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ServiceNow Quebec platform goes after the low-code market

ServiceNow has released a new version of its Now Platform that caters to inexperienced developers looking to build customized applications and workflows quickly.

Responding to user demands to innovate more quickly in the era of COVID-19, ServiceNow rolled out a version of its Now Platform with a collection of low-code development tools to help inexperienced programmers accelerate delivery of customized applications.

At the center of the new version, called Now Platform Quebec, is Creator Workflows containing App Engine Studio and Integration Hub low-code development tools that enable users to update legacy manual processes into more modern workflows that can operate at scale.

Accompanying App Engine is App Engine Templates, prebuilt workflow templates that serve as building blocks that give programmers a head start on building applications so they don't have to start projects from scratch.

"The main focus of every user that has come to us is on innovation," said Dave Wright, chief innovation officer at ServiceNow. "They also have a hard focus on agility and productivity because they realize, especially in this COVID economy, they must react quickly to market situations. It is these three areas that the new features in Quebec address."

While COVID-19 inspired ServiceNow to bring Quebec to market quickly, the rapid rise of citizen developers -- a movement that both preceded and continues to coexist with COVID-19 -- was also a factor.

Dave Wright, ServiceNow's chief information officerDave Wright

"With both trends at work, we took a step back and said, 'rather than just building applications on the platform, let's focus a lot more on users' critical workflows.'" Wright said. "What we are trying to do is move the business side of the house closer to the development side of things ServiceNow Platform goes after the low-code market."

ServiceNow's emphasis on low-code development tools could prove timely. In a recent report, market researcher Gartner projected the worldwide low-code development market would grow to $13.8 billion in 2021, up 22.6% from 2020. Gartner also predicted that by 2024, low-code applications development will account for over 65% of all applications development.

With Quebec's arrival, some analysts think ServiceNow is taking the right approach given the pressure, both internally and externally, that COVID-19 has put on companies and their respective competitors.

"Workflows are a good way to digitize processes and typically this requires skilled developers," said Larry Carvalho, research director at IDC's platform as a service (PaaS) practice. "The Quebec release delivers the ability to build workflows with the low-code approach reducing the effort to automate existing processes while providing the ability to connect with existing applications."

A number of organizations have adopted App Engine and are in the process of building customized workflows, including St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the city of Los Angeles, the former using those workflows as part of delivering a number of lifesaving services to patients.

"Last year, user organizations were telling us they needed to build apps that do things like health checks for employees, or emergency payments or cities wanting to track COVID testing of citizens," Wright said. "We ended up helping them build these workflows, which became the driver of this [Quebec] workflow."

The city of Los Angeles approached ServiceNow last year about the need to build a workflow system to track the number of people tested for COVID-19 and to analyze the results of those tests to confirm different trends and patterns. The city was able to quickly build such a system that could be scaled to accommodate millions of records.

"If a hospital has all these refrigeration units that house blood, medicines or vaccines that require different temperatures, you need a workflow that monitors all those temperatures," Wright said. "If a unit goes above a certain temperature, you want something out of the box that delivers a solution unique to your workplace."

The company also introduced new AI-based capabilities to Quebec, features that are borrowed from Loom Systems and Attivio, two companies acquired by ServiceNow in January 2020 and October 2019, respectively. Loom Systems' AI-based product works with ServiceNow's IT Service Management offering (ITSM) to increase productivity, while Attivio's cognitive search product improves users' ability to discover answers and insights about solving technical issues.

With [COVID-19 and low-code] trends at work, [we decided to focus] on users' critical workflows. What we are trying to do is move the business side of the house closer to the development side of things.
Dave WrightChief innovation officer, ServiceNow

The new AI offerings include: ITOM Predictive AIOps that can predict technical issues before they become full-blown problems; AI Search that can deliver actionable information directly from the search window; Virtual Agent, which offers a guided setup and topic recommendations to speed incident resolutions; and Engagement Messenger, which extends self-service to third-party portals, enabling AI-based speech and knowledge management.

"The idea is to have an accurate predictive capability around when you think events are going to happen, with things like outages," Wright explained. "Also, as users' data grows, they have an increasing amount of everyday issues they need to search on for the right answers. We needed a way to contextualize that for them."

While the low-code and AI features are heading in the right direction, according to one analyst, the more important features of Quebec revolve around the Process Optimization and Workforce Optimization features, which he believes will help revitalize corporate interest in shared services.

The Process Optimization feature helps IT organizations improve underlying processes that drive workflows and help avoid process bottlenecks that slow down issue resolution.

"My prediction is the market will place a new emphasis on shared services as a way of solving workforce coordination problems," said Charles Betz, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "The new functionality [ServiceNow] has here is exactly what's needed in the enterprise service management space. Customers can start to manage their service offerings as a coherent portfolio and engage in continuous improvement across their portfolio."

The long-held promise of enterprise service management, Betz noted, is to have all workflows and associated services located in one place. Doing so gives users a clearer view of where their products and services are "falling down" and not providing customer satisfaction in their internal service ecosystems.

"It is taking too long for people to get routine services from HR or legal or IoT," Betz said. "I think this aspect of the release excites me the most."

Other new features in Quebec aimed at improving productivity include Universal Request, a "get help" capability that enables cross-departmental collaboration on issues and the Journey Accelerator to aid managers in creating both consistent and customized productivity plans to support employees through a variety of lifecycle events such as new hires and promotions.

Lastly, ServiceNow released new applications for telecommunications and financial services intended to improve customer experiences by connecting customer engagement with back-end operations on just one platform.

The Now Platform Quebec is available now.

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