Out of the box

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Have you worked in an implementation team that upheld a principle to change as little as possible to the out of the box system? Where it is important to implement what can be implemented with out of the box features? To ensure seamless upgrades to future versions of the new product? When you are working with a ServiceNow product, chances are pretty high that this is the case.
So what exactly is out of the box? It seems easy to refer to something as out of the box if it is already there, but what if we are talking about a customisable piece of out of the box functionality? Like notifications or forms and fields? As consultants we need to play with this ‘definition’ each time we work in an implementation.

In general out of the box software features functionality that is already present without any alteration to it. When features are usable without the need to make changes to its settings, configurations or installation procedure, it can be considered as working out of the box. Most consumer software products have an installation guide, some prefabricated configuration settings that fit most computers (or that will automatically detect the settings), and general ease of use instructions to get the software going. The installation process is simplified for every consumer, to a degree that we don’t even need to talk about installing anymore when referring to Apps for smartphones for instance. Cloud software even takes it one step beyond that by removing the need to install features altogether.

Cloud software products take a lot of the diversity in installations away. Pretty much all hardware components become irrelevant for the delivery of the functionality. That is also why ServiceNow is able to provide a broad arrangement of applications to the consumer without having to worry about their respective hardware configurations. The software configurations remain though, and there are plenty of them in ServiceNow. Of course, as a good software manufacturer, you would need to provide your clients with guidance and help. And they do in the form of professionally serviced implementations.

ServiceNow created a standardised installation procedure (StartNow) and issue a broadly recognised service management product with standardised features (ServiceNow) to their customers. In an ideal world the two would fit the organisation like a glove, and they would be up and running their Service Management from the cloud within several weeks. The features used would be pretty much standardised and part of the delivered set of configurable options. This all seems very enticing, until you end up in the middle of the implementation.

The complexity within a business environment differs greatly from that of a consumer. There are many different influential factors at play when ‘installing’ a product for businesses. These are all stakeholders of the product and unfortunately, their wishes for the settings of ServiceNow tend to oppose each other more often than not. Disregarding the need for a discussion with the stakeholders is also not an option. Because more people are involved, the pressure put on ServiceNow is much greater than that of a single consumer. ServiceNow has to listen to keep their business consumers happy during an implementation and afterwards.
So the trick for ServiceNow is to navigate the maze of influences to find a common ground, where the total happiness is greatest for all. They ‘maximize’ the value for each individual group of stakeholders and add it up, to see which one results in the greatest value. Keep in mind though: ServiceNow is also one of the stakeholders to be kept happy.
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The flexibility of its features can in some cases also be considered a flaw. When stakeholders want something, it is nearly always possible to deliver it in some way. Sometimes these wishes are blatant customisations, which make it easy to consult on the large risks involved, and focus on the benefits of keeping it simpler or solving it by manual actions. Sometimes these wishes can be fulfilled with the use of a configuration setting. This means the software came prepared for the wish, and implemented the opportunity to grant it with ease.

Both of these situations are divided by a large gap of stakeholder wishes that can be fulfilled by using ServiceNow in ways it was ‘not intended to be used’. This is the gap the consultants operate in. In this gap the experience of the consultant is important. The key-work the consultant will be doing, is making the gap as small as possible (extending the knowledge on the product), analyze the possibilities of bridging the gap (determining the impact and long-term effects) and ‘maximize’ the value of the solution provided (provide the most stakeholder value).

A well-informed consultant is able to decrease that gap to a minimum and even then is able to provide insight into what is going to happen in the tool and in the organisation. Sometimes a good consultant will opt for the customisation, when it outweighs the costs of not having the feature at all. The cost however is determined based on the input received from the stakeholders and the respective weights put on those arguments. Analysis on the monetary value created by solutions are either done too quickly or dismissed at all. So as a consultant, we mostly weigh our choices with political costs and value.

This is where being impartial is beneficial, as opposed to being one of the stakeholders. Any client of mine will be the most important stakeholder for any implementation I’m involved in. I can imagine this might be a little bit more difficult when you are working for ServiceNow during an implementation. I can imagine it would be more beneficial for ServiceNow, if a customer would stay out of the box. So how are these values weighed in a project like this? When is the golden principle of staying out of the box no longer valid?

That is why I like the term ‘Out of the box’ specifically. It is actually a “contronym” or “auto-antonym”: an expression with two opposing definitions. Working or thinking out of the box could also mean the usage of the functionality and features to such a degree that the wish is fulfilled, by changing the original conforming thoughts on what the wish was. Instead of having that high-end customisation that automatically reroutes tasks to users based on the duration and prioritisation of the task, having a service desk could prove to be more cost effective. Always keep in mind that alternative solutions could prove to be more beneficial.
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When you have exhausted all your options though, it might be more beneficial to opt for that one customisation you’ve done plenty of time before. It could have survived plenty of upgrades already without issues. Perhaps it doesn’t require maintenance at all or your documentation completely covers it. If you are aware of all the considerations to take into account and control is complete in the process of ‘installing’ it, I would imagine this to be in accordance with what could be considered a configuration setting in ServiceNow.

So we have this wonderful toolkit available in ServiceNow, allowing us to do so many things, but we aren’t allowed to use it because using it is a customisation? Sure I understand the risks involved by building something that can break later on. But if we are so adamant on keeping it out of the box, I would expect some sort guidelines for determining what is and what isn’t allowed. Even just one wiki-page would be sufficient.

This is the fun part of my work though. Defining what is out of the box is part of the gap that the consultants need to bridge. It is part of their expertise. It is part of their political dance with stakeholders, needed to allow for a proper functioning of the tool. It is needed to reduce risks for the stakeholders using it. It is needed to improve the total happiness of stakeholders during the implementation. Including ServiceNow. There is no need to lie to my stakeholders and I want to provide any customer with the best possible solutions, even if this means deviating from a principle like staying out of the box.

From the stakeholders’ perspective, potential solutions from a consultant should be considered influenced by a web of stakeholders as well. Why would they propose a certain solution? What kind of influences are powering their decision making? Keeping all this in mind, a customisation is not necessarily a bad thing. It could prove more beneficial to your organisation to include a customisation in your tool, instead of implementing ServiceNow out of the box.

Unless of course, you were already using the other definition of out of the box.

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2 Responses to “Out of the box”

  1. Pradeep Says:

    Excellent post!

  2. Mirko Says:

    I agree in part. It is the maturity of the organization and its processes (these should be flexible though), tools & integration used which support it. You don’t want to break anything (in the environments, trust, and last but not least process 😉 ) …

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