With its Utah release, ServiceNow is expanding the reach of its Now Platform for workflow automation into new areas, and enhancing its performance in others.

Since ServiceNow introduced role-based workspaces as part of its new user interface, Next Experience, in March 2022, coverage has grown with each passing release. Utah’s additions include dedicated workspaces for security incident response and operational resilience to help workers concentrate on what needs to be done in moments of crisis. The former is an expansion of ServiceNow’s moves into supporting cybersecurity teams over the past year, and the latter, a broader tool for scripting responses to outages of all kinds.

There’s also a new enterprise architect workspace where ServiceNow stakes its claim in the crowded market for managing SaaS spend. This workspace is intended to help enterprises manage app portfolios to reduce redundancy and cost. Other additions are intended to help enterprises manage their physical workspaces too, offering facilities managers somewhere to track building leases, or to reorganize office spaces.

Some of the enhancements to Utah are cosmetic, like the Theme Builder, which enables enterprises to quickly customize the appearance of workflows built on the Now Platform without resorting to editing HTML Custom Style Sheets. Others changes go deeper, such as improving the platform’s built-in search engine so the most relevant result is presented first or second, rather than seventh or eighth, said Jon Sigler, ServiceNow’s SVP for Now Platform.

Other enhancements include new workflows for HR and team leaders to optimize workforce output, and manage health and safety incidents, the company said.

For CIOs, the challenge with this release will be getting past preconceptions that ServiceNow is an IT services management (ITSM) platform, said IDC’s group VP for cloud operations and devops, Stephen Elliot.

“CIOs, and particularly VPs of IT infrastructure operations, have a particular perspective about what ServiceNow does, and how they do it,” he said. “But if you look back over the past couple years, they obviously have these other capabilities that serve chief HR officers, customer experience owners, employee experience, and things like that.”

Brace for Impact

Indeed, the Now Platform has become so sprawling that ServiceNow is concerned customers may not be getting as much value from it as what they are paying for. A year ago, the company introduced a new app, ServiceNow Impact, to act as an always-on customer success manager not just for CIOs but for other leaders within the enterprise responsible for workflows running on Now Platform. With the Utah release, it’s leaning in, enhancing Impact’s tools for helping executives monitor their ServiceNow instance, and adding a product adoption roadmap that recommends which applications to adopt next.

It’s also expanding the catalog of accelerators—automated how-to guides to adoption—with new recommendations on creating personalized dashboards of ServiceNow adoption for different members of the executive team, and on conducting ITSM maturity assessments.

The Impact app and its accelerators have access to data from an enterprise’s ServiceNow instance, so users can track progress toward deploying a particular service, said ServiceNow’s SVP and global head of product experience, Amy Lokey.

“You can see a real time report on your next steps in terms of getting the maximum value out of your instance, out of the software that you’ve licensed,” she said.

For IDC’s Elliot, Impact’s ability to personalize metrics depending on a user’s interests, whether in HR, ITSM, or field service management, is key. “It’s a pretty clever way of helping customers understand the value they’re receiving,” he said.


One feature notable by its absence from ServiceNow’s Utah release is generative AI.

Other enterprise software vendors are talking up a storm about their plans to incorporate OpenAI’s generative AI bot, ChatGPT, or some variation of it, but in most cases they’re still just plans. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wants you to, “Get ready to be wowed by Salesforce Einstein GPT!”—but Salesforce isn’t ready to wow you yet. And Microsoft, a big investor in Open AI and provider of the cloud infrastructure underlying its services, has invited a few companies to test Microsoft 365 Copilot, a version of GPT for Word, Excel and Teams, but won’t even say when it will discuss a broader release.

ServiceNow isn’t ignoring the phenomenon, however, according to Sigler. “We understand it’s a tidal wave and that it’s a game-changer and it’s disruptive, and so we’re on it,” he said.

Vendors that rushed to incorporate generative AI functionality too soon, though, are unlikely to match customers’ expectations, which have been set by the free version of ChatGPT based on the GPT-3.5 model, and raised by recent demonstrations of the capabilities of GPT-4. OpenAI only opened up APIs for ChatGPT to enterprise developers at the start of March 2023—and the training data for that model cut off in September 2021.

“We look at it very closely, but this is an area that’s changing every day,” he said. “If you talk to companies that have introduced a generative AI feature, it’s three versions ago.”

Developers can now apply to Microsoft for limited access to its GPT-4 APIs beginning April 1. Sigler said ServiceNow customers will have to wait for functionality based on it, though.

“Microsoft plans on making that sort of thing available in November and we’re working closely with them, which would allow us to use the latest and greatest,” he said, adding that he may be able to say more in the coming months.

AI in action

GPT is no silver bullet however, said IDC’s Elliot, and different analytic models are required for different tasks. ServiceNow is well aware of that and has made a series of targeted acquisitions of AI technologies over the last three years, he said, adding: “They were very pragmatic about what they were buying those companies for.”

Those technologies are showing up in a number of areas in the Utah release. For example, there are improvements to ServiceNow’s natural language search function, intended to help users surface relevant documentation more quickly. AI also shows up in Document Intelligence, a more streamlined process for extracting information from documents.

It’s also being used to help optimize processes more widely across the enterprise. ServiceNow first applied its AI-based process optimization function to ITSM workflows but is now expanding it to encompass field service management and other areas. Although in October 2021, ServiceNow partnered with process mining specialist Celonis, which also relies heavily on AI, to optimize processes across the wider enterprise, and is determined to build its own capabilities, too.

“We are 100% committed to process optimization being native to our platform, and this is the first release where I can really say, when it comes to our processes and how we handle them, no one will be better than us,” Sigler said.

Artificial Intelligence, Build Automation, CIO, Enterprise Architecture, IT Leadership

Organizations have been transitioning away from legacy, monolithic platforms as these decades-old IT systems bog down management, flexibility, and agility with their tightly entangled components. CIOs have shifted toward building their own web application platforms with a set of best-in-class tools for more flexibility, customizations, and agile DevOps. This choice, however, isn’t right in all circumstances. In fact, it could be locking you into rigid choices, just like a monolithic platform.

Gartner warns that building your own platform is complex, time consuming, and may not save you money. Independently developing, testing, deploying, and scaling your infrastructure requires expertise, agility, and a shift in team responsibilities. One proven way to ensure a robust, flexible, and streamlined solution is to invest in a standardized front-end platform you can build on. Here’s why.

Building distracts from your core business

Companies (e.g., ecommerce businesses) opting to build their own platform will ultimately find themselves focused on the platform instead of their core business—selling their product. Platform development includes design, coding, testing, securing, and deploying. No platform is a fire-and-forget type of affair.

What’s also overlooked is managing the platform’s non-functional requirements (NFR), such as ensuring maintenance, reliability, visibility, etc. Developing a custom platform requires the expertise of top talent. This talent typically prefers to create, not maintain, so this type of talent is difficult to retain. While you can foster the loyalty of your employees by investing in them—it’s never as predictable as paying a fee for an always-available, all-in-one solution.

Platforms offer predictable total cost of ownership

Large IT projects are hard to execute, particularly when in-house staff is often pulled into multiple directions and distracted by other priorities. This can be costly for organizations: A recent study found that 25 to 40% percent of IT projects exceed their budget or schedules by more than 50%.

Modern platforms, like Edgio’s, are built to unify application tools to lower the total cost of ownership, increase efficiencies, and reduce errors. A comprehensive and streamlined solution can save you from overworking your team to deploy new updates on time and under budget.

In-house innovation can lead to lock-in and employee frustration

A Freshworks survey revealed that nine out of 10 employees are frustrated with their workplace technology, and the majority will consider finding a new employer if they are not provided the tools, technology, and information they need to do their jobs.

Custom platforms are usually cobbled together with different tools from multiple vendors, making them difficult to use. The more customized the in-house platform, the more entrenched the company becomes in it. This limits the ability to adopt new tools, techniques, and technologies to innovate. It’s much like a vendor lock-in with a monolithic platform, but one that was built inside the company.

This, in turn, can cause slower workflows and growing frustration. Over 5,000 DevOps professionals shared details about their processes, and 69% reported wanting more consolidation due to hidden costs, insufficient agility, and the time maintenance takes away from managing security and compliance.

Don’t lose your employees and operational efficiency to ineffective and inefficient tools and workflows.

The multi-billion dollar aggregate investment

Custom platforms are often poorly documented and maintained, and increasingly difficult to use, which increases time to market. This is unforgiving in today’s current economy. In fact, McKinsey found organizations with higher developer velocity outperform competitors in the market by up to five times.

A standardized front-end platform that facilitates continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), for example the use of serverless functions driven by all the companies using the solution, can drive significant value to each. There are many other companies using the solution, and their aggregate investment will always exceed your potential investment in your own platform. Investing in your own tooling will never scale like that.

To build or not to build?

In today’s rapidly evolving software development landscape, the investment in a robust platform provides a more cost-effective and streamlined solution. It enables companies to focus on their core business objectives and reduce the burden of developing and maintaining customized platforms that limit their ability to innovate.

Companies need to be strategic in their tool choices and recognize the importance of investing in a reliable front-end platform for their web applications that facilitates CI/CD and allows you to build with flexibility. 

Edgio operates a globally scaled edge CDN network with a vertically integrated frontend platform for web apps and APIs. Click here to learn more.

Enterprise Applications, SaaS

The transition to a modern business intelligence model requires IT to adopt a collaborative approach that includes the business in all aspects of the overall program. This guide focuses on the platform evaluation and selection. It is intended for IT to use collaboratively with business users and analysts as they assess each platform’s ability to execute on the modern analytics workflow and address the diverse needs of users across the organization.

“It all went live in less than two months,” said Paul Egan, It Manager of Business Intelligence at Tableau. “The CEO had his new production-strength dashboards in Tableau in less than two months of the server being deployed—and that was a pretty phenomenal turnaround.”

Download this free whitepaper to learn more.

Digital Transformation

Puerto Rico has a lot going for it. Sixty percent of its university graduates hold a STEM degree, giving it the sixth highest availability of scientists and engineers in the world. The workforce is almost entirely bilingual, and in Latin America and the Caribbean the island is first in higher education and second in digital skills in the population. And now, business and governmental leaders are working together through Invest Puerto Rico to build on the U.S. territory’s already strong foundation and diversify its economy.

A significant component of this diversification strategy is to attract and nurture young companies by facilitating the influx of capital and interest to invest in Puerto Rico-based opportunities. To do this, Invest Puerto Rico knew that they need to make finding investment opportunities on the island as easy and transparent as possible. Puerto Rico needed a place for all local companies looking for capital and potential investors to connect, where the relevant information needed to close on a deal could easily be found and acted on. The result was an online investment platform called Impeller that’s more robust and simpler to use than anything other territories, states, or cities have implemented.

Launched in August 2021, Impeller has already had a significant impact. Currently, Impeller has listed 41 deals on the platform and eight have been fully funded, with a total of $22 million raised by listed companies over an 18-month period. And unlike a traditional funding platform, there is no percentage-based fee taken out of proceeds, but an inexpensive one-time listing fee that can be made in the form of a donation to Invest Puerto Rico, a nonprofit organization, which makes it a very cost-efficient channel for raising funds.

The platform can facilitate the entire process for investors anywhere in the world, providing all the relevant documents and prospectuses, contacts, and the means to transfer funds through integrated payment providers. Impeller can work with escrow and facilitate investments using cryptocurrency, and is capable of handling all exemptions in the Securities and Exchange Act (although Reg CF offerings are not currently being offered directly on the platform). That said, not every dollar in that $22 million figure is processed through the platform. Though most of the platform’s 1,000 registered investors are angels, there are also larger institutional investors – one of whom manages a $1 billion investment firm – who typically have their own processes for investment.

Green Acres, a cacao farm and processor, got its start on Impeller. Seeing an opportunity to revitalize cacao production on the island with the rise of varietal chocolate, Green Acres raised $310,000 through Impeller — $60,000 more than their target — to establish a research and development facility. In addition to working to identify the best seeds and varieties, the company has also planted thousands of cacao trees. Having met their milestones, they’re now gearing up for another fund raise.

Agriculture is just one of the sectors represented on Impeller, however. There are companies developing peer-to-peer apps, technology stack-as-a-service offerings, eco-parks, healthcare services, and much more. So whether you’re a Puerto Rico based company looking for capital or an investor looking to invest in an exciting and growing ecosystem, Puerto Rico’s Impeller platform can help you make the connections you need.

Learn more about Puerto Rico’s Impeller platform here.

IT Leadership

The government of Singapore recognizes that Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) have historically suffered from substantially reduced prospects of securing and retaining employment and is actively encouraging employers to look for ways to utilize this very capable but often overlooked group. Silver Spring Pathfinder (SSP) is championing change on this front, seeing the strengths and skills that PWDs can bring to contact center operations and helping to drive interest in PWD hiring, which has increased 30% since 2020. 

The company quickly made a name for itself since launching in 2018, not only as a business process outsourcing (BPO) partner of choice for organizations worldwide but also as a social enterprise with a mission to create meaningful employment opportunities for PWDs. SSP also seeks to hire stay-at-home parents, a critically untapped group of job candidates.  

The company’s on-demand talent pool is exceptionally skilled, but there are certain requirements to ensure a positive employee (and thus, customer) experience: 

SSP needed the functionality, reliability, and security of its existing on-premises contact center but with a work-from-home experience that’s undetectable from an in-office experience.  Omnichannel is non-negotiable for providing PWDs the support they need to work comfortably and efficiently (ex: speech-impaired agents can work exclusively as text-based agents).  As a leading BPO provider, SSP is always looking for ways to deliver more value to its enterprise customers and their end-customers. How can they make customer service faster, more effortless, and more personalized?  

A cloud-architected platform was the best way forward, but SSP didn’t want to spoil its existing contact center technology. Avaya Experience Platform allowed the company to innovate with omnichannel, virtual work capabilities, and so much more all while retaining its core service. 

Custom agent interfaces 

SSP’s admins can customize agent interfaces, down to the individual seat if needed, to ensure a customized employee experience. This can include, for example, the accessibility of only channels a PWD specializes in (ex: chat or email for a hearing-impaired agent), while the agent toolbar can include additional icons and apps installed by the admin. These custom interfaces promote inclusivity and increase productivity with a personalized user experience while positioning SSP as a destination place to work for disadvantaged Singaporeans.   

More ways for customers to engage 

Avaya Experience Platform allows SSP to reliably deliver advanced interaction capabilities outside of just traditional voice such as video, chat, or messaging. This also includes personalized self-service options on customers’ preferred channels 24/7, which gives agents a helping hand to take care of important non-customer-facing work.  

Seamless work-from-home 

One of the top reasons customers love Avaya Experience Platform is its support for remote work. Agents can be in the office or around the globe and get the same award-winning quality, functionality, reliability, and security they’d expect onsite. SSP’s virtual workforce has increased, and the company is fielding applications from hundreds more PWDs looking to make a living working from home.  

More capabilities through a single interaction platform 

Avaya Experience Platform opens the door to all sorts of new ways to work and engage. You can start using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to deliver more personalized customer service (i.e., smart routing, conversational AI, and real-time customer insights). Supervisors can empower agents to be their best with live monitoring and automatic scorecards. SSP now has all of this and more at its fingertips.    

SSP is a disruptor in the social enterprise space and Avaya enables them to strengthen their unique business model without any business disruption.  

“Avaya Experience Platform provides it all, and we’re still able to optimize our legacy system. We have the freedom to choose the technology we need when we need it. We’re innovating and improving in a practical way that works for our business,” said Tom Cheong, Founder and Managing Director, Silver Spring Pathfinder. 

Want innovation without disruption? Register to attend Avaya Engage 2023 this June to learn what Avaya Experience Platform can do for your business.  

Digital Transformation

With talent markets tight as ever, upskilling is increasingly becoming an IT imperative, and Discover Financial Services is among those companies sharpening staff capabilities by investing in their IT training strategies.

The company, which has a culture of “empowering [employees] to work better together in modern ways,” says Angel Diaz, vice president of technology capabilities and innovation (pictured), is keenly aware of the latest “technology-fueled renaissance” that sees employees increasingly embracing “democratized” technology to “deliver better outcomes for customers at faster speeds.”

That renaissance has led Discover to develop the Discover Technology Academy (DTA), a unique one-stop platform for employees to “come together as a community and define how we work, how we think about the marketplace, and how to deliver on products,” Diaz says.

The DTA platform offers employees access to learning modules, content from subject matter experts (SMEs), trainings, networking opportunities, and other avenues for upskilling, reskilling, and continued learning. It’s all about “continuous learning and continuous improvement,” he says.

Built in-house by teams at Discover, DTA benefits greatly from being developed by employees for employees. Having the insight of team members working on building the DTA platform has proved crucial in creating a tool that employees actually use and integrate into their daily workflow.

Megan Kostick, an expert application engineer at Discover, and member of the DTA build team, helped “build out the content processor that takes the content submitted to GitHub, processes it, and posts it to the backend API to serve up the frontend,” she says, adding that she’s also a “regular customer and content contributor on the DTA platform.”

What Kostick loves most about the DTA is how easy it is to “search, share, connect, and find the information” that she’s looking for in one place. She notes that the asset types offered on the platform are “diverse and allow users to digest the information in a way that works best for their learning style.”

Autonomy for employees

The DTA is a big part of how engineers at Discover start their days. They can look at their backlog of activities in the morning and then utilize the DTA to identify the best approach to an unfamiliar project, or to brush up on skills they haven’t used in a while. They can also read articles related to their daily tasks or connect with other SMEs to ask questions and get guidance on a variety of topics.

“Most of our engineers, the first thing they do [each day] is they go to the academy to look at, learn, or bring something new into their day-to-day work,” says Diaz.

The platform gives employees more autonomy in their daily work and prevents them from being slowed down or held back by potential knowledge or skills gaps, Diaz says. Anything they need to know or learn can be found on the DTA, and if they can’t find it, they can contribute it themselves.

The Academy is open to everyone, but there are guilds and groups within the academy where employees can have discussions and technical debates to help “drive some of those more advanced technological discussions,” Diaz says.

“DTA is the first place I go to whenever I am looking for an answer to the problem I am trying to solve because there is a good chance someone else has already solved that problem,” says Praveen Erode Mohanasundaram, an expert application engineer at Discover. He finds DTA to be a convenient, centralized place to “share and locate content about standards, best practices, tutorials, and products.”

The power of the training platform, Diaz adds, is that it is “embedded in the way we work — it’s not a separate entity. It’s not something that’s on the side; it’s the main course.”

Building community through learning

The DTA not only gives employees access to learning materials, it’s also a convenient platform for networking within the organization. There are opportunities to chat, ask questions, and connect with peers in other departments or business units that employees might not typically interact with.

It’s akin to a “digital watering hole,” says Diaz, where people “share what they do, share feedback, how they’re learning, how they’re improving their process in the company, and who can be doing similar work in other areas.”

The DTA also enables employees to share their expertise. John Coyne, an expert application engineer at Discover, remembers when there was an “initial challenge from subject matter experts to create content” on the platform. Coyne stepped up and contributed more than 15 pieces of content, including tutorials, code patterns, articles, and blogs.

“DTA is undoubtedly part of my daily workflow. When I find myself in need of an answer to a question or solution to a problem, the first place I turn to search is on the DTA,” he says. “I look forward to the daily e-mail’s from DTA that provide some featured articles and upcoming events, such as lightning talks. I’ll often answer a question from a colleague by linking to a DTA tutorial or article.”

The community aspect of DTA is what “makes it extremely useful in solving actual problems you’re facing or developing solutions that can be implemented in your environment,” says Coyne. In regular training exercises, he notes that the projects you work on don’t always translate to real life and may not represent what you do in your daily work. But the DTA allows for hands-on learning, with examples that are true to Discover and its internal culture, all while building community.

Kostick agrees. “DTA has connected me with different product teams and SMEs across the company. It gave me a home and I feel connected to the greater company, with an overall sense of community,” she says. “DTA allows me to find and solve issues while increasing my personal knowledge to be a key contributor to the Discover technical community.”

Beyond IT skills, just the act of contributing to DTA offers employees opportunities to hone valuable skills.

Soumya Raju, a senior manager of product-immersive learning journeys, says that she utilizes DTA to create product-owner immersive learning paths for the company and to organize community events for the product teams. The opportunity to contribute her knowledge to the platform by uploading articles she’s written has helped improve her writing and communication skills, she says, adding that as an all-in-one platform, DTA is vital for helping her succeed in her career — and she doesn’t have to jump around through various tools or platforms to find the content she’s looking for.

Coyne has had a similar experience in contributing to the platform. “DTA has helped me to become a better technical writer,” he says.

By empowering employees to learn new skills, connect with colleagues and SMEs, and share their own expertise on an easy-to-use platform, Discover has reaped significant benefits from DTA. Beyond having a workforce that is up to date on the latest tech skills, through the platform the company is fostering a commitment to continuous learning, giving employees the ability to upskill on their own terms while fostering community across the organization.

Financial Services Industry, IT Training 

One of the main causes of security operations (SecOps) pain is the sheer number of disparate protection tools now in use across the enterprise, leading to an ever higher volume of alerts, operational inefficiencies, and increased cost. There’s no denying the cybersecurity threat landscape has become extremely dynamic and complex — encompassing data, applications, APIs, and containers as well as multi-cloud, on-premises, and hybrid environments, just to name a few. Each of these environments requires security tooling to address potential vulnerabilities and respond to threats and incidents. However, increased tool adoption and use come with a downside.

Redundancy, wasteful spending, and system complexity. That’s IT tool sprawl. And it’s the root of countless, needless tools purchased for IT purposes. Tools which are typically misused or statically ingrained within legacy systems. This trend is severely exhausting organizational resources, including unnecessary spending and inefficient, vulnerable, and siloed data. Tool sprawl is also a main culprit of fractured IT teams. Not only does this division create risky security gaps, it also fails to satisfy the requirements of end-users. And this issue doesn’t just affect Fortune 100 companies. From SMB to large enterprise, no business is exempt. Gartner’s 2023 CIO Agenda Report lists tool sprawl as one of the top ten monitoring challenges for CIOs.

Companies often don’t realize they have a tool sprawl problem until it becomes exorbitantly expensive or creates security issues. Unfortunately, security issues often go unnoticed until the effects of a breach are felt. Disparate, siloed data protection tools only compound the issue with an unmanageable volume of alerts, false positives, and security gaps, adding significant time, money, and resource costs to the equation. 

SecOps teams require specific tools to build, manage, and monitor their systems. But when more tools are added without proper planning and integrations, they can cause more harm than good. Accenture Security estimates many of their clients average 60 – 80 tools in their security architecture, with some companies as high as 140, which is an overwhelming amount of sprawl. It takes time for security teams to become familiarized with each tool, provision and configure, and then make actionable use of its telemetry.

Complicating this effort is the cybersecurity talent shortfall, the rapidly changing vendor ecosystem IT and security leaders are facing, and the challenges associated with the evolving threat landscape. In addition, many standalone tools don’t work well with others, often requiring their own unique implementation, dashboards, and outputs. Despite the complexity in the tooling ecosystem, there is an opportunity for simplification for security teams. Removing steps, complexity, and burden adds tremendous value to those involved in the cybersecurity process.

In the Gartner Hype Cycle for Data Security, 2022, Privacera is recognized as a representative vendor in a new solution category: Data Security Platform (DSP). DSPs address tool sprawl by aggregating individually-mature technologies into a unified solution. Traditionally, data security has been delivered by disparate products, resulting in operational inefficiencies and an inability to support, for example, data risk assessments, open data, commercial data, and internal innovations and collaborations involving data. DSPs provide consolidated security and protection capabilities for data by aggregating formerly siloed capabilities under a common policy instrument, significantly streamlining data security. Especially in cloud-based data stores, a DSP reduces integration costs, manual work, and friction by connecting previously disparate data security controls and capabilities.

The Privacera DSP secures data using a combination of fine-grained data access controls, data masking, and data encryption to provide a zero trust framework. Privacera provides observability into the data environment, including data access monitoring (DAM) — a category in which Gartner recognized Privacera as a sample vendor in its Hype Cycle for Data Security, 2022. Additionally, data audit and reporting capabilities support compliance requirements and data risk assessments.

Privacera is a broad-spectrum DSP that can be deployed as a SaaS-based service or self-managed software. Privacera’s other integrated DSP capabilities include automated discovery of sensitive data, instant visibility into data assets, and distributed, cloud-native policy enforcement across leading platforms such as Amazon Web Services and Snowflake.

Minimize security tools and mitigate sprawl, while enhancing enterprise-wide efficiency and data protection. Learn more about consolidation and centralization with a data governance and data security platform. Get Privacera’s buyer’s guide.

Data and Information Security

Manfred Grossmann has seen the scenario play out over and over.

“I think companies that sell new products in an IT environment don’t always use them themselves,” said the vice president of corporate IT and project excellence for digital service provider Sycor Group. “Like everybody else, they focus on things that are not quite new.”

This was the situation Sycor recently found itself facing.

“When you’ve been using an older system release for years, hardly being able to do any upgrades, you get into a kind of innovation trap,” Grossmann explained.

Prior to 2022, Sycor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was 60% dependent on nonstandard processes, a situation that complicated operations, blocked growth, and reduced innovation.

As a result, application runtimes tended to be long.

The log-on process “was really slow and not state of the art,” Grossmann said. “It was based on on-premises hardware with additional virtualization layers.” Users had to begin by logging on to a virtual private network (VPN) ensuring that all data would be privately transmitted. That often took 20 seconds, then another 20 seconds to start a program.”

“It was very frustrating if you were in a meeting and wanted to demonstrate something on the screen. Everyone would be sitting there, waiting for the data to come up.”

In order to keep pace with its forward-looking philosophy, Sycor would have to simplify and standardize all processes of the company – replacing the unwieldy system with a single platform.

Investing in change

With its main headquarters in Goettingen, Germany, Sycor Group covers the entire range of information and communication technology, including software asset management, concept development, telecommunication services, and IT outsourcing.

The urgency to develop the Sycor Intelligent Business Platform was felt at every level, since two legal mergers were scheduled to occur by New Year’s Day 2022.

The company forged ahead anyway, vowing to have the platform in place when business operations combined. 

“You have to invest in change,” Grossmann said.

Implementation partner Walldorf Consulting assisted on everything from development enhancements and interfaces to program management.

“Implementing public cloud software is completely different to classic on-premises approaches,” Grossmann pointed out. “That’s why we needed a good implementation partner to guide us through the cloud environment and its specific processes.”

With an eye on future innovation and new business model support, the decision was made to reach across the fragmented services and systems by building the platform with seven cloud solutions from ERP leader SAP, including SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Marketing Cloud & Sales Cloud, SAP Concur, and SAP SuccessFactors.

“Individual software would no longer have to be installed,” Grossmann said. 

Complexity would be minimized by incorporating mobile and other technologies to capture data, allowing users to log on from anywhere and gain support from modern user interfaces.

New horizons ahead

In less than 10 months, 179 services and processes were implemented, enabling Sycor to meet its January 1, 2022 deployment deadline.

Among the achieved goals: a single sign-on across all systems, greater transparency at every information level, and faster response times for internal and customer requests.

The utilization of mobile, user-centric applications for recording and billing expenses dramatically reduced complex administrative tasks of the past, creating more time for innovation.

For its holistic re-design of its entire business platform, Sycor was honored as a winner at the 2022 SAP Innovation Awards, an annual ceremony highlighting organizations using SAP technologies to transform the world.

Meanwhile, modernization efforts continue at Sycor, with plans to use its enhanced tools to improve the company’s HR processes, create new billing models, and widen the cloud and technology portfolio for customers.

“When I think back on the way we developed the platform, there are many minor things we could have changed,” Grossmann said. “But when you consider the methodology and the way we’ve run the project, I would do it again completely the same way.

Learn more about Sycor’s amazing accomplishment that earned them the SAP Innovation Awards here.

Enterprise Applications, SaaS

Covid-19 had an instant impact on London’s West End, and the Royal Opera House (ROH) was no exception. In March 2020, the company took the decision to close the building in Covent Garden and approximately 163 shows were cancelled in the first year of the pandemic. So when James Whitebread joined in June 2021, he could’ve been forgiven for wondering what kind of future lay ahead.

Appointed as CTO, he was immersed in a non-profit feeling the brunt. Through lockdowns and site closures, the Royal Opera House—home to The Royal Ballet, The Royal Opera Chorus, and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House—was also forced to make staff redundant, implement pay freezes and reduce salaries, as well as sell a David Hockney painting of former CEO Sir David Webster for £18 million as part of a four-step recovery plan to keep the venue afloat.

Artistic teams adapted to safe working practices with masks, regular PCR testing and team bubbles on set. Yet the loss of income was so stark that the organisation today says it lost the equivalent of £3 for every £5 through the pandemic.

But the show did go on.

Royal Opera House goes digital

In 2019 and 2020, ROH put on 146 performances and participatory events front of house, with 12 productions screened at cinemas and drive-in sites, and 71 productions broadcast across radio, television and streaming services.

The following year saw similar limitations of live, in-person productions. Christmas favourite The Nutcracker, for instance, ran only four performances out of a scheduled 17, but ROH did increase its reach through digital channels, with 15 live streams and 23 previously recorded operas and ballets made available on Pay-per-view, four of which were provided for free. Two-thirds of UK viewers watching the streamed productions lived outside London.  

“The lessons learned from streaming and Pay-per-view are feeding into our future plans for increasing our digital output and reach,” summarised the ROH’s annual report.

Despite the fall in revenue and social restrictions, the organisation had to continue investing in the care of the Grade 1 listed theatre in Covent Garden, and production facilities in Thurrock and Aberdare. Chair Sir Simon Robey admitted then the ROH wouldn’t have survived without support from Arts Council England and DCMS through the Culture Recovery Fund, as well as the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

In the technology team, Whitebread says that Covid changed everything. First, there was the small matter of getting up-to-speed with a now geographically dispersed team.

“Getting that opportunity to be in the office and meeting everybody took two or three times the time it would normally take,” he said. “That can be detrimental when you join an organisation because you’re trying to assimilate and understand the direction of travel of the organisation, but also the team. You want to get down to details of problems—areas where we can make improvements and a  roadmap for the next two to three years.”

Video streaming success

Shortly after the first government lockdown, the ROH—which employs more artists than any other UK arts organisation—offered an interim streaming service so customers could continue to enjoy shows from home.

In partnership with video hosting service provider Vimeo, the ROH stream was made available to global audiences, allowing them to watch content on-demand and attend live stream events. The non-profit supplemented this with YouTube fundraisers, and its Our House to Your House campaign—free weekly broadcasts from its archive, starting with The Royal Ballet’s Peter and the Wolf.

The success of an interim service—ROH says there were over 9.5m views of streamed performances in the first year—paved the way for the launch of a new ROH streaming service in October 2022.

Whitebread says that Vimeo’s VOD service offered support across multiple platforms, but with limited customisations and fewer controls over marketing, analytics and customer features.

“The ROH Streaming product allowed us to specifically target the needs of our market segment,” he says. “Delivering the feature set, content quality was required, as well as the branding, analytics and overall control over the experience we wanted to achieve.”

Artistic teams recommended, created and approved content; marketing teams worked together to translate the proposition to customers and members; and the ROH stream product team and technology teams worked collaboratively to design, build and integrate the ROH Streaming service into the ROH’s overall ecosystem.

“We realise we’re a physical venue and about getting our content out to our customers,” says Whitebread. “But it’s not just about getting content out to customers in the area. It’s about getting content out across the UK, and our brand known much wider than that.”

Distributed work changes technology leadership

Whitebread inherited a distributed team when he joined the ROH, but quickly set about restructuring the department into three areas for greater agility, speed and accountability: service delivery for customer support; transformation for project execution; and operations overseeing infrastructure and application delivery.

Agile methodologies helped things tick over, too, as well as planning work into weekly chunks, and having the technology team collaborate in daily stand-ups.

“Agile for the ROH was the engine room of our delivery,” says Whitebread. “It has and continues to allow us to plan delivery, share plans and progress with our own team and other interested teams, as well as provide the reporting we need, particularly focusing on continuous improvements. Agile was in use in pockets when I joined and we’ve subsequently rolled out more widely within the technology teams. As we now move to deliver projects across the organisation, agile as a methodology and some of the tools associated with agile project management such as JIRA are becoming more common place outside of the technology teams.”

The distributed workplace has, however, put a greater onus on welfare. Whitebread has changed his leadership style to accommodate. He could more readily pick-up signs in pre-pandemic office environments, but that task became challenging when staff moved to remote or hybrid models.

“When you’re not all together in the office, you’ve got to be more emotionally intelligent as to how the team is working and how they’re feeling,” he says. “You’ve got to pay more attention to people’s problems, whether they are work or personal.”

Digital transformation takes flight

For Whitebread, a new three-year business and technology transformation has just been approved, and it’s segmenting his work into four areas: physical and digital customer experience; improving back-of-house digital and retail technology; modernising core enterprise applications; and infrastructure.

There are ambitions to engage and retain the existing customer base, attract new customers, build better services and develop a data-driven approach for the future as well. Whitebread also talks of collaborating more effectively with front-of-house and HR, leveraging cameras to improve artistic endeavour, and expedite show refreshes. There’s also the push to trial new technologies such as Lidar to scan auditorium, stage and backstage areas and create 3D digital stage set designs.

With between 30 and 40 digital projects in flight, Whitebread admits it’s all in the pursuit of better customer experience. “We want to better understand our customer to make sure we’re delivering the best possible service and creating those opportunities for incremental revenue,” he says.

CTO, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership