ServiceNow CEO: Social, database battle looms

What's the next big thing for IT service management? The convergence of unstructured social news feeds versus traditional, structured databases, CEO Frank Slootman said during an interview at the ServiceNow Knowledge12 user conference this week.

There's a generational shift coming, he says. "Digital natives never leave the feed. They don’t want to be in modal applications." The key for now may be to let people consume data according to their preferences. But how do you then structure that so that both constituencies get what they need, in the structure they want?

Today, messaging and record keeping live in two separate domains, Slootman says. Email exchanges about service records establish communication streams that are out of band. News feeds are an effort to corral that. "In our world we want them to be the same thing because the messaging contains information that should be part of the record."

So today you can create news feeds in ServiceNow and associate them with incidents, problems or other service processes. Those feeds, when they relate to a specific incident or problem, are linked into the database records. But they're still unstructured, if threaded, conversations.

Users who are comfortable browsing through a news feed to find relevant tips or answers may have no problem searching through a bit of clutter to find the relevant data. But people who want to cut to the chase and just get the answer, who would like to see those nuggets incorporated into a structured database the way God intended, may resent wasting time trolling through discussion threads.

Adding to the complexity: Users may have different threads that are company wide, topic specific, or aimed at specific sub-groups. How will all of that shake out?

"We don't have all of the answers," admits executive Rob Woodbyrne. Right now, he says, ServiceNow is trying to gain visibility into how customers are actually using the news feeds as it moves forward.

I might argue that someone needs to curate that information, cull out the relevant answers and lock them down. But is it really worth the effort? In the age of fast search and a preference for threaded discussions, the issue could become irrelevant -- particularly as the old-school, fielded data generation fades from the scene.

Ultimately, Slootman thinks that the news feed will become the primary ITSM gateway. "In the future incarnations of our product you will see the news feed just like Facebook and that will become the front and center of ServiceNow. That’s where people will work the problems and changes," he says.

So what does that mean for the database? For now the messaging and database structures continue to sit side side, but eventually one will dominate. "This is one of the more strategic battles in the industry," Slootman says. "Whoever wins that battle will have enormous control."

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