Understanding What a ServiceNow Workflow Actually Is

The marketing (and the underlying structure) of the ServiceNow Platform has evolved in a big way over the years, but perhaps none is as noticeable as the shift from individual products such as HR, ITSM, ITOM, SecOps, and CSM, to more overarching groups; IT Workflows, Employee Workflows, and Customer Workflows. While each of these groups contains the existing platform products and modules, they are now organized by something even smaller and more basic; individual workflows. While the IT Workflows group contains ITSM, ITOM, ITBM, Asset, DevOps, SecOps, and GRC, what ties them all together are individual, automated, multi-step processes (ie. workflows).

We’re working on a new ServiceNow Advisory eBook (which will launch before the end of the month!) and one of the fundamental principles of the book is that true Digital Transformation-  that rolls through, across, and deeply throughout an organization- begins by being embedded in a single transaction process, no matter how small or detailed, and then grows from there. Which is exactly the right thought process for Workflows.

So, while Bill McDermott may talk about ServiceNow’s IT, Employee, and Customer Workflows on the big stage, what does that actually mean? What does a single workflow do, why does it matter, and who should care about them? That’s what we’re here to talk about today.

So. What is a ServiceNow Workflow?

A ServiceNow Workflow is any part of the Platform that automates a multi-step process. To break it down even further, it means that a Workflow is a series of Activities that follow execution paths.

Now, an Activity is a set of instructions or a unit of work that can include script, logging, approvals, record processing, timers, wait time, etc. They can process inputs from other Activities and conversely can provide output for other Activities to process. This processing continues as long as an Activity can determine which execution path to follow upon completing its work.

Because Workflows are made up of different sets of Activities (which each handle their own set of instructions), Workflows are a major win for automation on the ServiceNow platform: They are reusable and can even call other Workflows (subflows) to expand their capabilities.

This type of automation is an expansion of Self-Service capabilities on the platform and also serves as a standardization of processes, not only across a single company but across entire industries and economies.

Workflows in ServiceNow Paris and Beyond

Now that you understand what a single Workflow is… it’s time to tell you that after the New York release, Workflow as a product is a legacy product. Workflows as a concept (and a fundamental block of the ServiceNow Platform) remain the same, now all housed within Flow Designer. Flow Designer lets process owners use natural language to create Workflows; automate approvals, tasks, notifications, and record operations… without coding. You still have the same components (Workflows, Subflows, Actions), now with added benefits;

  • Enhanced graphical Workflow Editor represents Workflows visually as a type of flowchart. It shows Activities as boxes labeled with information about that Activity and transitions from one Activity to the next as lines connecting the boxes.
  • Consolidates multiple Now Platform automation capabilities into a single environment so process owners and developers can build and visualize business processes from a single interface. Includes Workflows and actions triggered by ServiceNow Service Catalog events.
  • Consolidates configuration and runtime information into a single environment so process owners and developers can create, operate, and troubleshoot Workflows from a single interface.
  • Provides natural-language-descriptions of Workflow logic to help non-technical users understand triggers, actions, inputs, and outputs.
  • Promotes process automation by enabling subject matter experts to develop and share reusable actions with Workflow designers.
  • Reduces upgrade costs, with upgrade-safe Now Platform logic replacing complex custom script.
  • Reduces development costs by providing a standard library of reusable actions.

The Big Picture: IT, Employee, and Customer Workflows

Think back to the Knowledge20 Virtual Stage (or, if you prefer to remember happier times, think back to the Knowledge19 Main Stage), and remember how McDermott talked about ServiceNow’s three Workflows; IT, Employee, and Customer. Of course, he wasn’t referring to the individual workflows, but rather, for example, the thousands of workflows that perform Activities across the ITSM, ITOM, Asset, and SecOps to make up the overarching “IT Workflows” concept.

Just like with any Transformation, the big picture is supported by individual processes that link together as they grow.