One of the biggest themes I’ve heard from ServiceNow customers, prospects, and even ServiceNow themselves over the past few months, including at Knowledge17, is that you are setup for success on ServiceNow when you stay out of box and stray away from customization.  I wanted to take a step back and look at what exactly customization is and more specifically what that means in the ServiceNow world along with what drivers are pushing this message to the forefront.

To kick things off, consider the description that IQS had provided in a whitepaper, “The misconception between configuration and customization is one of scale. Essentially, software configurations allow an enterprise to establish data fields, element names, workflows and other similar settings included within a particular software. Configurations may also allow enterprises to create or remove drop-down menus and buttons to adapt the software to align with a business’s manufacturing processes more thoroughly. Often, when an enterprise speaks of software customization, it really has configuration in mind.  Software customization, on the other hand, is far more complex and expensive than configuration. The configuration approach aims to take advantage of the built-in flexibility of a particular software system, but customization involves altering the code of the software itself.”

If I look at those explanations of configuration vs customization and what that means for ServiceNow, it would seem as if adding fields to a form, changing the values in a state or category drop-down field, or adding a UI action would all be considered configurations.  Customization, on the other hand, would relate more to writing code to create a custom report when something can’t be delivered through the out of box reporting or Performance Analytics, for example.  However, one might argue that changing the values in a state field on an application like Incident Management is customization due to the impact it has and potential problems it can cause.  I think the other key issue when talking about configuration vs customization is that ServiceNow was built as a platform and is quite extensible which makes it very hard to make a clear distinction between a configuration and a customization.  To help provide some clarity, I’d like to take a practical POV and look at what is driving the out of box vs configuration vs customization battle in the ServiceNow ecosystem.

From my own conversations with ServiceNow customers, I’ve gleaned that the out of box mindset stems from three primary drivers:

  • They want to avoid issues when it comes to upgrading to a new ServiceNow release
  • They want to reduce the on-going support effort for specific configurations or customizations
  • They want to lower the implementation cost of the product by limiting customizations

The big picture takeaway is that customers are looking to reduce the overall cost to implement and support ServiceNow; which, according to the proliferating misconception, can only be accomplished by staying out of box.

That said, my advice to a new ServiceNow customer who is about to begin their implementation is for them to treat every business requirement as a business case.  That requirement might be made up of one or many functional requirements that could each be considered a configuration or customization. The decision to be made is not if you should be making a configuration, customization, or staying out of box, but rather to determine if the business value you will obtain is worth the cost to implement, support, and maintain through multiple ServiceNow upgrades a year.   In all honesty, even if you stay out of box, ServiceNow can change the way their out of box applications work. An example being the updates they made in the past around task and incident states, which consequently required additional investments around adoption and training.

In closing, I recommend that you leverage the budget you have in an effective way by trying to leverage the functionality that ServiceNow provides off the shelf; but, configuration or customization isn’t a bad thing. Just remember that it comes with an on-going cost and should only be done when the business value justifies it.  Just like ITIL is a framework, ServiceNow is the same way – it is a powerful platform that can be extended and can bring significant ROI to your company if implemented correctly.