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Creative channel partners repurpose ITSM software

IT service management software once belonged only to the help desk but has since found new life in a range of vertical markets, such as healthcare.

It's not just for the help desk anymore.

IT service management (ITSM) software began life as a solution for automating tech support chores such as resetting passwords, troubleshooting problems and handling user requests. ITSM products' workflow capabilities, meanwhile, found a role in supporting IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes. The technology became a common tool of the IT department.

Channel partners, however, are expanding the scope of ITSM beyond the software category's initial use cases and organizational boundaries. They find that ITSM's process automation and workflow features can be applied to a number of non-IT business challenges. Resellers and consulting firms are discovering new uses for ITSM in such fields as healthcare, government contracting and warranty management.

ITSM software vendors, for their part, encourage this broader vision as they seek new customer niches. Some vendors offer training to give their partners deeper insight into their products and how they may be reconfigured.

Leveraging the platform

Channel partners now work to combine the horizontal elements of ITSM with specialized vertical market extensions.

For example, Fruition Partners, a Master Services Partner for ITSM vendor ServiceNow, and Vosso Partners, a healthcare consulting firm, recently collaborated on a healthcare solution built on ServiceNow software. Chicago-based Fruition Partners in April announced the healthcare solution -- Healthcare Management Suite (HMS).

What we are seeing is that the market is constricted by development talent.

Marc Talluto,
CEO, Fruition Partners

Fruition Partners used its App Factory legacy enterprise application conversion service to port a Vosso-created application to ServiceNow's Service Automation Platform, a cloud-based platform that serves as the common foundation for ServiceNow's applications and the custom applications that the company's partners build. The App Factory service offering provides development, user interface expertise, marketing and support for third-party applications moving to the ServiceNow platform.

HMS aims to help healthcare providers and payers gear up for the upcoming ICD-10 transition. Providers use International Statistical Classifications of Diseases (ICD) codes to describe patient diagnoses and inpatient procedures. Payers use ICD codes when processing health insurance claims. The cutover from ICD-9 to the revamped ICD-10 codes is slated for Oct. 1, 2015.

HMS' Trading Partner Testing component uses workflow automation to help healthcare entities coordinate the ICD-10 transition task. For example, a hospital needs to know which of the insurance companies they work with will be ready for ICD-10 testing and when. The partner testing module lets healthcare organizations share their progress toward meeting ICD-10 milestones, noted Marc Talluto, CEO of Fruition Partners. The ICD-10 status information is needed for provider reimbursement.

"If Blue Cross/Blue Shield isn't ready to accept your new coding for an invoice, they aren't going to pay you," Talluto said.

"There's a direct financial risk for hospitals and healthcare companies," added Dominic Saroni, a founder of Vosso.

The partner testing module includes an online survey tool through which partners report where they stand on ICD-10 and a shared project schedule.

"ServiceNow integrates those together for a very specific business application," Saroni explained.

Talluto suggested ServiceNow wants to see more of that kind of application- building activity. He likened ServiceNow's present strategy to's cloud platform and AppExchange online marketplace. Developers create applications on and sell them through the AppExchange.

"ServiceNow is aggressively trying to get into the model," Talluto noted.

And ServiceNow isn't alone in cultivating developers of non-IT applications. Cherwell Software LLC, which provides a service management solution, has seen an increasing slice of its partner community push its technology beyond ITSM.

"This is actually happening quite a bit more than we originally expected," said Jason Crea, vice president of client and partner engagement at Cherwell, which is based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Crea said partners with sufficient developer abilities can use Cherwell's underlying platform, on which the company built its Cherwell Service Management product, to create custom applications. In 2013, less than 10% of the company's partners built non-IT applications this way, but in the first two quarters of this year, nearly 35% of the partner base has gone outside of standard ITSM, he said.

"We're building a platform-development community," Crea said.

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One member of this community is Beyond20, an ITSM and ITIL consulting firm and Cherwell solution provider with offices in Phoenix, San Diego, McLean, Va., and Washington, D.C. Beyond20 began leveraging Cherwell as a development platform for customer projects about 18 months ago. In one initiative, the company used Cherwell to build a subcontractor management application for Intelligent Decisions, an Ashburn, Va.-based federal systems integrator.

The application provides a more streamlined process for handling the integrator's relationships with numerous subcontractors and consultants, noted Brian Flora, principal at Beyond20. Intelligent Decisions, whose clients include the U.S. Department of Defense and the intelligence community, uses the Cherwell-based application to manage teaming arrangements between prime contractors and subcontractors, nondisclosure agreements, travel requests and expense reports, Flora said. The system also helps with such tasks as adding or removing subcontractors from project teams and tracking subcontractor and consultant security clearances.

Using Cherwell, Beyond20 can automate a business process in a matter of hours or a few days, depending on the complexity of a particular process, Flora said. He said Cherwell doesn't require traditional programming, describing the technology as a codeless application development platform. Development with Cherwell takes about a quarter of the time it would take to write an application with an actual programming language, he added.

"Every business has a wish list of things they would like to automate or configure or track or have greater visibility into," Flora stated. "If you can do that on an inexpensive, rapid development platform ... that is a pretty appealing value proposition."

Beyond20 has used Cherwell to automate other wish list items at Intelligent Decisions in addition to subcontractor management. The company, for example, automated a return merchandise authorization process to support Intelligent Decisions' Dismounted Soldier Training Program. That virtual reality-based training system consists of multiple parts, including sensors, helmet-based displays and headsets. Beyond20's system helps Intelligent Decisions manage requests for warranty service from its U.S. military customers.

Expansion challenges

The ITSM vendors' bid to edge into non-IT applications faces some challenges, one of which is securing a community of developers. Tulluto questioned whether a developer working for a ServiceNow customer would have the time to build an application and bring it to market.

"What we are seeing is that the market is constricted by development talent," Talluto said.

Fruition Partners, however, seeks to address development and marketing considerations. While Fruition Partners' App Factory provides the backbone of application development, the company also provides sales and marketing support to promote new products, Talluto said.

Cherwell, meanwhile, focuses on partner training to encourage application development on its service management platform. Crea said the company has made a significant investment in its Technical Implementer Training program. That program starts with two Web-based, self-paced courses: a foundations preparatory course and a basic design course, which covers the essentials of Cherwell implementation. A five-day, in-person training session follows the completion of the online coursework. The company also provides continuing training to guide partners in extending the core platform, software development kits and forums through which partners can communicate with the Cherwell development team.

The partner outreach initiative has contributed to the company's non-IT evolution.

"That has really opened up our partners to use the solution in ways I don't think we originally intended but are pleasantly surprised to see," Crea said.

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Does your company have interest in developing vertical, non-IT applications based on ITSM software?
This makes a lot of sense. With so many companies implementing call centers for all sorts of customer interactions, it's great if help desk software could be made more generalized to handle them.
Agreed. I think it simplifies things for customers (one piece of software for multiple functions), while helping partners expand the scope of work within a customer organization.