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ServiceNow provides top-notch software-as-a-service (SaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions for IT management. It’s based on IT service automation, resource management, and collaboration processes. With ServiceNow, companies can automate most ITSM (IT service management) processes, including helpdesk, service monitoring, and management of service availability, vendors, changes, configurations, infrastructure, incidents, and events.

However, to get the best fit for business needs, ServiceNow clients sometimes have to resort to customization, and sometimes to the configuration of this solution. Which of these options is relevant for you? You’ll find out below. Also, you can learn more about the IT integration services we provide.

A Few Words About ServiceNow

Instead of using solutions from several vendors, overpaying and spending resources on their mutual integration, it’s much more convenient for companies to have a single platform that would cover many tasks at once. That’s what ITSM services were created for.

According to a Gartner report, along with Jira Service Management, SolarWinds Service Desk, BMC Helix ITSM, and some other solutions, one of the most popular ITSM services on the market is the ServiceNow platform. But, unlike the vast majority of competitors, in this solution, all these processes are collected on a single platform in the cloud. Moreover, the ServiceNow platform has long outgrown the standard ITSM solution: now it’s a multitasking service that can cover the interests of many departments.

In particular, in recent years, ServiceNow has changed the direction of its development, which goes beyond IT process management. Now, this service provides the ability to streamline most business niches and can be used for IT infrastructure management for medium and large businesses. Here are some examples of key ITSM processes ServiceNow supports:

ServiceNow Configuration vs Customization

This solution supports both ITSM processes and business processes. It is focused on high loads, has high reliability (uptime is about 99.95%), offers users an intuitive web interface and mobile version, integrates with a large number of other platforms and services, and also provides solutions based on neural networks and AI. Thus, all these features allow businesses to use ServiceNow for finance, HR, marketing, analytics, development, resource management, and more. If you would like to learn about ServiceNow architecture and use cases, please read this article.

ServiceNow is cloud-based, which means you can start using it right away. Thanks to this, compared to conventional workflow management solutions, you can save up to several weeks even if you have to customize ServiceNow (that is, you do not have to spend time designing, purchasing servers and other equipment, or installing and configuring it).

Nevertheless, despite ServiceNow’s extensive capabilities, to get the most out of this platform, it’s important to tailor it to your organization’s workflows. For this, you need to deal with a dilemma: ServiceNow customization vs configuration.

What Is ServiceNow Customization?

ServiceNow customization is all reworking done at the base code level. That is, developers either rewrite some parts of the program code or add individual elements written from scratch to update the default ServiceNow capabilities and extend or modify its functionality.

Developers create custom solutions for ServiceNow using HTML, CSS, Angular, and JS, and apply the ServiceNow API (JS) to interact with platform data. For example, they can add some HTML code to update the user interface or partially edit some lines of code from the ServiceNow codebase (here they can change the logic or some macros).

The need for customization is usually due to the fact that the default ServiceNow workflows do not correspond (and are not compatible with) the workflows of the client’s company and must be subject to some changes. However, this approach cannot be considered universal, as it has some significant drawbacks.

The fact is that, unlike the configuration discussed below, most typical ServiceNow customization examples require more work from developers, which means that risks of bugs with this approach are much higher. In the best case, customization will reach only some classes, but in practice, it can often reach the program code of the backbone of the platform, which entails a lot of time on the part of developers.

Thus, we can highlight the following examples of possible risks that will accompany you and your team when customizing ServiceNow:

  • The presence of hard-to-remove bugs in the original program code
  • Closing access to other important ServiceNow features due to changes in the main program code
  • Extending the updating cycle and, as a result, delaying the company’s ability to benefit from ServiceNow

That is, along with achieving the positive goal of customization—the ability to add fundamentally new features to existing functionality—companies that have chosen ServiceNow should be careful with it and not overuse it by changing too many features (think: maybe in this case it does makes sense to abandon the SaaS format and choose custom software development from scratch).

In addition, ServiceNow clients can get carried away with customization, which often leads to a loss of control over existing resources. In the end, developing new features from scratch, like any other custom development, is quite expensive and takes a long time (from several months to a year, depending on the number and complexity of the added features). That is, given the need for your future contractors to have experience with ServiceNow in their portfolio, the cost of their services may turn out to be unreasonably high in terms of the ratio between the benefits of customization and the resources spent.

Also, to keep your business software secure, along with the platform itself (ServiceNow usually releases updates twice a year), you will also have to regularly update the added components. That is, customization is not one-time, but a regular investment in maintaining the operation of your ServiceNow-based solution. If you’re looking for experts who will apply ServiceNow customization best practices, ask us.

What Is ServiceNow Configuration?

ServiceNow was originally designed as a flexible solution. Therefore, as one of the options, it offers the configuration of its software to tailor it to the business processes of specific users. Such modernization does not require the introduction into the base program code and at the same time provides a sufficiently high level of adjustment of the existing functionality, according to the needs of the client. Thus, you can start managing processes using a configured ServiceNow system in just a few days.

In practice, the ServiceNow configuration takes place with the participation of the Now Platform, which eliminates the need to rewrite the program code in the backbone of the ServiceNow platform. The most commonly adapted features include adding fields to forms, form layouts, notifications, user interface, plugins, email configurations, company logo, etc.

The main advantage of this approach is its time efficiency. Indeed, developers only need to change some settings to update the current capabilities of the platform, instead of shoveling in a bunch of lines of program code and reconciling it with those parts that were untouched, which is typical for customization. Since this approach involves only a few configuration changes, the upgrade takes very little time. At the same time, as the ServiceNow platform is updated, the customized elements will be updated automatically, and you will not need to resort to the help of developers again, as is the case with customization.

The only headache that you can get when practicing this approach is the need to conduct regression testing for the adapted features. So you can be sure that they work exactly as you intended and do not create errors.

Thus, we can conclude that ServiceNow configuration is a more predictable and less risky process compared to customization. It also enables faster delivery of the solution to end users and reduces overhead (including maintenance costs).

On the other hand, it’s obvious that the ServiceNow configuration should by no means be considered a panacea since it is available for a very limited number of ServiceNow features.

Case 2-ServiceNow

Which Option Is Better: Customization or Configuration?

Companies should understand that to decide on the best ServiceNow upgrade option (ServiceNow customization vs configuration), they may need some time and the help of specialists. To speed up this process, they’d better turn to the help of software developers with ServiceNow expertise. Thus, they will get the most out of this platform and use minimal resources. Regarding the selection of experts who can help with adaptation, we recommend that you take into account the following factors:

ServiceNow Configuration vs Customization

Companies should also take into account their business goals because sometimes the configuration is the only possible adaptation option due to a lack of time for a longer and more global platform upgrade. On the other hand, the configuration may only work for the short-term goals of the company, and may not meet the requirements associated with business goals of a year or more. Therefore, it is important here to weigh the pros and cons and make a decision that would be cost-effective both in the short and in the long run.

Why Customizing ServiceNow Is a Last Resort

So, which option is better: ServiceNow customization vs configuration?

We believe that in most cases, companies can get by with the ServiceNow configuration and not resort to customization. The last option is vital only in those cases when the default features offered by ServiceNow are not enough to implement and maintain the company’s business processes. Therefore, the request for customization is more typical for highly specialized businesses and large corporations.

At the same time, you should understand that the ServiceNow configuration is always a big financial investment and requires participation of niche specialists and, of course, significant time costs. Therefore, before choosing this option, you will have to make sure that your business does not lack all three of these aspects.

Also, you should take into account some factors that determine the complexity of customizing ServiceNow. The first one is the security of corporate and user data. The fact is that, despite initially being a solution that meets the vast majority of generally accepted digital data security standards, after customization, ServiceNow may lose them. Often this is not due to a lack of developer experience, but due to the inconsistency of new custom elements with the rest of the ServiceNow functionality that has already been tested by company employees. That is why it is so important to involve in the customization procedure not only IT specialists but also experts from the client business niche.

Speaking specifically about our ServiceNow customization best practices, we always comply with the necessary security standards—both general and niche. The same applies to the safety of your business data before implementing customized platform features into your current business processes. In particular, before this procedure, we always perform a backup and make changes to the program code in the duplicate software. This provides us with a guarantee that in case of incorrect customization, we can always return to a correctly working version.

Another of our best practices lies in end-to-end testing of the changed and/or added program code. In particular, any change we make is carefully documented and coordinated with experts competent in your business area to ensure that custom features are not overused and prevent them from non-compliance with niche standards implemented in the rest of the ServiceNow platform that you use.

Thus, while customizing ServiceNow is a last resort, in some cases, it is necessary to provide complete coverage of the business processes specific to your company. Here’s a little step-by-step guide to help you figure out if you need customization (or if you can get away with configuration):

  • Prioritize your business needs that you plan to include in the list of features for customization
  • Find out how difficult the changes will be from a technical point of view (here it is important to assess the possible risks associated with data security and maintaining the correct operation of features that remain untouched)
  • Calculate ROI in terms of money and time spent on customization. After that, you will be able to understand how reasonable it is to customize this or that ServiceNow feature and filter out those that are non-priority based on this analysis

To learn more about ServiceNow customization examples and tips, you can check the official ServiceNow website.


The main advantage of ServiceNow is that all services within this solution lie in a single cloud environment. That is, this is not a collection of stand-alone functional modules from different vendors, but a complete solution in which you can add and upgrade some features. All this provides excellent opportunities for upgrading, updating, and adapting at the platform level.

As for the choice between ServiceNow configuration vs customization, it is a rather difficult task that requires professional advice. If you are not sure whether to choose customization or ServiceNow configuration, please contact us. We will carefully analyze the specifics of your business processes and apply our best practices to choose the most suitable option for your business needs.

Eugene Stepchenkov
Eugene Stepchenkov Business Process Automation Consultant

Eugene has more than 5 years of experience in business development and practice with ServiceNow and Salesforce software. This allows him to provide professional consulting, bringing clients real business value such as helping them integrate digital workforce solutions to improve planning and employee productivity, and redirecting investments into business scaling initiatives.


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