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As digital transformation continues to accelerate rapidly in a post-pandemic era, more organizations are demanding for communication technologies like private 5G networks. While Gartner predicted that worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenue would grow by 39% in 2021, the latest forecast by the research firm shows that 60% of communications service providers (CSPs) will commercialize 5G service covering tier-1 cities by the end of 2024.

The IT service and consulting company based in London and Tokyo, NTT, as well as the Santa Clara, California-based digital workflow company, ServiceNow, have announced a partnership to accelerate the adoption of private 5G with the integration of what they describe as “an AI-enabled end-to-end workflow automation platform.”

VentureBeat connected with Shahid Ahmed, NTT’s executive VP of new ventures and innovation, to discuss the details of the AI-automated workflow automation platform. Ahmed said combined capabilities from NTT and ServiceNow will now enable an AI-powered, end-to-end workflow management and service automation platform that helps customers realize the benefits of private 5G.

Describing the AI-driven workflow automation platform, ServiceNow’s head of telecommunications, media and technology product, Rohit Batra told VentureBeat — via an email interview — that ServiceNow AI is purpose-built into the Now Platform and optimized for enterprise use cases to make workflows smarter and more productive. Batra claimed the platform enables the typical AI lifecycle steps — including data collection, preparation, model training, inference, updating the models, and integrating the machine learning (ML) predictions into application workflows. He said these steps were integrated into the platform to allow customers to leverage ML capabilities to drive business outcomes and better user experiences without having to worry about the sophistication of managing the AI/ML lifecycle.

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ServiceNow claims it uses various state-of-the-art AI technologies relevant to enterprise customer use cases — including predictive intelligence, deep learning powered by natural language understanding (NLP), natural language querying, AI search, and intelligent chatbots.

“AI is a rapidly evolving field. ServiceNow Research helps us both make advances in this field and future-proof the AI capabilities in the platform,” Batra said.

The partnership announcement came in a press release yesterday.

Digitizing critical enterprise workflows

A recent survey of 216 C-level and senior iT decision-makers from the U.K., U.S., Germany, and Japan by the Economic Impact Group on the present state of private 5G network revealed the following:

  • Connectivity is a top priority for CIOs, with about nine out of 10 planning to or already implementing upgrades.
  • Improving network security is one of the key drivers for technology upgrades in connectivity and communication.
  • More than half of companies surveyed plan to deploy private 5G within the next six to 24 months.
  • Nearly one-third of companies surveyed are already deploying private 5G.

The point is clear: Fueled by the effects of COVID-19, more companies are now adopting digital technologies. By building on NTT’s Private 5G (P5G) offering, ServiceNow’s pre-built assets help enterprises digitize workflows that are critical to private 5G deployment and adoption, said Ahmed. He added that CIOs and Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) can solve real business problems with simple cloud-based economics, faster time to market, and an enhanced service management experience.

As companies deal with the ever-changing business environment and seek to simplify their technology ecosystems in the drive for digital transformation, Batra noted that CIOs have struggled with the complexities of 20th century IT architectures. A core issue he emphasized is the difficulty in managing disparate systems, platforms, data, and process silos that result in disconnected workflows and poor experiences.

“By digitizing workflows across functions and critical business systems and connecting them end-to-end on a single platform and data model, companies can maximize the value of existing IT investments, reduce operational silos, increase business agility — and make disruptive improvements in core business processes,” Batra said.

According to Batra, NTT and ServiceNow also believe that a unified data stack enables AI-powered systems to learn from data to deliver better decisions, actions, outcomes, and experiences that improve over time.

“We understand the challenges of migrating to a digital operating model, which is why we create best-in-class AI that powers products to supercharge productivity and deliver engaging experiences. With ServiceNow, businesses can move from a transactional mentality to one that strengthens relationships with all users,” he said.

What the partnership means for organizations

Before now, noted Ahmed, CIOs and operational teams deployed networks for the sake of networks — a system which he said was not truly integrated with the business processes that should solve real business problems or yield the right use cases for the perfect business outcomes.

“We found that if the workflows were integrated into the private network itself, it yielded more outcomes and adoption happened much faster, so it facilitated a lot more than just having the network by itself,” said Ahmed.

ServiceNow claims it has pre-built world-class workflows that are digitized by industry and by sector. The company says this partnership would enable it to bring NTT’s network capabilities pre-integrated with ServiceNow’s workflows into one single bundled service — ensuring clients benefit from seamless AI/ML automated workflows while using the private 5G network solution. 

Furthering their global mission, both companies will now go after the global enterprise market, especially with ServiceNow’s claims of having a rich history in delivering workflow automation. Combining with ServiceNow is NTT, whose focus is driving the global acceleration of private 5G to meet the fast-evolving needs of enterprises across industries — including automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail to create unprecedented alignment of data, connectivity, security, and communications.

“This partnership between NTT and ServiceNow meets client needs in industrial sectors for workflows delivered via reliable, fast, and secure private 5G networks,” said Batra.

What the two companies are doing differently from others

Batra said ServiceNow’s biggest competition continues to be replacing manual workflows done via email, spreadsheets, and phone calls. While ServiceNow sees several vendors focused on specific domains, the company claims it rarely bumps into competition focused on transforming the way work gets done throughout an organization.

While NTT acknowledges competition in other large telecommunications and cloud companies, the company says its P5G platform hit the market first, with others following suit. Ahmed said NTT is differentiated from others in its capacity to provide a tightly integrated solution with Celona and now ServiceNow, as well as a CIO-centric, end-to-end solution — including application services and investment in infrastructure and innovation — on a global reach and scale. NTT claims its unique full-stack offering does not just focus on 5G, but also allows the company to offer a broader view of what enterprises need.

A key barrier that weighs down operations and drives up costs when implementing private 5G networks is how to integrate with siloed, disconnected legacy systems and networks. Batra said ServiceNow recognizes these challenges and offers automated solutions that enhance workflow across the value chain by connecting service delivery, customer care, and operations workflows on one platform. 

He added that ServiceNow has over 7,400 global customers and approximately 80% of the Fortune 500 has selected ServiceNow as the leading partner for their digital transformation journey.

How the platform impacts the enterprise data infrastructure

Together, NTT and ServiceNow say they are automating basic operational service workflows. For example, manufacturers want to take data off the factory floor. Ahmed noted that NTT did design thinking with clients to understand their challenges and discovered that the most common use is putting data into an AI logic and creating outcomes like driving machine efficiencies and therefore identifying service opportunities.

“Let’s look at the machine efficiency index (quality of parts being produced, rate of production, hours spent, and the likes) — which has an impact on overall production. Once the AI engine has identified the problem, translating that into a workflow that assigns the job to a technician, audit, follow up, and others; this is what we want to automate. This means IT doesn’t have to think about how a network will integrate with the back-office systems. It will just happen,” said Ahmed.

A challenge that most enterprises face today is the huge amount of unstructured work that happens within disparate systems of record built on various legacy technologies. Batra noted that work happens in silos, lowering productivity and impacting user experiences because individually they do not support how work flows across the enterprise. Integrating or replacing core systems is an expensive and lengthy process, said Batra. NTT and ServiceNow claim their “Now Platform” excels at unifying enterprise data by digitizing workflows throughout a company or across several functions.

“That’s why we call the Now Platform the ‘platform of platforms’ for digital business. Our unique differentiation is providing one platform that shares one data model, one architecture, as well as many built-in powerful capabilities such as the ability to easily build cross-enterprise workflows, a single CMDB, machine learning, AI and predictive analytics, native mobile and conversational interfaces, and a set of no code and low code development tools for anyone to build their own apps,” continued Batra.

ServiceNow says it connects organizations, creating a seamless enterprise system of action that integrates silos and systems, enables great employee and customer experiences, increases business agility, and unlocks productivity.

AI and ML capabilities in existing or upcoming products

According to Ahmed, AI and ML will be used in conjunction with machine vision or sound and vibration sensors to capture data from the factory floor and transfer it in real-time low latency to a cloud-based or edge AI and ML platform. The goal is to identify degradation or potential failure of manufacturing equipment. The AI and ML software will be used to schedule preventive maintenance to avoid catastrophic failure and downtime. Additional use cases will leverage AI and ML alongside machine vision to monitor production equipment operational efficiency or degradation of product quality.

ServiceNow says it’s helping organizations address their most common struggles with enterprise AI — taking AI predictions and recommendations and translating them into intelligent actions resulting in business value. Batra said ServiceNow AI solves real business problems, automates repetitive tasks — making work easier and faster, and creating smart and engaging experiences for employees and customers.

Ahmed said NTT has plans to expand what it is currently doing with AI and ML through a significant investment in NTT Smart X Platform, which is focused on delivering edge analytics and AI to a variety of industry verticals. P5G will be an integral part of the Smart X platform, leveraging this AI and analytics capability to develop advanced customer use cases and drive workflow automation, said Ahmed. 

Batra said that ServiceNow will continue to bring the power of purpose-built AI to the enterprise and accelerate digital transformation by creating the world’s most intelligent platform: The Now Platform.

“Our product roadmap includes continued investment in AI and ML technology designed to provide our customers with smarter experiences and greater productivity across all our solutions. Regarding R&D, ServiceNow Research is dedicated to advancing the state-of-the-art in enterprise AI,” he added.

Upcoming 5G milestones

NTT recently announced what it calls “the first-to-market P5G platform” and partnership with Celona. Ahmed said the company will soon announce its first customer deployments. In addition, he said NTT will also have some news at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2022 in Barcelona, where he will also be speaking.

Both companies have a combined headcount of more than 57,000, with NTT boasting over 40,000 employees and ServiceNow boasting about 17,000 employees.

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