Not To Be Outdone, ServiceNow Ups The Ante in Employee Experience

Over the last few weeks, everyone has been excited about Microsoft Viva. Microsoft’s intense focus on the need to simplify and improve employee’s work lives has been wildly exciting and both buyers and vendors have been lining up.

But Microsoft isn’t the only vendor interested in this and Microsoft can’t do everything. So ServiceNow, the company that pioneered the “Workflow Revolution” in enterprise software, is throwing down the gauntlet. Today ServiceNow introduced a range of new features which I believe validate a major shift in the HR Tech market. (They call it the Quebec Release.)

What shift is that? Not the shift toward easy-to-use employee systems, which has been going on for a decade. This is the shift toward what I call “Systems of Design.” These are systems (like Viva) that aren’t just easy to use, they’re easy to “build, design, measure, and improve.”

In other words, the secret to EX is not buying the best platform, it’s finding tools that you can use to design, instrument, measure, and manage the employee experience. And this new idea, moving from “Systems of Record” to “Systems of Design” is huge.

As I talk with many companies about their EX issues I hear everything. For example, a new study by OKTA found that the average large company has 100+ different employee applications! Not only do we want to make all this easy to use, we want to build onboarding journeys, easy-to-use portals for benefits and wellbeing, and new applications for hybrid work, safety and hygiene, career management, and the list goes on and on.

You cannot just go out and “buy” all these systems. You have to “build them.” So now, as the HR Tech market grows to over $40 billion in technology alone, companies want “Creator Tools” not just great cloud systems. And this is pushing vendors in a new direction.

In many ways, the market is falling into Microsoft’s lap. For four decades Microsoft has built tools to help IT and technical people build applications – that’s what Microsoft’s business is all about. Viva is not only a set of off-the-shelf applications, it’s really a toolbox to build, customize, and integrate all these employee solutions.

Well, ServiceNow has now joined the party. Through a series of features announced today (called Employee Workflows), the company has just added an expanded suite of development tools, listening tools, and even training tools (yes ServiceNow is getting into employee learning) in its workflow platform.

I think this is very significant because it starts ServiceNow’s entry into the market for tools that you can “build on” not just “buy and configure.” And once customers start “building” on a platform, they become even more committed and engaged with the vendor.

Let me cite four important features which I believe are very significant to HR and IT departments.

Targeting Citizen Developers

First, ServiceNow is introducing what they call the “Journey Accelerator,” a journey application that lets managers create customized, role-based journeys and plans for employees. While I’m not crazy about the name, what this does is let you design an employee workflow and then set it up to “trigger” or “vary” depending on any employee event, your job role, your level, or other factors. In some ways, this competes a bit with Workday People Experience, but it’s designed for managers.

Imagine you’re a sales manager in California and you’re hiring a bunch of new people so you’ve built a 3-month onboarding program for them. The program might include some training, various forms to fill out, people to meet, and some developmental activities. Later this year there will be features to “copy and edit” this journey and reuse it for their team. Then someone in Finance could modify it for their needs. The journey becomes a reusable application that can be localized and customized all over the world. The applications for this are endless.

ServiceNow has been targeting “citizen developers” (app developers) for over a year. In the newest platform release, the company released App Engine Studio, a low-code visual development environment that lets people with no coding experience build applications. And to reuse these apps, the company introduced App Engine Templates to give teams access to pre-built workflow building blocks to get a head start without having to start from scratch. Very similar to Microsoft’s Power Apps.

Employee Listening and Feedback

Second, ServiceNow is introducing “Listening Posts,” the company’s entry into the employee survey and feedback market. While the company is not positioning this as an enterprise survey platform, it looks and feels a lot like Glint, Qualtrics, Medallia, or Perceptyx. It’s designed to let employees give quick feedback on a process in the flow of work, so the HR or IT department can immediately see what’s working and what’s not. But it’s going to be more, and already ServiceNow is positioning it for “employee feedback in the moment” and “insights into employee sentiment in the flow of work.”

Remember that ServiceNow’s focus has been Service, so the company’s platform is designed to build, monitor, and measure service and support journeys. But as every HR person knows, these “moments that matter” can be broad and complex (think about “coming back to work” or “scheduling safe transportation, selecting an office, and scheduling a desk” or even “being promoted to manager.”) These listening posts can be used for many points of feedback.

See where this is going?

ServiceNow is getting into the broader Engagement and Employee Voice market. (PS. Microsoft Viva does not have a feature like this, but is integrated with Glint for similar functionality.) This is a massive space and this feature could turn into a full-blown employee voice platform.

Employee Learning and LXP

Third, ServiceNow is introducing “Learning Posts,” the company’s entry into the “learning in the flow of work” market. As the company states, “while many organizations have systems for learning already in place, they don’t always have a way to surface these opportunities to employees when they need them. Learning Posts embed learning and upskilling resources into an employee’s tasks and workflows. They use AI to deliver relevant, recommended materials based on an employee’s interests. ”

See where this is going?

This product is basically a light Learning Experience Platform “in the flow of work,” which will start to look more and more like a learning system. Right now ServiceNow has no interest in selling an enterprise learning solution, but given the fact that most EX journeys have learning involved, this is the camel’s nose under the tent. (Product available in a few months.)

Enhanced Service Delivery and Back to Work Tools

The fourth announcement also interesting: it’s called Universal Request. This feature lets an employee open any case or enter a question and the system will identify, categorize, and route the request to IT, HR, Legal, Facilities, or somewhere else. The problem it solves is one we all have – where do I go to reset my password? Do I ask IT or HR for a new badge? Should I contact legal or HR about the way my manager is treating me? And on and on.

In addition to these things, ServiceNow is enhancing its EX solutions by including a new workspace mapping tool (for floor layout and location scheduling), visitor management (to help check-in a visitor safely and effectively), virtual agent for visitors and space scheduling, and lots tools for legal services as well.

As I’ve mentioned many times, ServiceNow is one of the most innovative and fast-moving vendors in the EX space, and they are not slowing down. These features bring ServiceNow into the enterprise “System of Design” market and start the company’s march into the world of employee surveys, feedback, learning, and ongoing performance support.

The EX market is massive, important, and growing so I am really excited to see ServiceNow go in this direction. The company still partners closely with Microsoft, Facebook, Slack, and other productivity vendors so this is not a direct competitor to Viva. But as this market continues to grow companies are going to start to ask “do I build this journey in Viva, ServiceNow, or Workday?” ServiceNow wants you to pick them.

We are studying Viva and all these platforms in great detail, so if you have questions please reach out to us. There will be much more coming in this space, please read my big HR Technology 2021 report to learn more.