Skip to content Becomes an IT Management Platform – Knowledge Trip Notes

The #know11 IT shaman

In the service desk field, quickly became an innovator and a leader in evolving the otherwise moribund category. First, deployed their service desk stack as a SaaS in the pre-cloud days, and now they’ve been grafting in learnings and innovations from the consumer space into the relatively staid area of managing IT processes, changes, tickets, and IT management in general. In addition to their ever impressive list of big name customer wins, their success is evidenced by how quickly incumbent vendors have SaaSed-up and started, frankly, taking a lot more seriously as a competitive threat. See IBM’s recent Tivoli Live service manager launch, for example. And with all the good stuff going at, that’s their biggest challenge: finally rating high enough on their competitors radar to defend the chasm.


I finally made it to their annual, US user conference, Knowledge11, this week. Aside from attending, I was there to give a presentation: Automating People Back Into IT, a round-up of the new technologies and practices I’ve been seeing, narrowed down to what IT can use to, well, do better. The attendees were nicely engaged and the announcements of upcoming features all looked good.


Here’s my trip notes:

  • Social as a feature – “Social” is a new, interesting area for They’re deploying activity stream, Yammer-like micro-blogging functionality, and in-browser chatting (IM built and integrated into the tool). In general, they seemed focused on surveying the various consumer technologies in social and seeing how they can be applied to how the IT department interacts with the rest of the company (through the service desk, self-service portals, a service catalog, etc.), but also collaborates inside IT. Chris Dancy, of Pink Elephant, does an excellent job of painting this kind of vision, and to hear him tell it, has come a long way in a year from when he was poking and prodding on the topic.
  • PaaS – As with, is in a good position to offer a PaaS. They actually do have a PaaS without making much fuss about it, or calling out their offering so directly to call it a PaaS. I’d expect them to explore amplifying this message over the next year. It’s a somewhat specialized PaaS: as Fred Luddy put it, if it involves forms and workflow, is a good fit. They’re not known for any particular expertise outside of the IT category, but a handful of customers have been building on-top of the platform for things like HR applications. The conference portal, which lists the schedule, allows users to gather around an activity stream and do micro-blogging, as another example, was built on-top of the platform. The venerable market-leader Remedy, of course, has a general purpose platform, ARS, at its heart – BMC has just chosen to limit its scope to IT.
  • Maturing the company – With their ongoing success, is obviously looking to “take the company to the next level” (IPO, buy-out, or other big exit, cash event). They’ve done the usual swapping in of a new CEO, replacing founder Luddy, and there were even a few financial analysts at the conference. There’s a general feel that the time is ripe for tech “startups” that’ve been forced to wait over the past years to finally exit…and with the likes of LinkedIn having a strong IPO, who can blame those hopes?
  • Automation – In a recent version, added on runbook and automation, the actual provisioning and configuration of IT devices. They’re just starting out here, developing it in-house instead of partnering or acquiring. Their ambitions here are growing as evidenced by the ongoing work there and the sessions on the topic. One session in particular was delightful: a developer opened the floor for suggestions of things to automate and was genuinely surprised to hear three people ask for SAP. Just one person asked for mainframe, which brought a titter from the crowd. The thing to notice is the customer’s desire and trust to have configure such a core application. This is a crowded space, with some popular mavericks like Puppet Labs and Opscode, and it’s difficult to see it as an easy game for to win on their own.
  • In-house – a subtle, but important thing to notice is that very much prefers to do in-house development, making me wonder if they have NIH syndrome. For example, one of the announcements at Knowledge11 was that they’d replaced Lucene with their own search engine. I’m not a technical expert on the exact specifics, and no doubt a SaaS the scale of requires heavy lifting when it comes to search. Also, notice that their automation technology is in-housed versus partnering with someone else. On the partner angle, several would-be partners that I spoke with mentioned that was generally cool on deeper partnerships – again, my theory would be that the company prefers to develop in-house instead of graft on technologies. That’s a criticism rightly lodges at it’s incumbent competitors: a bunch of technology duct-taped together rather than organically developed as a whole.
  • Open with users – time and time again I noticed that employees were very open and engaging with their users, more so than I’m used to expecting from vendors. There were many sessions (such as the automation one above) where employees seemed genuinely interested in getting feedback rather than just broadcasting. The analyst relations they’ve done over the years has been similarly breezy, which I appreciate at.
  • Developer Relations – that porousness is a good asset going into something will quickly need: more developer outreach. It’s one thing to have service integrators (“SaaS integrators”?) helping customers get up and running, but is quickly moving into spaces where it would benefit from others building on-top of their platform: dealing with different devices and applications for automation; integrating with external social services; building out vertical applications on-top of it’s PaaS-we-don’t-call-a-PaaS. Here, Spiceworks seems to have proven out the value of mounting up developers (or, “people who write code” for those code writing admins out there) around a platform with their Extensions program which has 184 plugins at the moment.
  • JavaScript – a nice context for all of this is how much, apparently, relies on JavaScript, which is used both in the front-end and back-end. I’m starting to see that this mature JavaScript is a better way to provide extension points in your platform, which, coupled with the fact that developers as a whole seem better skilled and comfortible with JavaScript, lays the foundation for a pretty good developer-friendly platform.

What’s Next?

It’s really no big secret that is an important vendor in the IT Management space. Their ambitions to widen their scope beyond service desk (and “service management”) have been humming a bit, but are obviously in full-gear. They have a long way to go with automaton (it just takes time to get the code right), and their not-so-explicitly stated, but clearly existant, ambitions to expand into other enterprise application needs with a PaaS are young ‘n’ fresh as well.

The level of interest and engagement from their customer base, though, is a huge asset. Incumbent competitors (largely the Big 4 of BMC, CA, HP, and IBM) have quickly wised-up to the threat, however, and can be expected to burn through resources in a frenzied pace to catch-up and defend themselves…or buy the if feasible. If can master just one more “trick” – automation or LoB PaaS, more than likely – they’ll be an undeniably solid and broad part of the IT Management space.

Disclosure: is a client, as are HP, IBM, Spiceworks, Puppet Labs, and Opscode. See the RedMonk client list for others related to the above.

Categories: Cloud, Conferences, Social Software, Systems Management, Trip Notes.

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3 Responses

  1. I'd say this post wraps up the essence of #know11 with a nice red bow. One point of clarification about our runbook automation technology. While it is organically developed (like the rest of the ServiceNow platform) it does reach out to and orchestrate management functions in tools like VMware vCenter, Windows Powershell, and Amazon EC2, or in any system presenting Web services or accessible from the command line. We are adding additional pre-built support for other tools per customer demand.

    On a separate note, "PaaS!" There…we said it.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] For a wrap-up of the Knowledge11 conference, check out my trip-report. […]

  2. […] For more on the recent ServiceNow Knowledge11 conference, see my trip report. […]