London calling: the ITSMO Team to upgrade ServiceNow tonight

Illustration of London skylineTonight, December 7, ServiceNow will be upgraded to the latest release, named London. ServiceNow releases are named after cities from around the globe. Our current version is Jakarta, and we will be skipping over the K release (Kingston) in order to move to the most current version supported by ServiceNow.

In the last few years, ServiceNow has moved to an accelerated release cycle that features two major releases every year, and SN requires customers to be within two versions of the latest release to remain in good standing for support. This requirement has prompted Emory to upgrade more often than we have historically.

Painful lessons from the past well-learned…

For those who can remember back to the distant past of 2010 when ServiceNow was first deployed at Emory, we often customized the platform to provide functionality that didn’t yet exist. Over the years, ServiceNow caught up and we found ourselves in a position where our customizations were impeding our ability to upgrade easily.

In 2016/2017, we took some hard medicine and leapfrogged by upgrading three versions to Helsinki. It was a major and painful effort, requiring outside assistance from a ServiceNow partner to untangle our complex customizations. We logged over a hundred stories in our upgrade sprints, and cataloged hundreds of defects, many of which were not remediated at the time of the final upgrade.

In the end, the upgrade was successful, and the hard work of reverting to out-of-the-box functionality had yielded a platform that was better positioned for future upgrades and development.

…Reap rewards for the future

In late 2017, we needed to upgrade to either the Istanbul or Jakarta versions of ServiceNow, and chose to embrace a long-term strategy of always skipping to the latest version in order to extend our supportability and only needing to plan for a single upgrade each calendar year. In the end, the Jakarta upgrade took three months of planning, was solely supported by internal Emory teams, and resulted in only a handful of defects that needed to be addressed post-upgrade. In the time between upgrades, we also looked at other opportunities to reduce the number of customizations in ServiceNow, which has streamlined the upgrade effort even further.

In planning team activities for FY19, we set a goal of further reducing the amount of time and effort dedicated to upgrades, and set the 2018 upgrade to London for a two-month duration. As of this writing, we are on target to achieve this goal.

Leveraging a new automated testing suite, first piloted in the Jakarta upgrade and championed by ITSMO’s Rose Harris, we were able to significantly reduce the time dedicated to functional and user-acceptance testing in several modules, and have zero reported defects as we wrap up our development and testing activities in anticipation of the production upgrade on Friday, December 7.

What to expect during the upgrade

Shiny new features? Absolutely none!

While there are plenty of new things in London, we make it a practice to only focus on ensuring existing functionality during an upgrade in order to limit complexity. Post-upgrade, we will assess and prioritize new modules and enhancements based upon customer interest and institutional goals.

Already on the list for consideration are Virtual Attendant (an AI-based customer-facing module that assists with common requests and provides contextual information helpful in resolving common issues), and the Walk-up Center module (to assist with queue management for groups that utilize face-to-face, on-demand support for customers).

Here is the schedule:

Friday, December 7

  • At 9:00 PM, ServiceNow will be made unavailable to customers by redirecting the logon screen to a maintenance message.
  • During this time the After-Hours Service Desk and NOC will not be able to open new or update existing tickets, and will need to rely upon established processes for logging tickets during a ServiceNow outage.
  • We anticipate the ServiceNow will be available again by Saturday morning, but have scheduled the change to take place through 9:00 PM on Saturday, December 8, in case of unexpected difficulties, or conditions not encountered during upgrade testing and planning.

Saturday, December 8

  • Upon successful completion of the upgrade and functional testing, we will send out a notice to the Service Desk and NOC to resume normal operations for ticket logging and monitoring.

Monday, December 10

  • If you encounter any issues with ServiceNow post-upgrade, please contact the University Service Desk and ask for a ticket to be opened for the ITSMO team.

Graphic of an English crownWait, what about…

Here are a list of common questions from previous upgrades.

Q: What about tickets created by email?
A: Inbound emails will queue while ServiceNow is unavailable, and will process when the upgrade is complete.

Q: What about Scheduled Reports?
A: Scheduled reports will not run if normally scheduled between 9:00 PM and midnight on Friday.

Q:  What if I need to report an issue or check on the status of a ticket?
A: The NOC and after-hours Service Desk will not be able to log or update tickets during the upgrade, and will need to follow the defined manual process used during a ServiceNow outage.

Q: What happens to other scheduled jobs, such as ESD user updates, etc.?
A: Updates from integrations between external systems and ServiceNow will not run during the 9:00 PM to midnight window on Friday night.

Q: What about on-call paging and event-based ticket generation from other monitoring platforms?
A: On-call paging and event-based ticket generation will not be available. The NOC should leverage other monitoring tools and escalate to on-call groups directly for the duration of the upgrade.

Other questions? Please contact ITSMO by emailing ITSMO [at] LISTSERV [dot] CC [dot] EMORY [dot] EDU.

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