Look Who’s MeriTalking: ServiceNow’s Bob Osborn on Modernization


(Illustration: Shutterstock)

MeriTalk recently connected with Bob Osborn, Chief Technology Officer, ServiceNow Federal, to discuss President Donald Trump’s Executive Order (EO) for a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch and what’s ahead for agencies charged with implementing modernization initiatives.

MeriTalk: Recently, the first draft of the Agency Reform Plans were due in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Branch Reorganization EO. What types of recommendations do you expect to see take center stage?

Bob Osborn: The initial plans will set the tone for reorganization efforts moving forward from the White House, Office of Personnel Management, and agencies.  We expect to see a tempered initial response as agencies await developments with regard to whether mandates will ultimately be funded.

Bob Osborn (Photo: LinkedIn)

MeriTalk: The EO calls for agencies to better leverage technology to improve underlying business processes–including identifying opportunities to automate processes. What types of processes represent the greatest target for automation in today’s Federal government–even after years of modernization efforts?

BO: We have seen modernization as a theme of each new administration in recent history, but the barriers to modernization have been complex. Many manual processes remain, especially when it comes to processes that cut across multiple departments. Initiating a cross-cutting, agencywide approach to service delivery is necessary but challenging, especially when we look at holistic service delivery that marshals the data stored in legacy systems. For example, automating the onboarding of personnel spans human resources, financial, and IT infrastructures and processes– many of which remain disconnected. This function, which remains largely manual today, is one example of a prospect for modernization.

MeriTalk: What role can and should cloud play in helping to align the Federal workforce to meet today’s needs and those ahead?

BO: Cloud is critical as the foundation from which we provide modern, consumer-like services–including how we make decisions and run our lives. We’ve chosen a platform–phone or tablet–that runs applications presenting information on which we base decisions. We may utilize applications like Waze for driving directions, banking apps for online banking, or Uber for transportation services. With just a point, click, and drag you can do just about anything you like. This is the expectation of the workforce today.

To deliver at work (in this case, a Federal agency) the same type of modern user experience that we have in our “consumer” life, we need a multi-instance enterprise cloud that allows systems to pull information from multiple data sources. We don’t have that today in most Federal agencies. As a result, agencies are making decisions using stale data. We believe this is an archaic way to do business, especially as we modernize and treat government services as consumer services. A multi-instance enterprise cloud is central to achieving both a modern user experience and real-time, multistream data for better decision-making.

MeriTalk: How might we expect to see the role of managed services evolve under the EO?

BO: This is clearly the way to go. Tony Scott said on many occasions: Government needs to start acting like a multi-divisional enterprise with an overarching corporate structure with independent divisions performing different functions. Shared services is one aspect of this, and managed services is a maturity of shared services. This building-block approach involves capable and agile architecture and infrastructure and easy-to-use applications. It, ultimately, results in the hosting of services that leverage workflows and business processes to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time for appropriate decision-making. We see many organizations modernizing one department within their agency first. The applications developed through DevOps allow other departments to take advantage of them quickly–this can then be expanded across the entire agency. Core functions–like human resources and financial management–are ripe candidates for managed services. I believe the GSA unified shared services model is the right direction. It has already set the framework. The challenge is that you need a common platform for these services to be delivered through.

MeriTalk: How is ServiceNow positioned to help agencies in executing on the requirements of the Reorganization EO?

BO: We have taken the necessary steps through investment in our enterprise-class cloud and gone through FedRAMP certification process, so when the time comes agencies are confident putting their information into the ServiceNow cloud. We have more than 100 customers utilizing this modern consumer experience platform delivery model. The ability to do service delivery easily and rapidly in a platform that is mobile-device aware is new. The proper visualization is there regardless of the device–collaboration and chat, analytics, governance, risk, and compliance, and portfolio risk management are all integrated right out of the box. This reduces costs and cybersecurity risk, enabling agencies to effectively move out on the EO with confidence.

MeriTalk: What best practices are you sharing with agencies as they begin this journey?

BO: I encourage everyone to do their homework. Not all clouds are created equal, and not everyone who claims to have an enterprise-class cloud and enterprise service delivery really do. The ITIL model is critical because it provides a proven solution. Agencies must not be reluctant to start small and grow. With ServiceNow, you can start in one business area or department, and since everything is native on the platform, you can grow. This is not unlike a communications service provider, like Comcast or Dish. A basic channel package exists, and then you subscribe to additional channels you want. If you want more, you simply turn them on because they’re resident on the box.

ServiceNow is subscription based, so this same model applies. Feds can start in any one area, and then everything is certified in their environment. In the future, all they need to do is subscribe to other services. The certification process is minimal compared to other acquisitions–we’re transforming IT acquisitions. Today, CIOs struggle with keeping up with new technologies. This platform approach provides constant upgrades and new technology. New functionality and new apps are always added and subscriptions are always modernized. Because we use a single data model with common application logic–they are backward compatible. Instead of upgrades being a big issue, they become non-events.  Agencies can keep up with modern technology and lower cybersecurity risk all at a lower cost.