Upgrading to a new ServiceNow version can seem daunting but knowing the right time and approach can save you time and money. As you have probably already heard, ServiceNow released their bi-annual platform update this month, so we thought there was no time like the present to evaluate what it means to go through an upgrade.
I’ve had many clients over the years ask me when the best time to upgrade to a new version of ServiceNow is, so if you find yourself wondering if it’s the right time for you, you’re not alone. Each platform upgrade comes with its own set of challenges and rewards, so it’s all about making a wise and informed decision.
You might be concerned about what it might cost, how long it will take, where you might see issues, and of course, what you might miss if you don’t upgrade this time around.
These are all valid concerns and upgrades done at the wrong time or without the correct preparation can lead to serious upgrade pain. With the correct preparation, though, upgrades can be a seamless activity that brings new features and value for your organization while keeping costs and time requirements at a minimum, which is why I’m here to help!
The Upgrade Battle: Balancing Excitement and Implementation Inside Your Organization
When thinking about upgrading to a newer version to ServiceNow, it is always critical to start the planning process as early as possible. With their bi-annual releases, ServiceNow makes it incredibly easy to upgrade to a newer version, but with that said, there are still so many steps that must happen before you are ready to upgrade production.
Clients and partners both get excited about new features because many of these features can bring tremendous value to your organization (e.g. Machine Learning, Virtual Agent, etc.). The challenge is that we have to remember that implementing new features and new versions take time and planning, both to implement within ServiceNow and to introduce and socialize effectively inside of your organization.
One of the key factors for when you should consider upgrading to a new version of ServiceNow is how much risk you want to accept. Some customers choose to upgrade as soon as a new major version is released to get the newest features and to be on the bleeding edge of innovation. The downside? They will see bugs and issues in the new version until ServiceNow patches them out. Other customers choose to wait until a release has received a few patches to ensure that it is stable before upgrading. And some customers upgrade to new major releases only when ServiceNow forces them with the hope that it will keep their effort to a minimum.
In general, Acorio recommends waiting at least for the second patch to be released before upgrading to a new major release for ServiceNow. This gives you access to the new features quickly, while also giving ServiceNow some time to fix the most critical issues to minimize the impact on your organization. In general, we also recommend not being more than one major release behind. If you’re two releases behind, then you increase the amount of effort to upgrade as there will be a larger set of changes to test against and issues to remediate. It’s more cost effective to invest in an automated testing solution and stay current with new versions than to try to play catch-up when mandatory upgrades are coming!
Another important factor in making an upgrade successful is how much development you are currently managing inside of ServiceNow. If you are in the middle of a big development cycle like implementing ServiceNow for the first time or bringing additional processes into the tool, we strongly recommend not upgrading to a new version. I’ve seen many customers try to upgrade in the middle of a project and it leads to projects that run over budget and way beyond schedule. I had one customer in the airline industry that ended up delaying their initial ServiceNow go-live by an additional 6 months and spending an additional $250,000 just so that they could upgrade sooner. I had another customer with a similar size that heeded our warnings to not upgrade during the project, and they ended up completing the upgrade in 2 months after the initial project completed and only spent $50,000. Upgrade costs and time required is always dependent on what you are doing with ServiceNow but upgrading in the middle of a big development effort will always increase those costs and development time significantly.
Upgrades also sometimes bring unexpected issues with features you’ve used for years! Thorough testing is important so that you can identify issues that are not readily apparent, far better to find these in your testing early than by your users later! Automated Testing Framework (ATF) can also be extremely helpful in rigorously testing your ServiceNow environment to reduce manual effort and building those tests as a part of a project or an upgrade preparation effort can reduce the time required for human testing and identify issues more quickly! The re-usability of the ATF tests can also bring value long-term as well since they can be executed again for future upgrades.
The last thing that can be extremely helpful when considering upgrading to a new ServiceNow version is getting assistance from a highly experienced ServiceNow partner like Acorio. Working with a partner like that gives you access to a large collection of lessons learned and success stories that can help you navigate some of the pitfalls around upgrading to a new version. Having a partner to guide you and to supplement your support staff can significantly reduce the time required to upgrade and give you an opportunity to implement a long-term testing strategy. Working with a partner during an upgrade project is a great time to consider implementing ATF to reduce the effort for upgrading in the future.