5 steps to create great custom ServiceNow applications

6 minutes
5 steps to create great custom ServiceNow applications

After years of experience creating custom ServiceNow applications and being recognized as the ServiceNow Global App Development Platform Partner of the Year 2021, we can righteously say we know what’s necessary to create great custom applications on the Now platform. But you might be wondering what steps it takes to create a great custom ServiceNow application with App Engine? Here’s how we approach that.

Step 1. Identify a high-value use case

Sometimes, it is crystal clear what use case needs to be supported by an application, but often, this is less obvious. So, a few approaches to help you identify use cases for application creation in ServiceNow:

  • Capability map — Use an industry-specific capability map to identify which capabilities are of key importance to your company. These capabilities typically involve a set of (mission-critical) activities that would benefit greatly from being structured, streamlined or even partially automated.


  • Survey to uncover frustrations — Frustration is a powerful driver for improvement. When people are fed up with legacy systems, manual repetitive tasks or tools that are not fit for purpose, a new and more suitable business application has great benefits. Uncover any possible frustrations with a survey.


  • Non-scalable solutions or shadow IT — Many employees and business units are already used to building and implementing their own applications. Tools like Excel, SharePoint, MS Access and Google Apps are often used to automate day-to-day activities. But they are hard to maintain, disconnected from other flows and tough or impossible to scale. The same goes for Jira, Trello and other workflow-/task-oriented tools which are used to build workflow automations. This often happens without IT knowing about it, which brings along security and compliance risks.

Based on the use case, define your user-centred problem statement. If needed, we can assist with inspiration sessions. Click here to request this.


The steps and requirements needed to create great custom ServiceNow applications


Download 14 Use Cases for ServiceNow App Engine

Step 2: Define the process

Once the use case is identified, it is important to define the entire process the custom application should support.

We suggest you draw out the process through value stream mapping, Lean Process mapping, or by simply drawing out the activities on a whiteboard. The key is to understand the activities in the process. Why do we do these activities? Are they really required? How much time and effort do they require? What value do they bring?

Don’t forget to identify connections with other processes and value streams to paint the full picture. You’ll notice that these other processes are usually already supported by ServiceNow, like request fulfillment.

Defining the process will help you identify which activities can be structured, streamlined and automated. It also helps you start on the high-value / high-effort activities first.

Step 3: Design and prototype

The next step is to translate the use cases and activities into a design. Here’s how to do that:

  • Create a simple data model – Ask yourself how you want to structure the required tables. Draw it out or try it out in a sandbox environment to investigate all options. Request your ServiceNow sandbox environment here, if you don’t have one yet.


  • Determine the basic logic – Draw out the simplified logic that should be applied in process diagrams or written pseudo-code, or set it up in your ServiceNow sandbox environment.


  • Define the appearance – Create simple mock-ups with professional tools like Figma (you can use PowerPoint/Excel!) and configure some examples in your sandbox environment.


  • Set up security & role access – Define who your users are and what level of access they require to the custom application. Start with an open model first. Don’t restrict things that aren’t really needed. You can trust people to have the best intentions.

The last step is design validation by platform experts. In the design phase, it is still easy to make changes. It’s all about laying a strong foundation that fosters maintainability, scalability and addition of new features later on.

Make sure the designs of your custom ServiceNow applications are both future-proof and fit for purpose. Don’t know how to do that? Call in an expert (like us).

TIP: Continuously cross-check and verify ideas with peers. Iterative steps and receiving feedback on a regular basis will help you make a great start for adoption. And it avoids rework down the line. One word of advice though: start simple! Suggestions can always be incorporated later on.

Step 4: Build a Proof of Concept

According to Agile principles, start with clearly defining the scope of your MVP. Ideally, it is small enough to build in a single week. Why keep it small? This will help you deliver value faster (part of Scrum methodology).

Use App Engine Studio to generate your application. Use a name that is applicable for the full scope to come. If an appropriate template is available, use a template.

Create the Tables, Experience (UI components), Automations and Security components.

If you empower your business users to do the building (aka Citizen Development), ensure they are supported by a team of experts. This will help them to quickly overcome obstacles, counsel on best practices, and support them in building more complex components.

Deploy your custom ServiceNow application to a test environment. Simultaneously, start explaining the user base how this tool supports the business. Documenting the process and use cases in a detailed way can help users understand the application quickly and validate that it works as designed.


TIP: Ensure that you stick to naming conventions and building best practices when creating components of ServiceNow applications.

Step 5: Go live and continuously improve

The proof of the pudding is in eating it. So, the faster you have a first version in use, the faster you will be able to see how it works in practice.

Once in production, identifying bugs, enhancements and at which priority they should be solved is usually pretty straightforward. Don’t forget to set up easy and regular feedback moments for users. This will allow you to keep improving the ServiceNow applications you built.

Once live, create an overview of the features you’re planning to implement and publish this backlog. This will help the organization to understand what’s coming. Publish and spread release notes for every update too. This will engage your users and increase adoption.

Last piece of advice: share your success story widely! This will inspire people to adopt your solution or start improving processes on their own.

Who should build your ServiceNow applications?

Ideally, the IT department of your organization facilitates each step of the way. But, the actual building of the ServiceNow applications could be done by skilled employees from your organization.

If you want to go down that route, make sure you work according to a clear and simple governance model. A clear process avoids chaos and disappointment. Part of this model can be a Center for Enablement.

If you’d like assistance in building ServiceNow applications, we can help you along every step of the way:

  • Identify opportunities
  • Build the business case
  • Train your expert team and Citizen Developers
  • Build reusable pro-code components to complete the value case
  • Assist in designing and building applications
  • Train your experts to be self-sufficient

If needed, we can even design, build and support ServiceNow applications for you.

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