Turns out, I guess no surprise, it's the signature work of the same Scott Schenker, who now works for ServiceNow. Wow. I love this guy's works. The only reason it's not an A+ was a small ding for both not enough directional maps, and the few that were there, were not enough specificity for the booths, so, at times, it became hard to find what you were looking for. That is minor issue, though, given that this is an exhibition hall that qualifies not just as great planning but, to some degree, art.
Crowd Engagement B This was mixed. There were times that the crowd was just "into" things, but there was a lot of dead air when it came to engagement. Enthusiasm waxed and waned within the presentations. This was not a totally enthusiastic crowd, more a "crisp" crowd, one that was there to see how to improve how they could do their work. Not fanboys or fangirls.
Logistics, B+ Most of the logistics -- e.g., crowd flow, staff interaction etc. -- given the location was truly quite good. The food was bad though. The complaints from the attendees both when queried and overheard, during breakfast and lunch, was that ServiceNow could have done considerably better by being just average, and that there were very limited choices for those with specific allergies (e.g., gluten free, vegetarian). In other areas, they did better. While the DJ seemed out of place -- just didn't fit the vibe of the conference with his sort of pedestrian beats -- that didn't stop the staff from compensating for that. The people who gave directions outside the halls and guided you to seats inside the halls were well prepared and very lively and enjoyable in the way they did things -- playing, dancing to music, smiling, engaging with the crowd as it moved through with all in all a truly happy vibe. The crowds moved well with few knots, and those that were there, like up escalator traffic flow, weren't anyone's issue; it was the venue's problem. It never got out of hand.
OVERALL B+ This was a solidly run event with only a few glitches, though one major: The keynote content. However, given that there were 18,000 attendees, they managed the event extremely well, and even with some brilliance (e.g., the exhibition hall). They have to step up a few areas, but kudos to them for something that, not unexpectedly, fits their profile, a strong workman-like (with the art of the exhibition hall) effective conference that was managed very well.

We've Got the Meat (or the Hummus)

I didn't really know the larger ServiceNow all that well prior to Knowledge18, except peripherally (meaning I knew they were a leader in IT Service Management). Where I did know them and was more than pleasantly surprised when I met them about a year-and-a-half ago was through the lens of their customer service management organization and solution. I have been and continue to be an admirer of both their offering, which, within its category, at least from the standpoint of the quality of the solution itself, is one of the best on the market, and for what seemed to be a nearly frictionless pivot from the infrastructure side of contact centers (e.g., the IT management side) to customer service, with a very clear-cut mission, crisp message, top-flight team, and a more than solid solution. I did know a few other things about them. They were a highly regarded company, even a market leader in the IT service management space. They had launched a native cloud HR offering that was beginning to gain traction and was seen as a complement to Workday and Successfactors. I knew that they were certainly platform-focused and had built what seemed to be a rock-solid platform. To a considerably lesser extent, I saw, via their partner network, that other significant half of the duo that was needed to succeed as a tech giant in the 21st century: The ecosystem.

Read also: ServiceNow buys AI startup Parlo

To be fair, prior to this conference, my sole lens was their customer service solution and team -- not surprising, given my history and focus. I was contacted about two years ago, to both review the technology and the messaging around what was a pivot from contact center infrastructure to customer service -- a significant change that they actually successfully pulled with some genuine grace, and most importantly, with a clean narrative that explained the transition to their customers and to the market so that the trusted relationship that customers had with them was maintained, despite the significant impact it had on those customers that had been with them for several years and those potential customers investigating customer service solutions. I was very pleasantly surprised since those pivots are honestly difficult and often fail.

A pivot like that is quite difficult. A customer who is using you in a specific way sees you change your product set, business model, and your conversations both with them and to the market to something that they hadn't seen before and bring into question -- though not necessarily accurately -- whether they can continue to trust you for what they use you for. Companies who had worked with the customer-facing side of their businesses relied on ServiceNow for IT support for their contact center infrastructure -- an area that ServiceNow excelled in. In the past two years, ServiceNow created a solution for managing customer service -- best reflected in their limited release at Knowledge18 of the Agent Workspace, a desktop product is table stakes for any customer service solution in the market. For example, both Oracle's and Salesforce's Service Clouds have a version of one. But the ServiceNow Agent Workspace, framed in the context of agent (employee) experience and customer experience, is an excellent management of real-time contact center customer service interaction that allows the agent to do their job really well, and even in its currently limited release, is competitive with the customer service management products that are in the market for years longer.

The question for the CSM business unit was how to explain all this to the existing ITSM customer base and a market that wasn't focused on infrastructure but was sitting in the heart of the $40 billion CRM market place.

Yet, they pulled it off. The results showed quickly with hundreds of customers in the roughly year and half of its existence.

Truly impressive.

So, imagine my surprise, when I got to Knowledge18 and found that, unbeknownst to me (and this is my bad entirely) there was a much larger transition going on at ServiceNow and much of it nowhere near as elegantly done as what CSM did.

The Transition is... Obvious... Too Obvious

Before we get to what needs to be fixed, let me make something very clear. There is a lot to this company that not only doesn't need to be fixed, but left alone as is, is world class, and I'm going to start with that.

The NOW Platform

I'm not going to dwell on their NOW platform because it's huge and well beyond both the scope of this post and my overall expertise. I'm more of the "I can explain the technology, but I can't build it." Plus, my focus is on the overarching companies, since, when it comes to technology companies, the actual product and services offerings are only part of what makes them succeed or fail. But what I will say is that the company's developers/programmers/architects built a technology and services management platform worthy of the name "platform." The richness of the ISVs who peppered the exhibition hall was remarkable in how many applications were either built directly on the ServiceNow platform or were designed with the explicit purpose of integrating with ServiceNow. For example, I met with 3CLogic, a ServiceNow (and SugarCRM where I first ran across them) partner that have a certified ServiceNow integration that adds CTI, Click-to-Call, and Automated Call Logging to the ServiceNow customer service management solution. If you think about this, it bridges the gap between what ServiceNow was (contact center infrastructure) and what its become (customer service management), at least on the customer service departmental side. But as I found out from 3CLogic's extremely nice CEO and chairman, Denis Seynhaeve, they are highly committed ServiceNow partners who get a great deal of benefit with their integration to the ServiceNow product.

Customer Success

This may be their biggest asset. Their customer success program is one of the most well-thought out, highly adaptable, extensible, and well-documented customer success frameworks I have ever seen. Not only that, they have done a terrific job of both taking the framework and using it as to develop the programs for their customers and then executing against those programs and defining accountability via strong, smart, non-financial KPIs and benchmarks.

They provide the people, the content, and the strategic thinking to augment not just their customer's use of ServiceNow, but their overall success and, on the intangible level, to make sure that the relationship between ServiceNow and its customers (at the company level) are seen as a partnership, not a customer service problem fix.

Read also: ServiceNow intros ML platform Agent Intelligence

That leads to several well-documented frameworks. The most easily ascertainable, found all over their website and frequently referred to at the conference, was the four step Plan-Deploy-Optimize-Extend. Each has a specific meaning (and this is lifted straight from their website):

  1. Plan: Know where you are going, build a plan for the journey.
  2. Deploy: Implement your plan. Launch smoothly and effectively.
  3. Optimize: Follow through after launch, improve and increase value.
  4. Extend: Discover what's next on your ServiceNow journey.

Now, this is somewhat different than other Customer Success programs that work effectively but is equally as good. Ultimately, in all good customer success programs, not only are there measurable, tangible benefits, but the vendor's aim is to become a trusted adviser. The approach to the latter is where the differentiators are. Salesforce has its Ignite program, which is a business transformation strategy unit that works with Salesforce customers to identify what will effect their digital transformation most successfully. PROS (more next week on this) has a team of Enterprise Analysts/Architects who work with the customer to design an IT/analytics optimization strategy that will use the product well. ServiceNow is focused on the responsiveness of their client managers to enable them to become the trusted advisers the customers are looking forward.

I'll tell you a story to wrap this part up and to show you what I mean. I was at PROS OutPerform 2018 this past week and was speaking with a very senior PROS team member who was equally as senior at Epicor, which was a ServiceNow marquee client. This person told me a story about how each time that they had a problem or had a question that ServiceNow acted immediately via their customer success team. Not only that, but the ServiceNow customer success managers responsible for Epicor were there visiting, communicating, and working with the Epicor teams routinely. There didn't need to be a problem to be fixed quickly to engage with the customer success teams.

This is a paradigm -- one worthy of emulating. But what makes this even more significant is that this kind of thinking is clearly a part of their cultural DNA. Because it doesn't stop with only customer success, but the same thinking governs their partner ecosystem.

Partner Ecosystem

From one standpoint, the partner ecosystem is the proof point for both the strength of the platform and the customer success program. The many ISV partners, well represented in the Exhibition Hall, are as plentiful as they are because they are able to build new applications that, of course, integrate with ServiceNow really well. One ISV, which was represented at the conference (I'm sorry, but I can't think of the name) built a small footprint sales force automation solution, primarily focused on opportunity management, because of the interest of the customer base in having a more CRM(ish) broader solution that would complement CSM. Was it robust and competitive with full blown SFA solutions? No, but it served the ServiceNow customer base requirements and, anecdotally at least, seems to be gaining some traction. For ServiceNow, applications like this can help give them a slightly wider footprint in the $40 billion CRM market, which is still seeing double digit growth year over year and is projected to continue that rate of growth for the next several years, according to Gartner. Not a bad thing, all in all.

To highlight the approach that ServiceNow takes with its partners, I had the opportunity to meet with Jason Wojahn, the Accenture managing director in charge of the ServiceNow relationship, and with Sunne K. Kumar, ServiceNow's Global Accenture Alliance leader. To understand how significant this is, let me give you a single number: There are 3000 Accenture consultants who are assigned to the ServiceNow practice. That's right. 3,000. This is a huge number for a single practice. They are ServiceNow's largest partner and their most strategic. Accenture uses ServiceNow internally, so partner and customer. Even more telling, the relationship is clearly collaborative and genuinely affectionate. Jason Wojahn, an articulate, well spoken guy, spent a good deal of time outlining how closely they work with ServiceNow to what I think is the highest level of engagement: Co-creation. I won't go into the details of what we were told -- I'm not sure how much was NDA or not -- but suffice to say the actual collaboration was genuinely profound -- not a word that I use lightly.

Read also: ServiceNow: Five steps to achieve value from machine learning

OK, you say, of course this is great. This is a really big partnership. But what about the smaller partners? Well, let me answer that for you, since I had the exact same reaction. I spent some time on the showroom floor talking with smaller partners and found that ServiceNow treats them with the same respect that they treat Accenture. While, of course, dedicated partner management doesn't exist for most of them, nor are the levels of resources assigned to them anywhere near what Accenture or a select few others see, but what is overwhelmingly clear is that the ServiceNow partners are happy with the relationship and committed to the partnership. That became clear with multiple discussions I had with smaller partners (see C3Logic above) and also with the willingness of the ServiceNow partners to build on the platform. The CreatorCon winner was a company called SalesWon, which built, interestingly enough to me, a Sales Force Automation and CPQ solution that works along with CSM and was built on the NOW platform. That goes to what I said earlier, there is an integral relationship between the quality of the platform, customer success, and the partner ecosystem.

Which leads me to CSM.

Customer Service Management (CSM)

CSM is the gem of the contemporary ServiceNow offerings. Sure, I have biases in that direction, but I know what is good in my world -- and this is good -- very good. It is highly specific in what it does and what it doesn't do, but it does what it does very well. This is a tool that fits the description of its name. It is a customer service management tool

To highlight that, let me introduce you to one of their recent limited releases for their CSM solution: the Agent Workspace that I briefly mentioned above. While they announced this in one of the main stage keynotes as an IT fulfillment application -- and this is so wrong, but we'll get to that -- and made it sound like it was revolutionary, actually, it is table stakes for any customer service solution on the market. It is a way for the customer service representative to manage their interactions with both their customers and their own customer service managers -- and for the managers to get the kind of dashboard picture needed to understand the bigger picture with customer service. It is also a way to capture and present the specific information that a CSR needs to answer their customer and to communicate with the other agents and even escalate cases to the right person at the right level accordingly. Plus, its built in a semi-intuitive way, and that makes it easier for the CSR to navigate it while they are interacting with their customers in real time.

Read also: Machine learning-as-a-service the way of the future: ServiceNow

All in all, what I'm saying is while this is by no means revolutionary -- not even close -- but they have built a solid, top-flight agent workspace that does exactly what it is supposed to do: Provide the agent with the services and knowledge they need to successfully interact with customers, other employees, and their own managers. Plus, they've done it with a user interface that can be best described as nearly intuitive and clean. Not gorgeous, but more than good looking enough for the tasks at hand. They can compete with anyone in the market and potentially come out on top.

Here is a photo of the ServiceNow CSM Agent Workspace:

csm-agent-workspace-4-multi-tabs.png

ServiceNow Agent Workspace in Customer Service Management

(Image: ServiceNow)

This is a classic example of how to build something on the NOW platform for customer-facing audiences and users. And it is representative of the gem that their solution provides all in all. Nice UI, huh? Not gorgeous, but definitely clean and clear.

The other thing that makes the CSM unit stand out -- relative to the rest of the company and to the industry to some degree, too -- is the sharp focus of their messaging and their clarity of purpose. This was well represented by long time industry veteran (and a friend from his SAP days) Abhijit Mitra, general manager of the Customer Service Management (CSM) unit at ServiceNow, in his day one CSM specific keynote. He focused the message on how the CSM solution works to operationally manage customer service requirements and needs. This aligns with one of my key messages: CRM (and all its facets including customer service) has become the operational core of a larger customer engagement matrix.

In other words, not only does the CSM business unit get it (and thus my narrow lensed and rather rosy entry to the company about 18 months ago), but they have a solution that works for their purpose and fulfills a real enterprise level need.

But this is where things get a little dicey and a bit uncertain for me, because what I saw through the lens of CSM was not what I saw through the lens of the company on the corporate level -- from the narrative to the messaging to the product coverage to the apparent target audiences.

ServiceNow: Not Now Quite Yet

All in all, the strengths outshine the weaknesses, and that's good. But to get to their golden city Phase 4 objective of $10 billion, at the corporate level, this company has to decide what it wants to be. Throughout the entirety of my time at Knowledge18, from the first day of the analyst summit to the final keynote on day three, I heard lots of messages and received a ton of signals that turned out to be more noise than signal. I heard messages in the keynote that were aimed at Line of Business leaders with discussions of customer experience and outcomes -- not the ServiceNow traditional audience. I heard their technology referred to as an Experience Architecture, which, at first, I liked, but then I realized that, despite its founding principles for a cloud-based platform for regular people, they had no technology that supported experiences beyond some asset management capabilities. There is nothing like the Adobe Experience Manager, which actually can build what I call "consumable experiences" -- premium combinations of services and products and activities that lead to an overarchingly good moment for a customer and are monetizable. The emphasis of ServiceNow is what Abhijit Mitra in an interview online with The Cube, which does the media interviews at ServiceNow events, said was customer service management with the emphasis on service management, not customer service. The NOW platform builds those management tools and solutions. They do not support customer engagement. Beyond consumable experiences that can be built, the overarching customer experience -- how a customer feels about a company over time -- is not supported by anyone's technology. You cannot enable how someone feels.

But that's the problem that ServiceNow has at the moment. This is a company that has been wildly success with service management solutions -- originally around IT, now around HR and customer service. They are trying to transition to a company that can "humanize the workplace," which is in line with their founder Fred Luddy's original credo. That humanization also entails not successful employee engagement but also customer engagement -- and with their CSM products, they can make a case that they support the operational side of that engagement. With HR, perhaps, they can support employee engagement, though I don't have enough familiarity with their HR products to make that a blanket statement. But they are trying way too hard to make the company, given that, "relevant," when it is in the early stages of a transition. You saw that in the day one John Donahoe keynote, where he, on the one hand, said, "ServiceNow's purpose was declared by Fred Luddy to build a cloud based platform that would enable regular people to route work effectively through the enterprise." Check that box. Perfect. But the much of the rest of the ServiceNow transitional vision was focused on "you the innovator" and "consumer experiences in the work place" and "outcomes, governance, change management, being prescriptive," etc. Without any real tie to what they already have or a clear transitional narrative about how they are moving from IT service management to service management in a broader context -- one that doesn't lose the continuity that is needed to retain customer trust.

Read also: ServiceNow launches machine learning, AI automation engine

One way the flailing shows itself occurred on day two, with the unveiling of Agent Workspace during CJ Desai's keynote. You'd think that was great, but it was unveiled as part of IT Fulfillment. Big mistake. First, the product actually was part of the Customer Service Management Solution, not part of ITSM except that it was built on the NOW platform. Second, by releasing it this way, it limits the capabilities of the Agent Workspace in so many ways that it damages what they actually have. Think of it this way: If you released it as it should have been, it should be seen as part of CSM. Then, you can show how its so flexible due to the platform it was built on and the extensibility of the Agent Workspace itself, and you could customize it for IT Fulfillment, which then serves as an example of how flexible the solution is. That allows it the range of possibilities. By not talking about it being a CSM product and promoting as something that was released for IT Fulfillment, then you limit its possibilities. Not a good move at all. I'm actually very unclear as to why they did it this way to begin with.

But that rather weird aberration is reflective of a company that has enormous credibility, a great history, and has showed incredible growth in a short time, and at the same time, has the loyalty of its customers, partners, and employees, and it started out with a vision that appealed to both the technical and human.

Conclusions

This is a company with a strong foundation with its customers, employees, and partners and a lot of powerful assets and capabilities -- including a platform that can proudly call itself that and not be found wanting. They have a complete diamond in their Customer Service Management solution and team, including the superb work they did with their narrative and messaging and vision/mission on pivoting from contact center infrastructure to customer service management (emphasis on service management). But, unfortunately, this level of effective work is not as well reflected at the corporate level. While there is nothing terribly damaging being done or said at this point, the fact that the company is flailing a bit in its transition to something else is obvious. What they are trying to transition to, though, is not so obvious, and thus, there is no corporate narrative, and that showed at Knowledge18. I have a couple of ideas, but since some of what they do is not where I am at my most knowledgeable, I'll leave it to another day to make the suggestions, while I spend the time investigating where I am at my least knowledgeable. When I am confident enough to do so, I will.

Read also: IBM, ServiceNow expand partnership, integrate services

All that said, this is a company with so much going for it. Overall, they should be proud of themselves. With the strength of their platform, the brilliance of their customer success framework and their well-regarded program, their devoted partner ecosystem, and their generally happy employees, they have a leg up on a large number of their competitors -- once they figure out who they are and where they are going -- or at least have a coherent, organized, resonating explanation about that for their current customers and their future customers. They are well positioned to get to Phase 4, if they do that. I think they will. Or at least I hope so.

PREVIOUS AND RELATED COVERAGE

Zoho at a crossroads: Stepping up means stepping out

Zoho has been one of the great successes in the world of small business technologies. Few companies have been able to succeed with a similar business model, yet Zoho has been wildly successful. But they are also enshrouded in mystery. Read on to see what's under their veil and what they have to do next -- if they want to.

Infor Innovation Analyst Summit 2018: I totally get it and yet, I don't see it

Infor is a company on the fast track, though you wouldn't know that. It is among the most design-focused, progressive companies in the technology world, and it has an offering that can go to head-to-head with anyone's out there. Yet, it is a best-kept secret. I'm now going to show and tell. Read on -- Infor is now in the sunlight.

Conversations are precisely what we need to think about

Thought leader Mitch Lieberman takes the conversation about conversations from personalization to precision. What the hell is the benefit for business of that level of deep thinking? Listen -- precisely. Personally, you'll learn something.

How to fix your brand experience from the outside in

Johann Wrede: To bring real consistency to the brand experience, leaders should stop slicing the problem into pieces that they try to solve independently.