India at cloud inflection point; has exceptional talent: John Donahoe

Called the World's Most Innovative Company by Forbes in 2018, ServiceNow has big plans for its India operations

Pranit Sarda
Published: Sep 6, 2019 06:07:48 PM IST
Updated: Sep 6, 2019 07:10:43 PM IST

g_120799_bgjohndanahoe_19copy_280x210.jpgServiceNow global CEO, John Donahoe

As the Future of Work becomes more complex and more crucial globally, India’s approach to workplace automation and early adoption could help propel the country’s industry. To understand its position, Forbes India sat down with John Donahoe, global CEO of ServiceNow, a company that digitises workflow for its clients, and that was called the World’s Most Innovative Company by Forbes in 2018. Edited excerpts:

Q. What is ServiceNow’s mission?
ServiceNow was founded in 2004 by Fred Luddy with a simple vision—to use technology to improve the quality of people's lives, by automating administrative, repetitive, menial tasks. Our purpose as a company is to make the world of work work better for people. That's all about the future of work, or how technology can impact our lives at work.

ServiceNow’s core belief is that technology is in the service of people, and not the other way around. There's a debate these days on whether automation will kill jobs. We don't believe that; we believe that automation will take tasks at work that are repetitive  and redundant, so that we can spend all of our time doing value added activities, using our creativity. So we have a deep belief that with technology as a service of people, it can create a more human workplace.

Q. How does ServiceNow achieve the digitalisation of workflow?
Let’s take an example. When you joined your company, you probably had to get a badge for security, a desk from facilities, a laptop from the IT department. The people dealing with you were doing it for every new employee, and it took a couple of weeks for you to become productive, once all this was sorted. This is what we call a legacy, unstructured process. The ServiceNow mobile app creates a seamless experience. It connects all the company functions and gives you a simple, intuitive experience at work that you are used to getting at home.

Q. Why did ServiceNow choose India to build its second largest centre, after Santa Clara in the US?
Well, just the talent. Our chief product officer, CJ Desai, is a Mumbai native. He is an extraordinarily talented leader, and he looked at where we want to grow. We’re growing over 30 percent to more than 10,000 people this year, and are likely to cross $4 billion in revenue by 2020. Our aim is to get to $10 billion. So we need to be where we can have exceptional talent. India was on top of the list.

Over the past couple of years, our technology centre in Hyderabad has been our fastest growing. And we anticipate that to be the case for the next few years. The reason is just talent—for product, design as well as engineering, all for which Hyderabad has been great for us.

Q. What are your growth plans for India?
From a global perspective, two things are clear. One, in spite of concerns on economic slowdown, India is the fastest growing major market in the world today. It's the sixth-largest economy in the world, and is the fastest growing. So, we see over the next, 3, 5, 10 years, this is becoming one of the most strategic markets for us.

Second, the cloud is that once-in-a-generation technology migration that enables the kind of user experiences and transformation of work we were talking about. Cloud is a mysterious, perhaps threatening, concept, one that people don't understand. They assume it's less safe. The more they get to it, the more they realise that it's quite the opposite. When a market hits at the cloud of what we call inflection point—where it's not just businesses, but governments and others embracing cloud, we see India right at that inflection point. We're investing heavily to double the size of our team serving Indian customers.

Q. How important is artificial intelligence and machine learning to the workflow?
AI and ML are big, fancy words that most people don't understand. Let me give you an example of how we apply them to routine tasks. We used machine learning two years ago on our inbound customer service contacts. We have over 5,000 ServiceNow customers around the world and we had 800 people in our customer service organisation. They're technically literate people, but turns out, they were spending 12 percent of their time on incident categorisation and incident routing—which means that when a customer contacted our support centre, we say, "What is the issue? How do I get it routed to the right person, so it can be fixed?"

It was a manual task; we turned machine learning on and within two weeks, it could accurately identify and predict the issue, and route it to the right person. So all of a sudden, 12 percent of our engineers' time was freed up. That's just one example of how it can solve repetitive tasks.

Q. India is a very price sensitive market. Does that ever pose a challenge?
We make productivity. So if you think about what ServiceNow does, it drives significant return on investment. So in a very cost-sensitive environment, in an uncertain economic environment, in a very demanding environment, one of the best ways to drive really healthy productivity is to automate processes, because that drives efficiency, cost saving, and a better employee experience or customer experience. We actually feel quite committed to help deliver significant return on investment for our customers, and that's what's driving our global growth outside of India as well.

Turns out, companies outside of India care about return on investment as well. When you look at the size and scale, we're the fastest growing enterprise software company over a billion dollars. That's why we were voted the most innovative company in the world by Forbes [in 2018]. That's fundamentally being driven by the fact that we drive significant return on investment for customers, while delivering significant improvements in experience.

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