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How ServiceNow is empowering Asia’s mobile workforce

ServiceNow’s newly minted managing director in Asia talks up the company’s sweet spots and traction in the region, and what it’s doing to abstract away workflow complexities for mobile workers

Chia Wee Luen, the newly minted managing director of ServiceNow in Asia, wakes up each morning to a smartphone filled with tasks that require his attention.

But he doesn’t need to fire up multiple applications to get the job done. Instead, he’s able to approve expense reports and invoices generated by different applications – all within a single ServiceNow app.

Executives such as Chia are the epitome of Asia’s rising mobile-enabled workforce that lives and breathes technology in all aspects of their work and personal lives.

At work, they demand the same consumer app experience and artificial intelligence (AI) smarts from their business applications, like they would from a ride-hailing or e-commerce app.

That’s what ServiceNow is trying to achieve. By integrating and keeping complex workflows spanning multiple applications under the covers, it has helped enterprises improve their customer and IT service levels while maximising employee productivity.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Chia talks up ServiceNow’s sweet spots and traction in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, what makes the company different and his take on the appointment of former SAP head honcho Bill McDermott as CEO.

Growth rates

How is ServiceNow doing in the APAC region and how are customers here using your platform?

Chia: During our third quarter, we grew at 33% year-on-year. Our growth rates in the APAC region are very high as well. This has been driven by automation and digital transformation as more companies come to realise that they're being disrupted while facing talent shortages.

As companies go through digital transformation, they typically pick a few strategic suppliers that are typical born in the cloud to handle systems of record, such as human capital management (HCM), customer relationship management (CRM) and finance. These are the lifeblood of any company.

But where ServiceNow excels is in systems of engagement that drive workflows and integration across those different systems. That’s what a lot of organisations in APAC are talking to us about, and those that have gone on this journey with us have seen strong returns on investment and good outcomes.

Delivering native mobile capabilities for our customers has been a key focus for us as well. When I’m up in the morning, the first thing I interface with is my smartphone and I don’t have to go to disparate systems to perform my tasks.

Everything I need to do or approve is consolidated in the ServiceNow application, whether they are Concur expenses or quotations from the CRM system. I can start the day very productively and this is the kind of productive environment that a lot of organisations in Asia want to drive today.

Sweet spots

What are the sweet spots of ServiceNow’s growth in the region?

Chia: Honestly, helping large organisations make complex workflows more efficient is really the sweet spot for us. Our competition is really inertia – many workers are used to using productivity suites and spreadsheets to do most of their work.

But through automation, we provide organisations with visibility of all their processes, enabling them to identify bottlenecks, optimise their processes and improve employee satisfaction. This can have a direct impact on customer service. We have seen improvements in employee satisfaction leading to better customer satisfaction and revenue growth.

One of the things I noticed about the ServiceNow interface is that it’s clean and easy to use. Would you say that that’s one of your key differentiators in the market?

Chia: User experience is at the top of our mind. One of our mantras is to bring the consumer-like experience into our work life. We’re all used to using consumer applications, whether it’s e-commerce apps such as Lazada and Amazon, or ride-hailing apps like Grab.

Our user interface is extremely simple. You don't need to have a lot of training to use our software, but the underlying processes and workflows remain complex. What ServiceNow does very well is to orchestrate the complexity of underlying integration and workflows without exposing them to the user.

At the same time, we also infuse a lot of AI and machine learning to help people fulfil their tasks and become a lot more productive by helping them to classify tasks. Our research shows that many people spend 15% of their time classifying things correctly, so that an enquiry or problem gets routed to the right people. With AI, we can reduce problem resolution time significantly by 15-20%.

Support cases

By that, do you mean automatically assigning support cases to the right staff based on the problem a customer is facing?

Chia: Yes, we can do that based on problem descriptions, keywords and natural language. We can understand what someone is asking for and whether the case is urgent before routing it to the right people with the most expertise.

On the agent side, we also surface relevant knowledge articles, so that agents get access to information deemed by our AI and machine learning algorithm to be most relevant to the case on hand. And as we handle more and more cases, we will have a bigger knowledge base to feed the algorithm.

One of the issues with AI is explainability. How is ServiceNow helping users better understand why its AI engine took a specific action? Is there a feedback loop for users to highlight cases when a support ticket was misrouted, for example?

Chia: A lot of these complexities can be shielded from the user. Even if a case was misrouted, the person handling it will immediately know that it is not his or her area of expertise and there will be proper workflows to route it to the correct person.

Sometimes, there could a supervisor who comes to route it the right way – and that action will be used to train the algorithm. After deploying ServiceNow for 75% of Fortune 500 companies globally, I think we have learned a lot and made our algorithm a lot more effective and efficient.

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Are you tapping data from users to make better predictions and automate workflows for your entire customer base? Or are the automated tasks unique to each company’s usage patterns?

Chia: We make use of what we have. Data is the new oil, and there are learnings we aggregate and apply for organisations in a way that is non-identifiable. At the same time, we also take into account a company's unique operating environment when automating workflows.

Service management

The things you’ve described so far are somewhat similar to what a company like Zendesk offers. How do you convince companies that have already invested in a service desk product to go with ServiceNow?

Chia: One of our differentiators is really in the platform. We have service management across many different pillars and the power comes when these things come together. Imagine this: in IT service management, someone submits a change request that gets integrated into our software asset management module, which flags up that the request could cause you to overuse your software licence from a certain supplier. In such cases, you might want to relook your software licensing contract.

At time same time, the change request can be integrated with our security operations module, which highlights known vulnerabilities that you should patch before implementing that change. The governance, risk and compliance module could also flag up any potential policy violations that could result from the change.

And if that change causes a downtime, you can proactively inform your customers, through the customer service management module, that they could experience some service slowdowns during the implementation period. This will reduce the number of customer support tickets that could flood in.

Our customers work with us on their vision of achieving all of that, but each one of them has different starting points based on their pain points and the immediate business value that they can get out of our platform. And we integrate with many leading systems, whether they are systems of record or databases.

The number of integration points is also increasing with every release. In our latest New York release, we had 678 innovations and every six months we have a huge release to help customers take advantage of our fast pace of innovation and integration work.

But we are not the only ones building features on our platform which allows customers to build any workflow and application that we might not have out of the box. In fact, that is one key source of our innovation – some customers have asked us to build and maintain a best-in-class version of the application they have built, using the expertise of our domain experts. And we will do that in cases where the application can help to solve similar challenges faced by other customers globally. An example is HR onboarding, where we had customers building applications to support onboarding of new employees. We took the idea and built an app for everyone to use.

Datacentre footprint

What is ServiceNow’s datacentre footprint? Are you co-located with datacentre providers or do you ride on any public cloud service?

Chia: When ServiceNow first started, we built our own datacentre so we can have maximum control over the service levels and performance that we deliver to our clients. But the cloud suppliers have matured since then and more recently, we struck a strategic partnership with Microsoft to leverage the Azure cloud to deliver our services to more geographies and in a deeper fashion.

This will ensure that we have a secure and scalable service for customers in highly regulated industries. That said, we still operate some datacentres on our own, such as in Japan and Australia, and we will use Azure to extend our reach into certain markets.

ServiceNow recently appointed former SAP head honcho Bill McDermott as its new CEO. What do you think someone like Bill who has had years of experience running an ERP (enterprise resource planning) software company can bring to ServiceNow? Some industry watchers have commented that he might be able to identify markets or areas where ERP suppliers are not doing well in, and steer ServiceNow in that direction.

Chia: It is obviously still early days because Bill is only joining us at the end of the year. Like you mentioned, he has a lot of experience in driving the success of a huge enterprise software company like SAP, and we are very hopeful about some of the ideas and suggestions that he will bring across.

It is fair to say that he will help us to accelerate our growth to a $10bn company that we have always aspired to become, and Bill himself has proclaimed that he’s personally very invested in that vision.

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