People are the future of work

When Fred Luddy founded ServiceNow in 2004, his vision was to create a cloud-based workflow platform for regular people, not just developers. In the final keynote presentation of Knowledge18, Now Platform Senior Vice President of Development and Operations Pat Casey unveiled ServiceNow tools turning that human-centered promise into reality.

“The future of work will be about people,” said Casey. He described a future in which automation and service intelligence handle routine tasks so that people can focus on the creative, meaningful work that attracted them to their fields in the first place.

“If you’re a doctor, you’ll spend more time seeing patients and less time reading charts,” Casey said. “If you’re an engineer, you’ll spend more time writing code.”

ServiceNow’s view is enterprise apps should be fun and easy to use, said Casey, a veteran developer who was employee #9 at ServiceNow. Employees and customers should be able to use the medium that works best for them, be it phone, browser or voice. “It’s not about finding the tool,” he said. “It’s about the tool finding you.”

In order to create that future, technologists need to solve hard engineering problems. Casey focused on two challenges in particular: Integrating disparate systems and adding AI functionality to applications.

Painting the Golden Gate

Today, enterprises typically deploy multiple applications from different vendors to handle common tasks like purchase orders, compensation changes and expense reports. These applications tend to draw on different data sets. Integrating all these apps and databases so they work together smoothly is a hard problem, not unlike painting the Golden Gate Bridge.

Bridge painting is a job that never ends, said Casey.  As soon as maintenance workers finish applying a new coat of paint to the Golden Gate, they must start at the beginning to cover new rust. “Integration is the same problem space,” said Casey. “By the time you integrate three or four apps, something breaks and you have to start over.”

Casey announced two ServiceNow tools that address this problem: IntegrationHub and Flow Designer. Rather than burdening programmers with writing and rewriting integration code endlessly, IntegrationHub allows users to create apps that connect multiple systems and data without writing any code.

Flow Designer is a related tool that non-programmers can use to build workflows that integrate different apps. Casey called ServiceNow’s Vice President of Platform Engineering Joe Davis and Director of Quality Engineering Stevin Coe to the stage to demonstrate a simple app that consolidates product feedback coming in via the ServiceNow customer service portal, the ServiceNow community site, social media channels and Sharepoint documents.

Coe showed how he used Flow Designer’s drag and click interface to build the app, which generates email and Slack alerts based on approved product feedback from all these sources.

“There’s no need to script or code approvals, even complex ones,” Davis added. “This is revolutionary on the platform.”

Mobile AI design for the rest of us

During Casey’s presentation, ServiceNow Global Head of Design Greg Petroff took the stage to explain how the Now Platform empowers non-programmers to build fully native mobile apps that leverage the full power of the Now Platform, without writing a single line of code.

In a live demo, ServiceNow UX Design Manager Jessica Moon used these tools to build a simple app to manage large events at a golf driving range. “We’re in the era of experiences,” Moon said, addressing 18,000 registered Knowledge18 attendees. “It’s not just about building products. It’s about empowering builders, you, to add to the ecosystem.”

These experiences are increasingly powered by AI. Adding AI functionality to applications has historically been another thorny challenge for technologists, explained ServiceNow Senior Director of Application Engineering Wendy Li.

To work properly, the data and machine learning model that powers the AI experience need to be on the same platform. The model must be tailored to the relevant data set, and it needs to incorporate continuous learning functionality.

That’s the technology behind the new ServiceNow Virtual Agent, a customer service tool that uses machine learning algorithms to automatically categorize, route and prioritize issues. Appearing alongside Li, ServiceNow Virtual Agent Product Manager Michael Fortson showed off a customer service chatbot for LawnBot, a fictional smart lawnmower that learns the dimensions of your lawn and then cuts the grass autonomously.

Foster showed how he used Virtual Agent to create a conversational interface to handle a product bug in which LawnBot started chasing cats up trees. “That’s a great YouTube video, but a terrible customer experience,” he said.

The bot not only answered customer questions about the bug but activated a system reboot that solved the customer’s problem. Using the same approach, anyone can build a bot that can carry on robust conversations with customers and adapt to new situations.

Capabilities like Virtual Agent, Flow Designer and IntegrationHub helped win ServiceNow a spot as a Leader in top analyst ratings, Casey said.

“The future of work is not like the weather, or an asteroid strike, or a volcano,” Casey concluded. “It will be whatever we build. Let’s build a great one.”