Quarantorial Volume 4: “Thoughts on Knowledge 2020 and a rapidly evolving human and enterprise condition.”

It’s week five of Knowledge 2020 and it feels like it started a lifetime ago, but it was only a month ago.

I am an avid online learner, I love online asynchronous content delivery platforms and I consume content regularly on platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udacity. I’ve completed two Masters degrees online, and I am currently studying in an online doctoral program, so I feel like I have a pretty good perspective on what makes for a good virtual experience, so I wanted to start with my impressions of the event.  As expected, the keynotes were good, but for these are high-powered presenters, a keynote is pretty easy to deliver online, but all the other content at a professional conference is often more relaxed and interactive from a delivery perspective, and this is not as easy. Knowledge 2020 is not the only virtual conference that I attended over the last few months, my favorite online conference was actually the Virtual Maker Faire, maybe it was the community aspect, its raw nature, the high-quality content delivered by highly passionate makers, maybe it was the 24-hour sprint format, but it was a great event. I have to say I don’t love the 5-week long format that ServiceNow used to deliver Knowledge 2020. I have waited weeks to write this summary, waiting to hear Bill McDermott’s keynote, it did not disappoint, but I think I stuck with Knowledge 2020 because of what I heard during Bill McDermott’s interview with Jim Kramer on CNBC’s “Squawk on The Street” at the end of April.

During his CNBC interview, McDermott masterfully lays out the market opportunity, ServiceNow’s pivotal role at the center of a 7.4 trillion dollar investment in digital transformation. McDermott talks about ServiceNow as the workflow engine of the 21st-century economy, how ServiceNow lives at the intersection of the web, mobile, social, and enterprise systems of record. McDermott discusses how ServiceNow makes work, flow within the enterprise to create great experiences for employees and customers. McDermott highlights that creating great experiences for employees and customers has never been more important than it is right now, amidst COVID-19 and the mass shift to work-from-home or more aptly stated work-from-anywhere.

During the CNBC interview, McDermott stated that ServiceNow’s quarterly platform subscription revenues were $995M, up 34% a year ago, with 37 transactions over $1M in net new annual contract revenue, up 48% from a year ago with 933 customers with annual contracts revenue exceeding 1M. As McDermott spoke, he reaffirmed my belief in a work-from-anywhere culture, consumerization within the enterprise, the subscription economy, and the value of predictable contract revenues. Predictable subscription-based services deliver predictable revenue streams and allow organizations to build models focused on customer value, rather than quarterly revenue and earnings targets. I think the other thing that shined through during this interview was the agility, elasticity and velocity of the public cloud, including SaaS (software-as-a-service) based services like ServiceNow.

McDermott discusses ServiceNow’s ROI (return-on-investment) as being at least 5X the investment made in ServiceNow. This message resonates in the C-Suite, where the focus is on protecting revenue, business continuity, increasing velocity, and agility while managing risk; this message is harder when you are not in the C-Suite.  

Finally, as someone who has practiced my craft and passion professionally for nearly thirty years, with twenty-three of them having an intense connection to a sales organization, I am pleased to see a very real and significant pivot from circumstance to substance. With the shift to virtual, our value needs to be substantive, and the playing field is level. The elimination of physical presence removes proximity as an influencer; today, any partner can get their best resource engaged regardless of where these resources reside. Over the past few months, organizations restrained by legacy mindsets have accelerated their digital transformations, and this is goodness. There is an irony here because those holding onto a legacy mindset have been saying for years that “the cloud is just someone else’s data center.” Today I believe many of these same people realize that the cloud is not about the building and the equipment but the operating model.

I find myself thinking about what technology trade shows might look like in the future. ServiceNow is not the only organization realizing they can spend less, and reach more people with virtual events. As I close out this prelude, I am reminded of a few recent things I have read, heard, and experienced over the last few months. Let’s start with the idea that a transition from a world where the pendulum swings significantly from physical presence and engagement to virtual presence and engagement implies a trajectory towards a “soulless” existence. All I can say is that I have been living the Q-Life (Quarantine Life) for months now, and my soul is fully intact. I also think we have to be careful to recognize the most influential movement in technology in the last ten years, known as the Open Source movement, is driven by passionate digital nomads. I think this tweet from Siraj Raval foreshadows the future well. I always say the future is not scary, it’s the shadow cast by those unwilling to move towards it that is truly scary, how about we spend less time making prognostications about the future, and just live it. Next, I thought about the conferences I have attended over the past few months, such as Knowledge, Maker Faire, DockerCon, and Slack Tour. What I have observed is the democratization of information and access and an unprecedented level of scale and reach that virtual events provide. What does this mean for the future of trade conferences? I would say thinking it doesn’t mean something significant would mean you are more interested in what was, rather than what will be, and this scares me. How cool was it to wake up on Saturday, May 23, 2020, and watch presentations from makers around the world doing everything from building ventilators to pivoting their business to respond to the public health crisis created by COVID-19. For these great human beings, I am 100% positive the measure of their soul has nothing to do with the paradigm they operate within, people with a soul always find a way to let it soar. Lastly, Dell World 2020 was postponed and moved to a virtual event to take place in October, and I found it interesting that the giveaway this year at Dell World was an Oculus Go. The intersection of what I have experienced thus far with virtual conferences, Siraj Raval’s tweet on the impact VR will have on digitization, and Dell’s Oculus Go giveaway is undoubtedly an interesting piece of happenstance.


Now that I have articulated some of my macro-level thoughts, let me talk a bit about the themes and takeaways from Knowledge 2020.

Let me start by saying that as we envision the future of digital business and understand the pivots we need to make, the more we will value building on platforms that deliver capability, agility, and velocity that will enable digital transformation. Digitization and/or Digital Transformation are no longer something businesses can think about as a planned future endeavor while continuing to plug along with the status quo. Organizations must undertake and accelerate digital transformation efforts to enable their businesses and to remain competitive. As we’ve learned over the past few months, the ability to make this journey could be the difference between survival and extinction.

ServiceNow expected 25,000 to 30,000 people in Florida for Knowledge 2020, and the shift to a virtual event enabled millions of people in 140 countries around the world to participate.

As work from anywhere has taken hold, globalization, digitization, and digital transformation are in full force across the world, and ServiceNow is providing the platform enabling users to pivot quickly.  The use case referenced is Lowe’s having to onboard 323,000 employees in 96 hours; this was a requirement for Lowe’s to process leave requests as a result of COVID-19. COVID-19 was the catalyst for accelerating transformation at scale, and ServiceNow was the platform that made it possible. These stories are not unique to ServiceNow. I’ve seen organizations, large and small, leverage the power of the public cloud to address the needs of their users quickly. The ability to rapidly change how users work and to adapt, survive, and in many cases, thrive amidst a global pandemic requires the elasticity, agility, and velocity provided by XaaS (Anything-as-a-Service) offered by the public cloud.

Living in the New York City metro area I remember the situation post-hurricane Sandy, where organizations rushed to get laptops to users who could not return to the office, this was painful, and Sandy did not pose the supply chain challenges that a global pandemic has created. Following Sandy, we saw a considerable uptick in VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) initiatives. These initiatives were costly and, in many cases, the infrastructure was oversubscribed, with hedges on user concurrency driving reductions in resource sizing (e.g. – compute and bandwidth capacity). As we’ve worked through COVID-19 with organizations transitioning to a work-from-anywhere model, we have seen organizations that have been able to scale up using cloud resources like AWS Workspaces, easily adapting to a complete shift in how their user community works. With a clear business case, the public cloud cost conversations become secondary; organizations begin to see the real value in the agility, elasticity, and velocity that public cloud infrastructure provides. As a service provider, having the right platforms and tools helps us solve business problems, the public cloud measures resource lead times in seconds or minutes, not days and weeks, and when your world changes overnight, this becomes pretty important.

That market is demanding consumer-grade experiences and happy users.  Enterprises who can’t or won’t provide consumer-grade experiences will struggle to hire and retain the talent they will need to be competitive in a world that will embrace a work-from-anywhere culture.

Digital Transformation is no longer a nice to have. Organizations that are already digitally transformed are capturing market share amidst a very difficult social and economic climate. The value chain is transforming, and organizations need to retool to deliver a consumer-grade user experience in the enterprise.

Great workflows drive great user experiences.  Seven trillion dollars will be invested in digital transformation between now and 2024. Organizations have made big investments in systems of record, but consumer-grade experiences are about action, integration, and velocity. Execution requires seamlessly connecting people, process and technology in a frictionless way, and ServiceNow is the platform of platforms that enables integration and delivers an increase in speed, productivity, and innovation.

ServiceNow continues to focus on consumer-grade experiences, and these experiences underpin the idea that ServiceNow makes work, work better for people. Underpinning these consumer-grade experiences is an investment in mobile-enabled, smart experiences leveraging machine learning and technologies like NLP (Natural Language Processing) that enable the platform to make smart decisions and deliver great consumer-grade experiences.

Workplace and workforce health concerns are at the forefront. I’ve personally been working with ServiceNow Workplace Health applications, partnering with screening device developers that leverage computer vision and artificial intelligence to surveil public spaces and the workplace. Over the past month, I’ve worked to integrate public space and workplace surveillance systems with ServiceNow Workplace Health applications to deliver automated, real-time KPIs, and dashboards. This integration delivers AI that can approve an employee’s entry into a facility if they pass PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and temperature checks while denying entry to those who don’t. Integration with ServiceNow allows users to escalate for human review and intervention while tracking all the KPIs required for an organization to make informed decisions.


To prototype this integration, I’ve built an MVP (Minimum Viable Production) to make API based requests programmatically. This MVP is enough for our screening device partners to understand how they would construct a REST API call from an edge screening device to ServiceNow. The best way to understand this concept is to check it out the MVP here:  https://repl.it/join/fpwhmote-rbocchinfuso

ServiceNow continues to innovate, focusing on some key areas:

  • Operations resiliency, including workforce optimization and order process optimization.
  • Smart experiences, including mobility, machine learning, portal, agent workspaces
  • Spend optimization; this is all about creating the single pane of glass from which users can view and optimize software, hardware, and public cloud spend by identifying and reducing waste and running lean.
  • Core platform innovations, in the areas of integrations, CMDB, performance, and upgrades to deliver a great customer experience.

In the area of customer service there is a big focus on culture and community (and I’ll say transparency as well), breaking down silos, and connecting the value chain by connecting all the people inside the company to all the people you want to service outside the company. The paradigm is shifting rapidly, and adaptation will depend greatly on organizational culture and systems’ ability to create pleasurable, frictionless, consumer-grade user experiences. This pivot is about more than IT, InfoSec, and corporate reputation; it’s about people; it’s about the ability to attract, hire, retain, protect, and cultivate people. This pivot will require the consumer-grade experience that the work-from-anywhere knowledge worker will demand.

By building a great customer (internal and external) service platform, where friction-free self-service becomes the norm, where virtual agents provide effective solutions, we are building an environment where human interaction in service issues becomes the exception, and talented people are free to innovate.

“The workflow revolution has only just begun, and ServiceNow will be the catalyst to redefine the enterprise, not as it is today. But as it must be tomorrow. There’s no way we can live with the cycle times of innovation that are going on with systems that are too slow, too antiquated to achieve what we all want. We all want great experiences for our teammates and for our customers. And we have to remember that behind every one of those great experiences is a great workflow.” – Bill McDermott, CEO, ServiceNow

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *