Chief Content Officer,
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In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights series video, Mike Vizard interviews Marcus Torres, general manager and vice president for App Engine at ServiceNow, about how the age of citizen application development will really come about.



Mike Vizard: Hello, I’m Mike Vizard and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights video cast. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Marcus Torres, who is general manager and vice president for App Engine at Service now. We’re going to talk in about low code development, citizen developers, and how to govern that whole process. Marcus, welcome to the show.

Marcus Torres: Thanks, Mike. It’s great to be here.

Mike Vizard: There is a lot of interest, of course, in all things related to low code and digital transformation, and a lot of folks are talking about the role that citizen developers will play in all that. I think though, sometimes our aspirations are a little ahead of our ability to absorb certain things. Citizen developers may be a rarer breed than we think because there’s challenges with building applications.

People don’t know exactly how to design them all that well. There’s security issues to consider, and they may or may not scale as well as they might, depending on the use cases and the circumstances. So, how do we get to the promise of citizen developers in a way that allows people who are just regular folks to build applications in a way that is safe and secure and will scale?

Marcus Torres: So, great question, Mike. The reality is you need the right platform to build on that provides the right guard rails so people don’t drive off the side of a cliff when trying to simply solve for their business use case. And when doing that, that platform has to give you the extensibility you need, the scale you need, the guard rails to be put in place, and the governance so that if you’re a centralized app dev function or you’re the CIO and trying to understand what’s happening in your business, not only can you see it, but you can really manage end to end that entire low-code or citizen development program.

And that’s part of the challenge that we’ve seen as an industry for a long time, but especially during COVID is you’ve had everyone innovating because they were empowered to do or they simply had no other recourse. So, they went and they innovated and then they showed up on people’s door and said, “Hey, look what I built.” Hey, that’s really cool. But now what are we, how are we going to support it? How are we going to maintain it?

And the reality is development is a team sport. It’s very, very rare to have just a single person truly own, build, and maintain an application over time. And so, if you have the right platform to actually not only build any solution, really you need for your business, but to manage it, to optimize it, to support it, to maintain it and do that within the guardrails and the governance of your overall organization, that’s how you win with citizen development. And that’s actually how you get long-term value and outcome from these programs.

Mike Vizard: So, what does that governance framework look like? I know you guys just updated the environment to help address some of that, but what’s involved and who sets up that framework?

Marcus Torres: Yeah. So, here at Service Now, what we’ve done is we’ve released App Engine, which is our low code application development platform. We had a huge launch last year, but this year going into May, we’re releasing App Engine management center, which is actually already live, but you’ll see the big kind of announcement from our go to market in May. What it does is it actually takes all of the best practices that we have here at Service Now, and we’ve essentially given you a template for how to build a low code citizen developer program, both in product as well as best practices.

So, we have a new micro-site that you can go to and actually get a play-by-play blueprint on how to actually create the right process, the right executive stakeholders, the right use case, federate the right use cases. And we’ve backed that by the product, which is a centralized single destination within Service Now called App Engine management center, that takes those best practices, productizes it, and then gives our customers the ability to add new rules or configurations or modify ours to really fit your business.

And so, it really, it’s almost like citizen DevOps. It really starts from ideation. What are the kind of apps you want to create? To provisioning people into App Engine Studio, which is our low code environment, to developing the application, including asking others for help. So, collaboration is built into it. And all the way from submitting an application to deploying that from development to test a prod, and then monitoring that over time. It’s all really in one single center, including running automated tests and in what we call instant scan, which are those configurations for low code.

All of it’s ready and available for you. And to add the sort of cherry on top, within our San Diego release, we actually allow customers to create their own application templates. So, you can imagine all of these customers who, they’ve created some innovation, they go show it off in an internal meeting and people say, “I want that too, but for my business or for my department.” They can actually use that application, create a template from it, and then scale that for similar use cases across the business. All of this is in San Diego.

Mike Vizard: Is it just citizen developers? Because to your point about a team sport, it almost seems like a lot of the applications that citizen developers initially may build wind up being modified or enhanced by professional developers. A lot of time, professional developers are using low code just to accelerate the rate at which they’re building their own applications to reduce the backlog. What is that distinction between a citizen developer and a professional developer going to look like going forward?

Marcus Torres: So, I absolutely believe development is a team sport. And our vision here with App Engine is to actually enable developers of all skill sets to build applications rapidly on Service Now. That is our goal. It’s not just citizen development and the reason why is no one agrees on what is citizen developer is. I can go from company A to company B to company C and everyone has a different view of who that is.

The reality is we want everybody to be able to innovate and in today’s age, everybody can innovate, but it doesn’t mean that somebody who can create a simple kind of form-based app, which kind of replaces their Excel spreadsheet to some degree or works alongside their Excel spreadsheet can be the same person who’s going to write an integration to a core ERP system. Like those aren’t the same kind of developer or they don’t have the same skillset.

And so, what we do here at Service Now is we really understand that development is a team sport, and sometimes you are just unfamiliar with trying to do something. I don’t know how to train AI and ML. Yeah, I kinda understand the concepts, but I don’t really get it. I’ve never done it. So, I’m not comfortable. That’s where developers and just think of it as coworkers, right? Your team, your peers, your partners in other parts of the organization can say, hey, phone a friend, right? I need some help.

Or text a friend, in today’s age, and say, I’m gonna add you as a collaborator to this app. Help me with this part of it, and then let’s really do this together. And so, what we are seeing is what everyone has really wanted for probably several decades now, true partnership between lines of business and let’s just call it more of that sort of citizen developer, business analyst persona that understands their business and what they’re trying to do with folks that have more technical capability, whether they’re in the line of business, they’re in a centralized function, they’re in IT, doesn’t really matter. They’re really coming together and working as a team to provide this outcome.

Now what’s happened, what happens is part of that overall journey is people become energized and educated on how to do some of these things. Oh, okay, you built that reusable integration to the ERP system? Great. I don’t have to write that, but I can use it just like I call these other actions. Awesome. Now they’re really working together and getting value. And so, the definition of a professional developer, an IT developer, a citizen developer, a low code developer, all of it is really about working as a team and everyone is sort of refining those skills.

And one of the things that I find actually interesting nowadays is I’m seeing professional developers say, “I’ll use these low code tools just to go fast and focus on, to do the things quickly that are kind of easy and not don’t energize me. It’s not a hard problem. And then I can really focus my professional skills on the high value scenario.”

Mike Vizard: A lot of times we hear that digital business transformation initiatives are stalled for one reason or another. I’m curious as to what are you seeing amongst your customers? Are there challenges? Is it just that they’re trying to boil the ocean or they just have the wrong things in mind or they’re attempting to do something that simply can’t be automated? Where are the hiccups?

Marcus Torres: Well, whether I’m talking to CIOs, CTOs or CEOs, I think one of the biggest challenges that they see in today’s space whenever trying to do transformation of any within their business is I have a significant culture change that I have to put in place alongside a process or digital transformation change. And that’s exactly why we created this micro-site that allows customers to understand how other customers have been successful with large, low code, and citizen developer initiatives.

How can you actually start to put into the culture and into the change management and into the sort of hearts and minds of your employees that this empowerment, but in a way that really supports everybody? And that’s where digital transformation initiatives have gotten stuck. You’ve had in the past an individual team tried something. “Oh, this is a great idea. Go do it.”

That was it. Just go do it over here in these areas, but they didn’t have the governance. They didn’t have the process. They didn’t have the culture. And that’s why we felt it was really critical here at Service Now that we don’t only deliver within the product of App Engine the ability to create guardrails and governance and manage it all in one place with App Engine management center, but to also bring the best practices and the insight and the examples, so people can follow a company’s kind of blueprint that have been successful.

And that’s what we’re really looking at is making everybody a digital transformation and a hyper automation hero for their organization. Give them the ability to not only use technology within our amazing platform, but to really compliment that with the best practices.

Mike Vizard: It seems a little bit like right after COVID there were tons of projects launched and everybody was in somewhat panic mode. Do you think organizations need to take a step back and say, which of these initiatives are actually working and maybe prioritize their efforts around a smaller number of initiatives?

Marcus Torres: Most of my career, I’ve been in product management, and so, I always believe priorities matter. So, I think that’s always a good thing, but what I would say is what you had was this sort of that big cultural shift in change because of COVID and because people were empowered and had no choice to innovate themselves to really help solve for their needs, whether that was an individual personal need, a departmental need, an organizational need. And they’ve started to use App Engine as a way to really solve that problem for themselves and their organization.

What ultimately happens is that as people have done this innovation, they did it based on necessity, right? In many cases. And so, now that people are physically and actually getting back together just like we are here at Service Now, getting back into the office, what we’re doing is we’re coming back together and really understanding this innovation and this value and how it’s all coming together. And I think when organizations need to look at, hey, I don’t want a disempowering buddy.

I don’t want to take away any of these, either of these applications you’ve created or the skills that you’ve learned to really continue to innovate. What they’re really looking for is how can we truly do this in a way that brings scale. And that’s what every single business is trying to do. I’m trying to scale so I can better serve my customers, my partners, and my employees. And in order to scale, they need to look at the innovations that they have and start to put it in a framework that can scale and can really have long-term success.

Because what we’ve seen in the past with old, old frameworks like Lotus Notes, even, SharePoint apps, etc, is you have a proliferation of them. There’s no way to manage that app sprawl, and it sort of dies on the vine. And people have constantly looked at ways to replace things. And what we’re seeing now is real innovation and real applications, real power, many times with amazing experiences like chat bots and AIML and it’s sub-optimized and etc.

But now that they have this powerful application, how can it really last in time, right? And part of that is really coming together as an organization, prioritizing it, but also laying out a framework for people to continue to build and innovate over time. And I think that’s exactly what we’ve tried to centralize with App Engine management center, giving people that entire sort of DevOps tool chain, if you will, or life cycle, but for citizen development and help people really manage this at scale.

Mike Vizard: Okay. Do you think the relationship between IT developers and the rest of the business is changing? We’ve been talking about the divide between IT and the business for decades now, but is that coming together in a way where they collaborate more in terms of setting their priorities and building out these projects? And then have we passed some moment in time where maybe IT really is part of the business versus kind of thinking about itself as some sort of adjunct?

Marcus Torres: Yeah. It’s funny when you talk about that, Mike, the last several decades of that sort of divide, I remember different times in my career where IT was seen as the department of no, right? Anything I’m trying to do, department of no. And what have businesses done? They’ve done shadow IT. They’ve shored up those silos instead of breaking them down.

And I actually think there’s no other real concrete like use case or concrete effort that breaks down those silos, than working together to solve for a common outcome. And I think that’s exactly what is happening with low code in today’s age is you have low code developers, citizen developers within line of business sometimes that were unknown to IT, right? And they started to innovate and then they get to a certain point and they’re like, hmm, I’m stuck, or I don’t know how to do this, or what’s the best way to do this and how can we help?

And what we see is the organizations where folks are really working together it truly does break down those barriers. And everyone historically has a reason for it. But when you start to break down the barriers, by working together, guess what happens? IT can actually be involved directly with what the line of business is doing and they start to see and trust the skill and sort of the level of innovation that’s happening in the line of business.

At the same time, the line of business is working hand in hand with IT and saying, wow, you didn’t stop me. You helped me achieve my outcome and do this in a way where neither of us are really taxed or saying like, “Now this is on you, see you” and you walk away. I think it’s that level of partnership that really is gonna bring a cultural shift if we embrace it. And in order to embrace it, we need lines of business to understand that there are certain guard rails and sort of governance that’s in place to really help not only their initiative, but to scale across the business.

And at the same time, IT understands that lines of business have to be as agile as their business today. And they really have to turn on a dime, and there is no stopping that. And so, if you try to stop it, that’s where it really goes around IT and we get those same sort of divisions. So, I actually think it’s a great time in hopefully history in regards to this level of partnership across these organizations.

Mike Vizard: Hey Marcus, thanks for being on the show.

Marcus Torres: Thanks, Mike. I appreciate it.

Mike Vizard: All right. And thank you all for watching the latest episode of the digital CXO insight leadership series. You can find this episode and others on the website. And once again, thank you all for spending some time with us.