Choosing between ServiceNow customization and configuration
IT TransformationBlog Post

Choosing between ServiceNow customization and configuration

Choosing between ServiceNow customization and configuration

Here at INRY, we maintain a 360-degree relationship with ServiceNow and have been working with ServiceNow both as a customer and strategic partner for more than 8 years. And one question that we often encounter from our clients who want to implement ServiceNow is "should we change our internal business workflows to suit the platform functionality or customize it to match our existing workflows?"

Before discussing choosing between customization and configuration, let us walk you through some basics.

What is ‘configuration’ in ServiceNow?

Configuration refers to leveraging the Now Platform® as provided by ServiceNow and extending the capabilities to meet the business requirements without any changes to the baseline installation code.

For example, adding a few different fields to existing forms, modifying form layouts, updating notifications, changing UI Policies, plugins and system properties are all configuration changes.

What does ‘customization’ in ServiceNow mean?

Customization refers to any change that is made to the baseline installation code of an instance. These code changes or development of new code are usually done by clients in order to come up with functionality that is not a part of ServiceNow. 

Examples of customization include building custom HTML code for UI pages or modifying code delivered by ServiceNow (including UI macros, business rules, etc.).

Customization is typically done if a client doesn’t want to adopt the default ServiceNow workflows and wants to change the platform’s functionality according to their existing business processes and workflows.

Challenges with customizing the ServiceNow platform

Most of the time, clients actually mean a tailored configuration when they talk about customization. The ServiceNow consultants at INRY often encounter scenarios where a client, due to their lack of a complete understanding of ServiceNow capabilities, may ask for 'customized functionality'.

However, we understand that what the client requires can actually be configured using existing ServiceNow functionalities and can advise them appropriately.

Getting out-of-control

Most clients tend to start their journey with configuration. However, as time passes, the desire to customize increases. But here's the thing with customization; one customization can quickly become five and then five can then quickly spiral out of control.

Cost, efforts, and resources

Since customization involves significant development time for functionalities to be built from scratch, the overall cost and effort go up. The degree of customization and increase in costs are directly proportional. You'll also need to hire more ServiceNow developers and experts to implement, maintain and upgrade the customized platform. All these additional elements could impact your overall ROI from the platform.


ServiceNow releases two new upgrades for the platform per year. This means the addition of new features, functionalities and applications, and enhancements to the existing ones. In a customized ServiceNow environment, upgrades usually

  • Are delayed
  • Involve a lot of effort and resources
  • Pose a threat of breaking or skipping the customizations
  • Increase bugs and glitches
  • May lose new functionality

In contrast with a configured ServiceNow platform, customized ones take a lot of time (generally months) to fully upgrade. This delay in upgrading poses security risks as ServiceNow normally rolls out new security features for every upgrade to tackle emerging threats.

Benefits of configuration

"...we strongly believe that you can [implement ServiceNow and] go live straight out of the box....[with ServiceNow] you are buying a Ferrari. Drive it around the block, use what you use, and then figure out how to transform the organization. When you are buying ServiceNow, you are buying best practices..."

Bipin Paracha, Co-Founder, INRY

The primary advantage of implementing ServiceNow using a configuration approach or OOTB is that the instance does not take a lot of time to upgrade. Consider INRY itself as an example: we upgraded to the latest ServiceNow version, New York , in just one day with the least amount of customization possible.

Since the approach involves only a few configuration changes, the upgrade takes only a short amount of time. Upgrading quickly to the latest platform version ensures you’re leveraging ServiceNow to the fullest and using the new features and capabilities.

Configured instances are also stable and would have undergone intensive regression testing to ensure each functionality works as it is supposed to. This prevents any discrepancies and breaks from appearing in the software. And, you don’t need to hire more ServiceNow experts for implementation and maintenance. Therefore, you can save a lot of costs and efforts.

Additionally, INRY has also encountered instances where customers have requested to revert to an OOTB model after facing issues with customized workflows. Such instances may occur even after client inspection and approval.

When You Should Customize ServiceNow?

At INRY, as a general recommendation, we advise our clients to configure the platform but not customize. Only when the required functionalities cannot be offered at all in the OOTB configuration is customization considered. Clients usually take the customization route when they want to retain their existing business workflows. This is typically the case with large enterprises with complex workflows.

Customizing the ServiceNow platform requires a considerable amount of financial resources and multiple stakeholder buy-ins. If you’re planning to customize the platform, be sure you don’t have any constraints in these areas.

Key Things To Consider During ServiceNow Customization

Security is paramount and always needs to be a priority while customizing your platform. Upgrades have to be tested extensively before being implemented. The scope of work should be kept in mind, and shouldn’t extend beyond what is agreed upon. Time and cost should be considered. And, ensure that whenever new code is written or feature is built, the existing code doesn’t break. So intensive regression testing is necessary.

When it comes to the approach INRY takes when implementing a customized instance, we ensure that all naming conventions followed by ServiceNow are strictly adhered to. This is true for each functionality that is being implemented. In order to facilitate easy rollback, we always store the original OOTB record and only implement the customizations on a cloned instance. This way, even if the code breaks, we can always revert to the original.

We also advocate tracked changes to be made to the code, where each change will have an associated comment by the respective INRY stakeholder, listing who made the change and why it was made. All client requests and changes are documented, categorized, and articulated for later reference.

Although INRY does not recommend the customization of the platform, we understand the need to have custom apps for certain requirements. Custom apps are built if the existing scoped apps do not satisfy the requirement. ServiceNow encourages using custom apps as well.

In fact, we use our INRY apps internally. We publish custom apps (ATS, LMS, Celebrate, Performance Management and Expense Management) into ServiceNow. These are functionalities that the OOTB scoped ServiceNow apps did not have. Building these capabilities in-house would be defined as customization; however, by applying the apps from the store, it is considered out of the box since they are certified by ServiceNow.

Custom apps

"Commit to out of the box" said John Donahoe, CEO of ServiceNow, during his keynote at Knowledge18. And as ServiceNow Elite Partners we couldn't agree more. Best practice implementers of ServiceNow upgrade regularly to the latest version, and they do it fast. Going OOTB reduces costs, enables seamless and quick upgrades and ensures you’re leveraging the latest innovations and technologies of ServiceNow.

More and more customers are willing to configure ServiceNow now than they were a few years back.

However, in order to retain their existing workflows and for various other company-specific reasons, some customers choose customization over configuration and we certainly understand their perspective.

What is absolutely important is that customers of ServiceNow get the best possible fit, whether by OOTB configuration or with the customization of the platform.

As a high level guiding principle, it is always best to start with OOTB, no configuration or customization. Once you use the platform in production, you will know the real requirements.

If you need some personalized guidance in choosing between customization and configuration of the platform, we invite you to get in touch with one of our ServiceNow experts for a quick consultation!

Finally, while it is nice to have high level guiding principles, meeting business objectives with the right design decisions should be the primary objective.

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