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Better Together: AI-Driven Enterprise Search and ServiceNow Digital Workflow

Sean Coleman

ServiceNow has become ubiquitous across enterprise computing in a wave of organizations digitizing their most important workflows. This week on the show, BA Insight CTO Sean Coleman joins us to describe how AI-driven enterprise search can augment these digital workflows and bring greater efficiency, satisfaction, and service to your users and stakeholders.

Links & Notes

Sean Coleman

Sean Coleman
Chief Customer Officer
BA Insight


Pete: Welcome to “Shared Insights,” the podcast from BA Insight. My name is Pete Wright and I am joined today by our very own CTO and Chief Customer Officer, Sean Coleman. How are you doing, Sean?

Sean: I’m doing great, Pete. How are you?

Pete: I’m doing very well. I’m excited about our conversation today. We’ve got a bit of some news, hopefully, we’re going to reflect on a little bit here. We’re talking more about AI and cognitive search. Building off of some of the other conversations we’ve had recently. Today we’re going to talk about ServiceNow. If you haven’t used ServiceNow, you don’t have it installed on your end and your enterprise, you’ve probably used it somewhere if you’ve ever had to entertain a digital workflow. So, we’re going to be talking about what is a digital workflow, where does ServiceNow fit into the overall digital economy, and how can you make your experience with ServiceNow better with a little bit of cognitive search thanks to BA Insight? That about sum up what we’re going to talk about today?

Sean: Yeah, I think it does. I mean, I think you started with the right thing. I mean, I’d be surprised…most everybody out there is probably…if they’re not aware of ServiceNow, you know, they’re using it in some way. I mean, it’s really kind of caught on, kind of become ubiquitous, right, used in a lot of companies. And we deal with a lot of customers that have ServiceNow and that kind of started the conversations, right, where people were, you know, “Hey, we’ve got this kind of great digital workflow tool that we’re really putting a lot of different workflows in there.” And it kind of like there was groundswell that built, right? So, you started hearing about them a little bit and then you hear about them a little bit more, and they were starting on the IT service management side and they expanded into the HR. And now, it’s pretty much if you’ve got any workflow stuff going on, they’ve got a really great platform to do that.

And I think people continue to see the market embrace them. I mean, just recently, as recent as last week, there was a strategic partnership and now it’s between Microsoft and ServiceNow, which is exciting on a lot of levels, especially for us, right, since we deal with a lot of Microsoft customers, we work tightly with Microsoft on all their search information. So, seeing them get tighter with ServiceNow views that as, you know, kind of, “Yes, this is part of a larger IT footprint that we have to deal with.” Right?

So, sometimes Microsoft likes to pretend that other competitors aren’t there or not even competitors, but other technology is not there, but not in this case. So, they’re embracing ServiceNow, they’re actually going to use ServiceNow internally. Great win for those guys. And so, yeah, I mean, I think what we look at and what we try to focus on or really think about how can we help is if you just take a step back and look at ServiceNow as a platform for driving employee experiences and employee engagement, right?

So, that’s kind of the underlying message that I think ServiceNow and people in that industry are sending, which is, “Hey, we’re going with a digital workflow, sure. But in the end of the day, what we’re going to use that for is we’re going to use that for making employees more engaged, making employees happier, easier to do their job.” And that flows right into what we’ve been saying, which is in order for an employee to be able to do their job and be happy and in doing it, man, they got to find the information. So, let’s make sure that from an AI search perspective, we’re giving them access to the data they need when they need it so that they can solve the problem and not get frustrated. So, to me it goes hand in hand, digital workflow, finding information.

Pete: Well, and it seems like there is, I mean, just as you talk about it, the gap that is implied between what ServiceNow allows you to do in the present tense in engaging customers. Before we get into some examples, you know, at what point do you realize that there’s a gap between that present tense engagement and the past tense access to everything that we’ve created before that might relate to this present tense engagement? Does that make sense?

Sean: Yeah, it does. I mean, and I think that’s what people are seeing. You know, if you think about just the life cycle of something like this, right? So, you start out with, “I’ve got a lot of processes that are inefficient, I’m going to bring efficiency, I’m going to bring a platform behind those.” Right? “ServiceNow is likely that platform, and I’m going to make that process efficient. I’m going to make it so that, you know, it’s easy for us to see how many people are in that process, where they’re at in that process, where they’re getting stuck, and how I deal with them.” But what happens is that you can provide them what you think the right the answer is, right? So, you can provide some supporting documentation. You can provide guidance into that digital workflow.

But they still may get stuck and they still likely do get stuck on, “Who do I ask about this?” Or, “Is there some other information out there?” Or, “Actually, this digital workflow has me solving the problems, so now I’m responsible for getting it from the, you know, step C to step D. How do I do that? How do I do that as effective as I can?” So, yeah, you know, the easier you make the workflow progress, it kind of hones in more on where those problem points are. And I think what we’ve seen is those problem points always come up when the answer to what they’re looking for is somewhere else. And you don’t know where, right? But it’s somewhere else.

And I think that that’s the problem that we’re trying to solve or that’s the problem that we’re at least trying to talk about. Let people know that, “Hey, there likely is this problem out there that you have.” Your digital workflow is going great, right? You’re seeing massive improvement on what it used to take to do that. And a lot of times what you’ve done is you’ve taken a complicated IT process or a complicated HR process and you’ve streamlined for those people.

But when you drop the employees in that process, like, the people who were overseeing the process before, great, they’ve got all the reporting they need, you still may run into that problem when the employees get in there that they can’t actually find what they need to move themselves from step to step. And so, how do you, one, predict that, and two, interject an answer for that so that it almost solves their problem before they know they have it? Which, obviously, is what we’re talking about, which is AI-driven search, let me predict what you’re going to have and try to solve it for you before you get to it.

Pete: So, you know, even if you are invested in this world of, you know, workflows, I think it can be challenging to talk about the examples where AI search might be able to fill that gap. So, you wanted to walk through some example scenarios in which a digital workflow circumstance exists and how AI can help augment that experience.

Sean: Yeah. And I think it’s always good to break it back down into examples, right? So, to me, that’s a big problem that we have a lot of times, we say, “Hey, AI-driven search is going to solve all your problems.” And somebody goes, “Well, tell me exactly how it’s going to solve my problem.” And I go, “Well, let me understand your situation.” Right? So, that’s what I tried to do is think up a few top-level examples that maybe will resonate with some people.

So, first one that came to mind was, if you look at ServiceNow from…and I’m going to start on the employee’s side, right? So, let’s talk a little bit about, you know, employee engagement and keeping people engaged. Right? So, I think I read there was a recent statistic, I think McKinsey put it together, that the employees are spending about 20% of their time looking for information and another 14% of their time communicating and collaborating. So, they’re either looking for something or they’re asking somebody about it or they’re communicating about it, right?

So, if you think, okay, I’ve got 34% of the time that’s going on. So, let’s kind of drill in on that and look at an HR executive. You know, an HR executive who now has a digital workflow going for his training process, his performance processes, his benefits processes, right? All of these things that he’s got going on, he’s probably still spending a lot of his time trying to, you know, find information around those, right? So, how are they going? And he probably gets a report in ServiceNow that says that you’ve got a thousand employees in the training workflow and, you know, 95% of them are on step C and, you know, 6% of we’re on step B.

But what he’s really worried about is, “Okay, you know, they’re at that step, but are they happily at that step? Are they frustrated at that step? Are they moving around? Are they dropping out and coming back in?” Some of the things that are more contextual into what you’re doing, right? So, not a specific data point of how many people are at what place, but what other things are they doing around that that maybe would help me? Right? So, here’s the problem where we get into, well, that information is in another system, right? So, what can AI-driven search do for him at that point…him or her at that point, right? So, what we can do is we know the employees that are in that digital workflow and we know the other systems that they talk about, that they use, right?

So, maybe we’re a Yammer company. Maybe there’s Yammer discussions going on and I’ve got employees that have to do yearly training. They’ve got to do security training, they’ve got to do all this kind of stuff. Well, wouldn’t it be great if while I’m looking at my training workflow, the AI-driven search says, “Oh, he’s looking at the security training. Let me go out to Yammer. I’m going to run a search against these employees and I’m going to come back and say, you know, 30% of the people out there that are talking about certification retraining are talking about it in a negative connotation.” Right? Let’s look at sentiment of how people are talking to each other, right. Or 60% of the people are talking about it in a, “Hey, that was super easy this year. Man, ServiceNow or this new digital workflow tool made it a lot better.”

So that’s context around that workflow that would be very hard to just go…you know, unless he just went to Yammer…him or her went to Yammer and just read through it and tried to get an idea. “Well, it sounds like people say it’s going good.” What AI-driven search can do is because it can index things like Yammer and because it can do analytical processing of what’s being said, it can aggregate that up and say, “Generally, your employees are favorable about this. Generally, they’re not favorable about this.” Right? So, now I’ve got both sides of the coin. I know that my digital workflow is working because I’ve got the metrics of how many people entered, how long it took them to get through, and how many people exited. But I’ve got right there in that same pane of glass, I’ve got the AI-driven search popping up and saying, “Oh, by the way, positive connotation in the company about this.” Right?

People are talking about it in Teams, they’re talking about it in Yammer, there’s documents about it, you know, those type of things that we’ve looked at. And from sentiment, we can tell that it’s good or it’s bad, right? And that can apply to a lot of places. Right? So, you do…let’s go to like a performance management, right? So, you’re working with people on performance, you’re setting goals, and some of the goals that you’ve set for them, right, you’ve gone through that process, you’ve set the goals, you know that your managers have had all of their monthly check-ins, right? You see it because you’ve digitized the workflow, and you’ve got the data. But what’s the ripple effect of that performance goal? Right?

So, if you know that in a support team, one of the performance metrics that that group is going after is building a better knowledge base, right? So, they’re into ServiceNow and it’s like, “Hey, we got a hundred articles. Man, wouldn’t it be great if we got a thousand articles?” Well, the digital workflow doesn’t necessarily…from a performance standpoint, doesn’t focus on…It tells you, “Did you go through the performance process?” and you did, but did the outcome of that…where are the people in that, how are they doing in what I’ve targeted to?

So, if you can bring it together and then offer to your managers, “Oh hey, by the way, not only can we tell you how your downline is handling working with your team on performance, but we can see the connection to the increase in document contributions, the increase in communication around this team. The increase in whatever performance aspect you created for them, we can actually tie them together and bring that data in and show it to people.” And then tie back in and say, “Well, are people talking about it negatively or talking about it positively?” Not only did you tell them that we want to build our knowledge base, they actually went and did it because you had a hundred articles and now we have a thousand articles.

But then in Yammer, they talked about how easy it was, which, now, what I’m looking at is not only am I managing the digital workflow efficiently, I’m getting the performance out of the team, but I’ve got engagement at a positive level and better-engaged employees are happier employees, more effective. So, I think that bringing in that type of data is that kind of next-level view of the world that we see AI-driven search bringing in for this HR exec.

Pete: It sounds so much like…you know, one of the huge benefits we can’t underscore enough is that you see it all in the same pane of glass, as you say, right? This allows you to get context that has been heretofore very challenging to achieve.

Sean: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. And if you think about, if, you know, if you step back and just go, “Hey, I’m an HR exec…” Anything that gives me a better idea about…you know, certainly, like I said, making sure your processes are efficient, yes, right, table stakes. Like, everybody’s got to do that. If you’re not efficient, you’re not going to win. But once you’re efficient, are your employees engaged and satisfied? I think there was…it was Gallup. Gallup did a poll, I think it was from 2018, that said that only one-third of the hundred million employees they polled said that they were engaged at work.

Fifty-one percent were not engaged. And then the other 16% were actively disengaged and actively disengaged is actually almost negative, right, because those actively disengaged people cause others to be disengaged, right? So, looking at it in a way of, “Man, I need to get that one-third of engaged employees to two-thirds, what can I do?” As an HR exec, if I could show that over a year I took that number from one-third to even a half, I didn’t spend any more money, I didn’t go out and hire a bunch of people. What I did was took the people that we had and made them happier at work, which makes them more efficient, which makes the whole company more efficient. Right? So, you know, win-win across the board, right?

Pete: You want to walk us through another example? Maybe another employee-focused example?

Sean: Yeah, no, I think that’s great. So, if we flipped off of an HR executive, let’s say, “Okay, well I have a ton of those,” right? So, am I going to…you know, maybe I’ve got a whizz-bang HR exec and I don’t need that type of help he’s got, you know, he or she’s got. You’ve got a bunch of employees and those employees are doing a bunch of things. So, let’s keep in the HR space and let’s talk about benefits enrollment.

Every single person every year does benefits enrollment. If you’ve built that process into ServiceNow, you’ve probably got it nailed, right? It’s going to take them step one, step two, step three, right? They’re going to know what their options are, all that type of stuff. But there’s external information that you can put in their hands that are going to make them happier about that process and be able to complete it. So I can use me for an example, right? We have a number of, you know, health plans available. And if you’ve dug into health plans recently, it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got this deductible, I got that, I got this.”

Well, I’m married, I got a couple of kids. Boy, it would be great to know if there’s…you know, what are other people…has anyone else used this plan? And is it positive? Is it negative? Right? So, if I’m on a plan, and right there beside it popped up with a, “Hey, Sean, here’s some discussions that are going on in Yammer right now, or in Slack right now, about the particular plan you’re looking at.” Now, it’s not a document about it, you know, it’s not this, but it’s real fellow coworkers that I’ve got sharing their experiences. Well, that’s going to be great, right? I can look at that and go, “Wow, I know Bob and he said this worked great for him. And it was a little cheaper than this other one and he saved some money with it. Well, that’s awesome.”

You know, or maybe someone, maybe a very helpful fellow employee built a spreadsheet and they said, “Hey, for myself, I built this spreadsheet and I did it to analyze the 401(k) options. Do I go Roth? Do I go traditional? Do I put a percent here? Percent there? What about the match?” Right? And that’s a bunch of math and I’m not great at math but I got…you know, here’s Steve who I know over in finance, he put a spreadsheet together that he used and he tossed it on SharePoint and just shared it out there. Steve probably didn’t email everyone and told him he did it. He just told the people that are around the group. But now, the AI-driven search found that document. So, all that it got used, understand what it’s about and it can offer it up to me while I’m in context with it and say, “You may find this helpful. Here’s a spreadsheet that Steve wrote that deals with how to calculate the right 401(k) options for you.”

Pete: Even the HR manager in the last example is going to be prioritizing how useful this is. This is amazing.

Sean: Yeah. And that’s what it is. You know, you can’t hit on enough, there’s so much locked away knowledge out there that if you can get to it and you can index it and you can cross-reference, that’s the trick, right? So, I’m in ServiceNow, I’m looking at something, and that’s what the integration has to do and that’s what our integration does. It looks at where you’re in context, and then goes out there and finds people, documents, conversations, things like that and offers them over to you. Right? So, you can imagine, you know, that employee, that person before that basically every time he got to one of those decision processes…these are big decisions. “What am I going to do for our retirement? What am I going to do for my health insurance?” Big decisions that they’re making, and if they don’t feel like they’ve got the right information, they’re frustrated and then they’re unhappy, right? And then they got to go get on a customer call and maybe they’re not as nice. Right? So, it’s like a ripple effect.

Pete: Well, frustrated and it takes a long time, right? It just takes a long time to get through this thing. And, like, the last thing you want…HR, IT, whatever, the last thing you want is people to be spending four hours a day thinking about and driving through this process.

Sean: Absolutely. Yup. So, anything we can do, anything we can do to drive information to them, regardless of the systems it’s in, I think is the key message here. So, as an employee, right, we want you to be engaged, we don’t want you to be that group that’s actively disengaged. And the way that we’re going to do that is we’re going to help you find stuff and help you get answers faster. So, I think that’s a good example, right?

Pete: Do you want to bring it into IT and talk to us a little bit about the IT teams?

Sean: Yeah, absolutely. So, let’s think about another thing that likely is being used. So, IT departments were probably the first…that’s where ServiceNow focused first, right? So, hey, you’ve got an IT group and they’ve got some ticket, they’ve got service that they’re providing to employees, you’ve got projects that you’re managing. So, digital workflow. So, we see a lot of people that come in and say, “Great, I was able to get…I put my project through the funding process, that was smooth, and I got my POs approved, I got my money, I put it through procurement, I bought my software, right? I’ve got that going. You know, we went through all that process, the digitizing process worked great, but now I actually have to go execute this. All right, so what do I do now?”

So, I’ve got to put a cross-functional team together, you know, I’ve got to communicate with certain vendors, right? So, I bought a piece of software from somebody who, you know, they’re headquartered on the West Coast. I’ve got a UI vendor that’s out in New York. So, I’ve got to now execute on this project and I’ve got to assemble a team. So let’s think about what AI-driven search can do here. It can look at those type of things and provide you more of like an expertise view of the world.

So, I’m not looking for content, but I’m looking for people, right? So, it knows that you’ve got a project, it knows that you’ve got funding. It knows, based on the procurement processes, where you bought it from. It knows some from a project planning perspective, from an allocation, and it can start offering up people, right? So, it can look at projects that people have done before, it can look at skill databases, it can look at locations, right? And then, you know, not only will it offer you people up that may work, it can provide you a great interface to go in and say what’s most important is that they’ve worked on this software before, or what’s most important is that they’re in the same time zone or in the same city so I can put somebody on-site if I need to.

So, almost like an Amazon shopping experience for people where you got all the filters and you’re finding everybody and it’s suggesting one and it’s saying, “Hey, you know, this other person’s very similar to this guy,” you know, “This girl may get what you’re looking for here because they worked on a similar project,” you know, so that type of view of bringing the best people together to complete that task. If you think about what extra knowledge you’ll get looking for people when it goes to all the other systems that we’ve gotten aggregates that for you, you know, how much more efficient you can be at doing something like that.

Pete: Yeah. How beautiful it is that you are presented this menu as soon as you finish that core sort of, you know, ServiceNow process to get everything approved and then what a gift to see all the resources in one place. If we look at it back from an IT perspective, from IT support, when you’re looking at, like, how can this help you solve a problem in real-time? Like, you’re walking through this with a customer.

Sean: Yeah, absolutely. So I think we saved this one for last because it’s probably the most common, you know, but it kind of is a great way to talk about but, you know, IT tickets, right? I’m on my computer. I was working on this piece of software. It crashed, you know, so immediately what I’m going to do is I’m going to fire in a ticket. You know, I’m the IT support engineer that gets this, right. So, ServiceNow is great. It brought it to me, told me who it was, it told me what priority it was.

I’ve got this great interface, I’ve got a little bit of knowledge base, so there’s some knowledge base in ServiceNow that has been built by my peers and I’ve searched that a little bit, but okay, there was no answer. So, what do I do? I’m thinking about, “Well, okay. I remember that there was some documentation, but I can’t remember the site that it is. I remember that I emailed somebody last year about something like this, but I can’t remember who that was.”

So, now I’m either digging through SharePoint like I used to, going to different sites trying to find the stuff, or I’m pouring through old emails. If you flip it and come in with an AI-driven search integration, what that search is going to do is it’s going to look at all the contextual information that we have. We know who got assigned the ticket, we know who filed the ticket, right? We know what software they were having a problem with and what error they’ve got. We’ve already got access to all the SharePoint information.

So, that document that the ticket owner doesn’t remember, well the AI-driven search knows exactly where it is. So it’s offering it up. “Hey, by the way, there’s a document out here on SharePoint that talks about something very similar.” And then, because it can index email exchanges, communications, things like that, it can go, “Here’s an email from last year that was similar to this.” It could even go further and say, “Here’s another ticket from that same guy three months ago with a very similar problem.” Right? So then you pop out and go, “Man, he’s had this problem before and last time this is what they did to close the ticket.”

So, those things that individually, if you think about the time that that person would have taken, they would have gone over to SharePoint 20, 30 minutes, probably not found it. Searched through his email but probably didn’t find it there because it was too far away. Maybe didn’t think to search old tickets because, you know, you can maybe think that if the end-user had run into this before, maybe he wouldn’t call again, but they always do, right?

Pete: They always do.

Sean: They don’t remember what you did last time. So, now, as soon as he opens the ticket, he’s got three potential solutions right in front of him that the AI-driven search has brought right to his hand. So, now I look at those and go, “Oh yeah, that’s exactly the answer.” Forwarded it over too to my customer or my fellow employee, he solves his problem, moves on. I’m that much more efficient. I’m not frustrated. I’m not emailing somebody going, “Hey, I can’t find anything in SharePoint, we’ve got a real problem here.” It really kind of smooths out that whole process, right?

Pete: We started this conversation alluding to the BA Insight tool that allows us to integrate this augmentation to ServiceNow. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

Sean: Yeah, I mean, I think that the thing to remember is that ServiceNow is a platform. The people who use it, you know, know it, there’s great capability to integrate with it. What we’ve done is integrate in context, right? We’ve got some great information on our website if people want to check it out. But really, every digital workflow you have in there can benefit from an AI-driven search improvement, right? So, the workflow is the workflow and you’re going to take people through it. But pretty much anytime you move from step to step, there’s likely information that, you know, you need something. Something is needed to move it from that step to the other step.

And sometimes they’re very simple, right? It’s just, you know, “When does this need to be done by?” “Two weeks.” “Okay, great.” Now we set it to date. But sometimes it’s not that simple. And what we want to do is focus on any time we put an employee in a situation where they need to provide information or they need to answer a question or they need to make a decision, right, we want them to not be frustrated. We want them to be happy about the decision and confident in it, right? So, I think, what was it, the metric? Companies that were on Glassdoors, like, best place to work, they outperform the market by almost 116%. Right? So…

Pete: Yeah. Significantly.

Sean: …that goes back to what we were talking about with the HR benefit. If I could put my company on a great place to work list, I’m going to outpace the market. And the easiest thing to do is make it so that I’ve got kind of happy employees that are able to find what they need and get their job done, get that work-life balance, like feel when you’re going home for the day. It’s like, “Man, I knocked out 30 tickets today. Boom, boom, boom. Great Day.” You know, “I’ve signed back up for my benefits, everything made clear, I’m going to go buy Steve a cold one after work because he had a great spreadsheet that I was able to find.”

Those situations all build on that, “I’m an engaged and happy employee,” gonna be a better company.” Right? And any chance you can get to find someone and impact them in that way with this type of information, putting information at their fingertips, I think, is a great investment and great things to look at.

Pete: What’s so intriguing about it to me, just in terms of a final thought that you’ve provoked here, that, you know, the application of AI, cognitive search to a service like this is that it’s sort of emerging behavior. Like, you don’t know on implementation the kinds of benefits that are going to come out of it. You don’t know what it’s going to surface when somebody needs it because you can’t naturally predict every single problem that people are going to bring to it. But that, in so many ways, is what makes it that much more important, if not magical.

Sean: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s not the things that you can…you can’t start with, “Hey, we’re going to go and make it so that everybody can find stuff easier.” And like, it’s very hard to pitch that solution to somebody. It’s like nebulous, right? But when you get into something like this and you say, “What I’m going to do is in each one of these workflows, I’m going to find a way to predict what they need and provide them better information,” it’s like, “Okay, I get that.” Right? It can really pay off.

Pete: Finally, I’ve never created a spreadsheet that has inspired anybody to buy me a drink. So, you have just…

Sean: You need to up your spreadsheet game.

Pete: You’ve just created…my game is, oh, it’s not good. My game is not good. Where would you like to send people to learn a little bit more about this? I know we have a fancy learning page over at

Sean: Yeah,

Pete: Oh, that’s easy enough.

Sean: It also shows right up on the products. When you go to the landing page, you can read more about it there and, obviously, they can always email me or reach out to me and I am happy to talk to anybody.

Pete: Sean Coleman, thank you so much for your time today. This has been great.

Sean: Excellent. Thanks, Pete.

Pete: Thank you, everybody, for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and attention. On behalf of Sean Coleman and everybody at BA Insight, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next time right here on “Shared Insights,” the podcast from BA Insight.