ServiceNow Knowledge17: The Aftermath

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This past week found me in the sunny humid wilds of Orlando as I stepped up for my first developer conference ever; ServiceNow’s Knowledge17.  Having worked in the platform for only the past year, I consider myself fairly advanced in the subject matter at hand for the typical beginner, yet having a long way to go to call myself expert.  With the urging of our sales reps and my own research on blogs, the ServiceNow Community and more, I decided that Knowledge17 was where I was going to start my attempt at becoming said expert.

Despite sore feet, legs and a worn out 43 year old Dad-bod, it turns out that this was a good place to invest my time and money.  I was able to spend three solid days learning some vital skills and plans to help move my own company forward in our ServiceNow implementation, as well as get some solid hands on time for components that will carry us forward into Phase 2 and 3 of our long term plans.

I’ve been sitting here since I got home late Thursday night thinking about what I might talk about.  The problem is, there was just so much information that I absorbed and took in, which spurred on new ideas, which in turn brought up more questions.  It’s just hard to pin down a solid thing to write about.

Putting my developer brain to good use, here’s some bullet points on both pros and cons from the past week:

  • The Service Portal in ServiceNow is pretty damn exciting.  Our current system is built in the previous iteration of Service Portal, called CMS.  It’s old, it’s outdated, and as we’ve found out recently after our go live, it can be a little clunky for large scale roll outs.  Service Portal streamlines all of this as well as gives it a modern and sleek look, with fairly little effort.  (In comparison to CMS.)
  • The Knowledge17 Folks Take Care of Their Own. I paid for one meal my entire time at Knowledge17, which was lunch the last day as the show was shutting down! While it may take you a mile to hike to the DineNow area from my hotel, they fed us breakfast and lunch daily, and usually had events lined up for the evening.  Not too shabby.
  • I’m not as clueless as I feared I’d look in front of seasoned developers. This was a nice surprise.  I’m growing in my skill set, and I’m not knocking myself! I’m just fairly new.  Working in our own instance of ServiceNow, I sometimes feel a bit bewildered and lost and feared that this could cause problems in the light of Knowledge17.  Turns out, I hung in there pretty well and never had any questions as to what was being discussed.  It felt pretty great!
  • I now have high hopes for our biggest Phase 3 project later this year. Identity Access Management is a bit daunting when looking at it for the first time.  We have a project to move portions of ours into ServiceNow.  Seeing some of these aspects in action at Knowledge17 let me know that it is indeed quite possible and while it’s a lot of work, it’s not insurmountable.
  • I was previously unsure how far I wanted to study ServiceNow.  There for a bit, I was unsure how far I wanted to follow this ServiceNow thing.  My department is the only one department in our company using it, and our plans only go so far.  I was a bit worried I might be ‘wasting’ my time.  After networking this past week, I found out how big the ServiceNow market is, even in my area.  So now I am fired up to make myself a bonafied expert.
  • I have a few tricks up my sleeve for big wins at work! I came away with a couple of surprises to slowly introduce at work, that will be big wins for my own book!
  • I have some learning to do. There’s a lot of modules that I took in demo’s for in the ServiceNow platform that would be a good tool to have for our security department as a whole.  So far, the sales side of things introducing these modules haven’t gone so well.  I need to learn how to write a design doc and a proposal and present these to management in a professional way!

 

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Servicenow: The Foundation.

*Note: This entry is my attempt at summarizing what I’ve learned in Chapter 1 of ‘Mastering Servicenow’ by Martin Wood, in my own words. Hooray for study tips!*

Diving into the guts of Servicenow can be a daunting task when you first log into your instance.  Accessing the system by the default System Administrator account that is provided at creation shows you every possible action that is possible in the system. All are represented by a long list of applications and modules down the left hand side of the screen in one grandiose, ever shifting menu.

After you dig in under the hood of the system, the underlying structure starts to take shape and soon, you can see a growing picture of what makes Servicenow tick.  While it may seem scary with menus and options every where you turn, the backbone of Servicenow is rather simple; it is one giant database. Every bit of data you see, is a record stored in a relational database, grouped by named tables that hold all of the related records together.

I can imagine what you’re thinking right now; a giant relational database filled with hundreds of tables and thousands of records does not seem any less daunting. It’s not so bad though. All of the data is managed by customizable lists that will show you all of the records in any given table.

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Being able to visualize the list and see how it is broken down, the structure of Servicenow starts to make more sense.  Each row on the list is a record, which you may choose to think of as a single grouping of data.  Every column in that row then, is a field, which is a different string of information contained within the record. There are several different types of fields that can be held within each of those records, but we’ll get to those later.

For further detail of a record, we will want to dig deeper and look at the form that makes up the record. You can do this by simply clicking on the record name in the first ‘field’ or column of the list.  For our example, let’s click on the ‘Room’ record.

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You’ll notice the form lays out the same information that is available in the list view, however it is missing some items and may add some more that you do not need in the list.  This form has the pertinent information displayed such as the ‘Room’ label and well as the table name that the record belongs to.  There is a lot more data available to you though.  You can control the lay out of your forms by way of the meta data table known as the ‘dictionary’, as well as configuring layouts and adding additional fields to the record.  Really, the sky’s the limit!

Where the efficiency of Servicenow begins to shine is in the depths of these records and tables, being stored as a simple relational database.  Due to this, we can can create forms and records, that pull pre-existing information off of other records and tables, which keeps us from having to recreate data structures for every different iteration that we wish to package into an application.  This way we can create more forms and applications, with far less repetition of work.  Everybody appreciates a bit less work!

 

Progress, Focus and Stuff.

It’s been a bit since last I posted, but that’s a good thing…I’ve actually been studying!

Since last time we met, I’ve picked a subject to stick to, Servicenow. This plays directly into my day to day duties. I spend a solid hour to hour and a half reading and taking notes each night, which works well for me. The act of hand writing key points has always been vital to me for making things stick.  In addition, I’ve narrowed the very broad topic of Servicenow into serviceable chunks to align with my duties as our departments de facto developer for the product, as well as additional areas to help pass the Certified System Administrator exam and topics for future projects that our area has in mind. I guess it’s true what they say, having a plan to help narrow your scope into a more manageable size does help a lot.

As I’ve finally broken the ice and taken that initial dive into formally learning a subject, it’s helped quell a lot of the excited murmuring that was going on in my head allowing me to focus and concentrate.  This has proven to be actually working in that I’m starting to see my new found knowledge rise to the surface while working on incremental projects during the day, which helps to build self esteem and prove that this whole crazy process is actually working.  While I do still get the excited trains of thought on wanting to learn everything, all at once, I’ve at least kept those thoughts cornered to one subject area. As I begin to understand certain aspects of the system, I start to get big ideas on things I could build within the system to benefit the department, as well as the company. Which is nice.   Butt, I have to keep myself on track as there currently is no bandwidth to add on new projects and ideas.  There’s a lot of projects to be dealt with that are already starting to move. That’s not to say I can’t write these big ideas down and continue to tinker with them as exercises in the study material though.

In addition to the bandwidth problem, I believe I’ve picked a well focused line to pursue on my personal study track.

For starters, I went through the two part Servicenow Basics, which was good for fine tuning the knowledge I’ve gathered on my own.  While I’ve now got a good four to five months of experience in the system, and a class that was a bit more advanced that I was prepared for at the time under my belt, I still found myself fuzzy on a lot of terminology within the system.  This helped a lot with the working knowledge I had and helped focus my energy into concentrating on ways to make the current system better.

Currently, I’m taking a deep dive on the Service Catalog portion of the platform, which ties directly into the product that we are now using in Production.  This serves two purposes; getting to know our current system better as well as learning new ways to streamline the system and support issues that arise.  This has been a boon, as it has shown the most direct benefits to my work environment.  I have the added bonus of this material sticking rather well in the old noggin, as I have a pre-built system, and a dev environment to poke around in and compare notes on what I see every day, and what the book is telling me. This all boosts my confidence in the system and my skills and helps to make me more efficient, both of which are essential.

After that, I have around five solid topics within Servicenow to follow up with, all areas that will tie directly into my current workload as well as future projects.  To pair with this, I’ve set the goal of passing the Servicenow Certified System Administrator exam, sometime before I head off to Knowledge 17 in May, where I’ll be able to drown myself in all things Servicenow and development!  The idea is to have a solid working base of skills and understanding to enable me to maximize the learning I plan on doing there.

As the great Jimmy James once said, “Jimmy has fancy plans, and pants to match.”

In the end, I hope to follow all of this up with the Certified Developer Certification upon my return, just to have that nice fuzzy little feather in my cap as I set off on this new journey of mine. Self esteem has long been a challenge, so some reachable goals a lot the way will do wonders as I move forward.