Digital workflow company ServiceNow has largely flown under the radar in Ireland. The company has been quietly growing its presence here since it opened its office in 2018, taking advantage of the shift to a more digital workplace to grow its business.
Officially, Nick Tzitzon’s job title is chief strategy and corporate affairs officer. But he has worked closely with chief executive and chairman Bill McDermott since his time at German software company SAP, which McDermott led for almost a decade. Last summer, he moved to Ireland to head the office here, a move that was seen as a commitment to the Irish operation.
“Most American tech companies are way too US-centric, in how they operate, how they behave and how they conduct their culture,” he says. “So me being outside of the US and me being here in particular was important to actually make us behave like a more truly global company.”
Ireland is one of ServiceNow’s largest locations, with the company continuing to hire despite the tech industry’s wider retraction in recent months. ServiceNow opened in Dublin in 2018, and has space in the Sharp building in the city centre. But it knew for a while that it would outgrow the office and, in June last year, it signed a 12-year lease for four floors of a new development on Dawson Street. Once opened, that location will serve as the company’s Irish headquarters.
“We view it not only as a major hub, but we also view it as a gateway,” Tzitzon says. “So you should expect to see us continuing to invest in this market and continue to hire in this market for the foreseeable future,” he says.
That will be a welcome development for the jobs market. From late last year, the news in the high-tech sector has been overwhelmingly negative, as company after company announced a global cut in their workforce. Twitter, Meta, Intel, Microsoft, Google... one by one the tech giants announced lay-offs.
But ServiceNow remains upbeat. Not only has the company pledged not to make any jobs cuts in 2023, the contraction in the economy hasn’t negatively affected the business – at least, not as far as its results show.
“I think this is a moment where businesses recognise that they’ve got to rethink how they run. Businesses want to increasingly create far better experiences for their stakeholders than has historically been the case. Because that’s how you differentiate in terms of the customers you want to keep, or the employees you want to keep. So the tailwinds for us are what businesses are investing in. And they’re investing in ServiceNow because it is viewed as a major strategic platform to do those types of things. I don’t see that subsiding – I only see that increasing.”
[ ServiceNow on the move as it eyes room for expansion in Dublin ]
One of the driving forces behind the company’s continued growth is its chief executive, Bill McDermott.
“Bill has a growth mindset. And I personally find it quite refreshing to have a CEO who does not capitulate to pessimism in the marketplace,” Tzitzon says. “He believes that there’s a growth environment for technology, and he is leading our company in that spirit, which I think is one part of it.”
The other part is the discipline with which ServiceNow has been run in recent years. Its most recent set of results showed the company was ahead of guidance in its margins.
“Running a fast-growing, highly profitable company basically signifies to the market that we know what we’re doing, and our customers are adopting our software,” he says. “We need people to help meet the demand that we see in the market. I personally feel like the company’s in really strong condition.”
Tzitzon describes ServiceNow as an “all-weather platform”, something that has helped the company beat the current gloom in the tech industry. “Businesses are either going to invest because they want to automate, and they want to be able to do more with less; that’s good for a platform like ServiceNow. Or they’re going to invest because they want to innovate new business models, new experiences, and that’s good for ServiceNow,” he says. “I think I’m an optimist. I think if we settle for a pessimistic view of what’s to come, then we will fulfil that reality, versus if we lean in and we see that there’s opportunities to do different kinds of things, to try new things to solve big problems.”
Solving problems is where ServiceNow pitches its service. With much of the focus on generative artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT and Google’s upcoming Bard chatbot, it’s easy to forget that AI is already in use effectively, especially when it is less exciting than what is going on in the consumer arena. Part of that is helping companies with business fundamentals, helping to connect businesses end to end so departments and teams can work together more effectively.
“Even with the changes that have happened in tech, it’s still a tight labour market for other industries. So if you can’t retain people and keep them motivated, which increasingly is about helping them do the work they signed up to do and not take hours and days to do frankly dumb administrative things that we should be able to automate – that’s purpose-built for ServiceNow,” Tzitzon says.
“We think some of the automation technologies – AI, robotic process automation, process mining – are an important part of the solve. But at the end of the day, how can you solve the fundamental business challenges that hold businesses back from doing interesting and exciting things? And to me, enterprise software has the downside risk of appearing sleepy compared to consumer tech for that reason, but if you can get it right and you can actually help a business do something that it’s never been able to accomplish, that’s the upside story.”
There has been a shift towards low-code and no-code systems, as the importance of technology in the Covid era hit home. Tzitzon says there has been huge interest from both big companies and smaller enterprises. For bigger companies, they want to have governance, some control over what data sources people use. Smaller companies that don’t have a huge in-house technology capability want to build apps, too, and make their workplaces more productive. “The idea that they could do it using a templatised, drag-and-click approach with App Engine Studio, which is part of ServiceNow, they find that very interesting.”
Tzitzon isn’t a software engineer, but he has used ServiceNow’s system to build apps, something McDermott highlighted from the stage at a recent company event. Understanding where customers are coming from is key to how ServiceNow works. “We want to get our customer experience right to a degree that our peers in the market have never been able to do – that’s a race without a finish. Our chief customer officer Lara Caimi has a steady joke: you don’t typically hear business leaders talk about how much they love their enterprise software vendors. We would like not to accept that status quo.”
Doing that from Ireland, where Tzitzon says he loves the culture and the sense of humour, is a challenge of its own but it is one that he is more than willing to take on. His former career in politics – he served in a number of roles in the US up to 2007 – has long prepared him for thankless tasks and high-pressure environments. At the end of the day, though, it is a sense of belief in what you are doing that carries you through.
“When you work in politics, you’d have to be willing to run through the wall under often thankless circumstances because you genuinely believe in what you’re doing,” he says. “And I feel like the same is true in some ways in enterprise software. It is a very intense, very 24/7 kind of an environment. You have to believe in it. You have to believe in the company you work for in order to do that job. And that’s always been an easy ‘yes’ for me.”