How the Southwest Airlines Business Model Can Help Reduce your ServiceNow Backlog

Scott Willson

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/8CrEZGmjKZA

Fortune Magazine once named Herbert Kelleher, “perhaps the best CEO in America.” A wisecracking chain smoker who bragged about his fondness for Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey, Herb turned the aviation world upside down with his business model for Southwest Airlines.

Before Herb, airlines flew an assortment of different aircraft types – Boeing, Airbus, McDonnell Douglas, and more. Each had its own dedicated pilots, crew, and engineers trained to fly, maintain, and service the aircraft type. There were different safety systems, catering trollies, seating arrangements, and a million other different configurations depending on the aircraft. And that costs a lot of time and money to operate.

Herb adopted some ‘blue sky’ thinking – which is apt if you’re running an airline. Why not standardize on a single aircraft type? Strip out all the complexities and costs of running DC9s, A320s, 737s, and 757s (and even different versions within each of these) and normalize the business on one model type. It’s lean, competitive, and more profitable.

He did precisely that. By standardizing on one standard, unified Boeing 737 model, the low-cost airlines Southwest Airlines model we all know and fly with was born. That standardization contributed to the demise of TWA, Pan Am, and many other competitors.

This practice of focusing labor and resources on a specific production type isn’t new. Adam Smith introduced the principle in his seminal 1776 work, “The Wealth of Nations”. And when Henry Ford launched the moving assembly line in 1913, workers specializing in individual skills had parts routed to them, reducing lead times. This innovation in the assembly line allowed Ford to roll out automobiles in 90 minutes versus 12 hours for his competitors.

Time for change in the ServiceNow release pattern

So how does Herb’s model apply to ServiceNow? In ServiceNow, the typical release pattern looks like Figure 1: You have one or more dev instances, releases move into a UAT or staging environment, and eventually production – with approval gates in-between each stage.

Figure 1: Typical ServiceNow Release Pattern
Figure 1: Typical ServiceNow Release Pattern

DevOps specialists will tell you there’s a faster way to do this. By introducing CI/CD tools into the ServiceNow release process (see Figure 2), you can continuously deliver ServiceNow releases to production. DevOps teams will evangelize the faster release rate, improved reliability, and enhanced quality.

Figure 2: Normal DevOps Release Pattern for ServiceNow
Figure 2: Normal DevOps Release Pattern for ServiceNow

Here’s the problem. CI/CD tools bring a new tech stack into the equation that ServiceNow professionals need to learn. ServiceNow teams are already under intense pressure to release features, customizations, and apps in a very tight timeframe. It’s like asking Herb to shift from the standardized simplicity of an all-737 fleet to adding the Airbus A320.

The problems don’t end there. CI/CD tools have a design “bias” towards .txt files – also known as source code. They are designed with file-based software development in mind, where the migrated assets are collections of text files stored on an OS filesystem. They were not designed for platform-based software development where the assets are live interoperations to a SaaS platform. So your ServiceNow professionals not only need to learn a new toolset, but they also need to figure out a translation for how to apply a set of tools meant for file-based development and make it work for platform-based development. This translation is not trivial.

xtype dramatically reduces your backlog

There is another way. xtype is designed for ServiceNow professionals working in the ServiceNow platform. It leverages all the native capabilities – update sets, remote instances, store, and more – so you can harness all the efficiencies promised by DevOps while keeping your professionals working in a familiar context and process flow.

Now, as developers write customizations, features, and apps in a Dev instance, they can be packaged into update sets as usual, and xtype will automatically track them and move them into another instance automatically, by approval or schedule. Moreover, xtype supports automated test frameworks, code scans, manual or automatic approvals, and so on – inside your familiar, intuitive ServiceNow environment.

Additionally, xtype synchronizes update sets backward, so changes in higher instances such as UAT, Staging, or Production are quickly deployed downstream. Back-syncing ensures all your instances are as close to production-like as possible without having to resort to cloning.

To discover how xtype can help your development organization increase ServiceNow ROI, mitigate risks, and increase productivity, check out our ROI calculator.

A final anecdote from the incomparable Herb Kelleher. Shortly after Southwest began using its “Just Plane Smart” catchphrase, Stevens Aviation, who had been using “Plane Smart” for their slogan, threatened a trademark lawsuit. Kelleher and Stevens Aviation CEO Kurt Herwald resolved it in an arm-wrestling match, now known as the “Malice in Dallas.” Kelleher lost but was allowed to use the catchphrase in exchange for a $5,000 charitable donation.

Arm-wrestling matches to resolve ServiceNow releases? Not when xtype is on board.

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