An Overview of ServiceNow Reporting Approaches

January 7, 2015
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ServiceNow, as a platform, provides an incredible opportunity for visibility and transparency. With ServiceNow as a single system of record, IT organizations are collecting more data than ever before on the quality and delivery of their services, and the effectiveness of their organization, into a consolidated data source.

ServiceNow, as a platform, provides an incredible opportunity for visibility and transparency. With ServiceNow as a single system of record, IT organizations are collecting more data than ever before on the quality and delivery of their services, and the effectiveness of their organization, into a consolidated data source.

However, while a consolidated source of data provides an enormous opportunity, without proper reporting and analysis this opportunity goes to waste. As such, every ServiceNow administrator needs to be familiar with the various approaches to analyzing ServiceNow data, in order to get the most value out of ServiceNow.

In this article, I’ll give an overview and comparison of the available methods for reporting and analysis of ServiceNow data. I’ll start with the tools provided by ServiceNow. To make the most out of your data, you’ll most likely need to go beyond the built-in functionality. I’ll discuss three approaches:

  • Extracting data into a data warehouse
  • Exporting data and analyzing it using Excel
  • Live reporting and trending using Explore Analytics

ServiceNow Reporting

When evaluating reporting approaches, an obvious place to start is with ServiceNow’s in-built reporting functionality.

There are some clear advantages to using ServiceNow’s reporting, starting with the fact that it is built on the same platform as your data. Reports are live, support drilling through to the data, and respect the security of the logged in user.

There are some limitations in the reporting, however.

The self-service approach to reports make them easy for users to define, but there are some distinct limitations. Some common report types, like multi-level pivots, are not available, and existing reports are limited to one or two dimensions. And Service Catalog variables, key to understanding service requests, are not easily reportable.

Furthermore, although basic reporting is available to every user, attempting to take the next step – connecting multiple tables with database views, or calculating values – requires an administrator’s intervention, and typically code.

In addition, although ServiceNow’s new Performance Analytics tool provides the ability to do trending reports (e.g. tracking an incident backlog over time), this tool is licensed separately and requires a sophisticated reporting administrator to define the reports. Performance Analytics is only concerned with historical trending and does not address the limitations of live reporting that I mentioned before.

Lastly, if there’s any data outside of ServiceNow that you would like to include in your reports, you need to create tables within ServiceNow and write an integration to migrate in the data – which takes development skills and considerable ongoing maintenance.

Data Warehouse Approach (e.g. Tableau, Business Objects, Cognos)

When discussing reporting, a common solution is to leverage traditional Business Intelligence tools. These tools work by copying data out of ServiceNow into a central repository, called a Data Warehouse.

Data warehouses are often used by organizations that have dedicated reporting resources that have a lot of experience with these tools. They may also be used by organizations that have other reasons for creating a data warehouse, such as archiving or data retention.

The advantages of a data warehouse approach are not specific to ServiceNow – instead, they focus on bringing together data from multiple applications, and using a consistent reporting interface across them. Many data warehousing tools offer sophisticated visualization and analysis for users who have mastered the skillsets.

Data warehousing is a labor-intensive process – for example, when ServiceNow data is copied, the data warehouse tool is not aware of ServiceNow concepts like display values, choice lists, labels, dot-walking, catalog variables, or what security access control rules have been developed. All of these powerful ServiceNow features need to be reintroduced into the data warehouse.

Because data warehousing involves copying data, the data reporting is never live, and requires you to select data to be copied into the warehouse. If a user asks for a report against data that isn’t currently being warehoused, the integration needs to be modified before the reports can be built.

This also means that the reports are not live, and users cannot drill through to view the records within ServiceNow that sit behind the visualization.

In short, organizations that can make a larger investment in data warehousing tools and skillset can find value in the more powerful reporting across multiple data sources, but will still have a gap when it comes to live, self-service focused reporting.

Excel

For users who are looking to run the reports themselves, rather than relying on dedicated resources, Excel is a popular alternative.

Excel is common throughout organizations without requiring separate expenditures, and it’s a user interface that many users are familiar with. Although it can be challenging for new users to learn, it has a lot of features and can build some fairly sophisticated reports.

The downside of Excel is that it is intended as a desktop publishing tool, not a reporting option. Excel spreadsheets are local files, and when the data changes the reports often need to be rebuilt from scratch – as anyone who has ever had to compile a weekly report can tell you.

You also can’t drill through to the original data in ServiceNow, and administrators cannot track who has the data or revoke access if permissions change – once you have the excel spreadsheet, it’s yours to distribute wherever you want.

For that reason, Excel can be useful for creating ad hoc reports, but has weaknesses when being used to coordinate a team or process on a regular basis.

Explore Analytics

Explore Analytics is a SaaS business intelligence tool, with a specialized integration with ServiceNow. You can use it to build interactive, live reports, as well as trend KPI’s and metrics over time.

Explore Analytics focuses on reporting that any user can design, requiring little administrative effort to maintain. Combining ServiceNow data with data from other data sources, or between tables within ServiceNow, is a simple action that doesn’t require skills, and even the most advanced calculated reports or metrics can be built by anyone.

Explore Analytics provides particular advantages if you’re using ServiceNow. The tight integration solves the problems that other third-party reporting tools face – it natively understands ServiceNow concepts like references and display values, and fully respects ServiceNow’s role-based security model, meaning that you can connect to ServiceNow data quickly without much setup or administrative burden.

The integration also provides a seamless experience to ServiceNow users – reports can be published to ServiceNow dashboards, allowing your technicians and managers to view the reports in the same system they use day to day. If they’re logged in to ServiceNow, they’re automatically logged into Explore Analytics, and this allows them to drill through the live data.

These areas are where most third-party reporting tools struggle, making it difficult for the majority of users to get full value out of the reporting and visibility.

By contrast, Explore Analytics provides live, interactive reports that users can use natively use as part of their day to day work empowers users to see their current status on advanced KPIs and metrics, enabling process improvements.

Common reports that customers build with Explore Analytics include incident reports and backlog trends, SLA reports and KPIs, CMDB accuracy reports, and more. These reports leverage Explore Analytics capability to do multi-level pivots, multi-dimensional charts, perform calculations, report on service catalog variables, and easily trend on any reported data.

As you can see from this article, there’s a number of approaches that allow executives, managers, and technicians to understand the IT processes within ServiceNow. I believe that Explore Analytics offers some clear advantages – removing the limitations of reporting, integrating seamlessly with ServiceNow, making those capabilities available to every interested user through a cloud-based and mobile ready solution. Be sure to investigate every option and see which approach is a fit for you and your user community.