Best Practices for Power BI ServiceNow Reporting

Welcome to the ServiceNow Reporting Best Practices Documentation. This is your comprehensive guide to building effective reporting in Power BI based on your ServiceNow data.

In this page, we will cave the best practice, tips and hints on how you can build your ServiceNow reports in Power BI using our Power BI Connector for ServiceNow.


ServiceNow Reporting Challenges & Limitations

There is a set of basic challenges that companies normally face when navigating the ServiceNow reporting landscape. Here are the most common ones:

1. Limited Built-In ServiceNow Reporting Capabilities

ServiceNow Platform provides a pretty straightforward option to built reports. Users can create dashboards and add the needed reports there for their convenience. At the same time, there are a few crucial things to remember:

  • ServiceNow Reports can be built over the current state, but they don’t allow to see the dynamics. If you need to see the traction, you won’t be able to do it.

  • Reports can be visible to all ServiceNow users or to certain user groups with the sharing option, but still, it is not possible to share reports outside of ServiceNow. For this, there is a PDF option available, but this means that user can download the current ServiceNow report and share it. It doesn’t allow to automatically get the updated report on a regular basis - only with the manual work.

  • It is impossible to build a single report based on multiple tables or data sources.

  • ServiceNow data is the only source, it is not an option for users willing to combine ServiceNow data with other data (CRM, Jira, etc).

2. Single Point of Control Required

The basic use case is that the ServiceNow instance is very customized and includes different modules & ServiceNow products within the company. Thus, normally there are different teams working on various reports and dashboards based on their reporting needs. This may lead to varied reporting configurations across instance, introducing inconsistency in reporting practices. In this case, it is challenging for the company to ensure a single approach to overall company reporting as additional policies and points of control are needed to keep the process working.

3. ServiceNow Data Security & Data Ownership Protection

Normally, ServiceNow instances tend to have millions of records inside for the teams using it in the daily operations. A lot of companies are very data security-concerned and prefer to own, store, and manage their ServiceNow data by themselves. In such cases, ServiceNow Power BI integration needs to ensure a few points:

  • the data is not leaving the ServiceNow instance (it is not copied or transferred anywhere outside of full customer’s control);

  • the data is only controlled and accessed by the company;

  • the data access is fully compliant with the company’s policies.

What problems can ServiceNow Power BI integration resolve?

Usually, if the companies face the limits and challenges mentioned above, they start to search for ServiceNow built-in reporting alternatives. Building ServiceNow reports in Microsoft Power BI is a very common option in such cases.

Building a reliable and seamless ServiceNow Power BI integration allows to overcome all the limits. Here's why:

  • In Power BI, users can build any types of ServiceNow reports for current status and for performance over time:

  • It is possible to share the reports with the relevant stakeholders including those outside of ServiceNow instance;

  • Users can combine data from multiple tables and database views, as well as use custom tables for their reporting purposes;

  • It is possible to combine ServiceNow data with other data sources on the Power BI side with other integrations which will allow companies to build consolidated reporting on the top level;

  • As the reporting will be managed by BA/BI team, it is easier for the company to ensure the data consistency as well as to keep the corporate reporting approach working thanks to the managed control over all the reporting in the company executed in Power BI.

  • It is possible to export data to Power BI without copying it elsewhere externally;

  • ServiceNow user roles and access permissions can be respected when fetching data to Power BI.

If this is something you’re interested in, then our Power BI Connector for ServiceNow is a perfect fit for you. Alpha Serve has collected the important tips from our customers and partners in a single place to simplify your work.

General Advice to Analysts

Know the Persona That Will Use Your Report: ServiceNow is usually in use by various stakeholders, from IT professionals and operational managers to C-level executives and end-users. Each group has unique needs and perspectives. It is highly recommended to recognize these distinct requirements in advance and consider building different versions of reports tailored to the specific needs of each stakeholder group.

Understand ITIL Framework: Before diving into ServiceNow reporting in Power BI, it is advised to have a solid grasp of the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) framework. ITIL provides a set of practices for IT service management (ITSM) that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of the business. Understanding ITIL principles will help interpret ServiceNow data more effectively, especially if ServiceNow is configured based on ITIL processes in your company.

Get familiar with the ServiceNow Data Model: ServiceNow, at its core, is a database platform that provides structure to various service modules through tables. These tables store the data relevant to different processes and functions in ServiceNow. Knowing these structures is crucial for meaningful Power BI reporting.

Every team needs certain metrics, which have definitions and calculations. Only the KPIs calculated based on the exact and the relevant data can be valuable. Thus, it is crucial to have understanding which tables and fields contain the primary source of data.

Prioritize Data Quality and Consistency: Just as in any reporting or analytics project, the quality of your insights is only as good as the data you're working with. Ensure that the data pulled from ServiceNow into Power BI is clean, consistent, and accurate. Regularly audit and validate your ServiceNow data, rectify any inconsistencies, and establish protocols for data entry.

Design with Scalability in Mind: Regardless of the specific solution you opt for, it's crucial to think ahead and anticipate future needs; especially as businesses evolve and operations expand, the amount of data generated can increase exponentially. Refrain from architectures that necessitate loading all data every time. Instead, do the following:

  • Use incremental data loading techniques to fetch only new or modified data, reducing resource strain and improving performance;

  • Customize your export as much as possible to load only the needed amount of data for the requested time frame and in the appropriate display/format.

Custom ServiceNow Reports: Key Concepts Before You Start

ServiceNow is a complex ecosystem consisting of numerous tables, fields, and interrelationships. Each organization customises its setup, meaning there's no one-size-fits-all approach to reporting. However, grasping certain key concepts can significantly enhance your reporting capabilities.

Inheritance

ServiceNow uses a concept called "Table Inheritance," where a 'parent' table can have multiple 'child' tables inheriting attributes and fields from the parent. For instance, the Task table is a parent table, and tables like Incident, Problem, and Change are child tables inheriting from the Task.

Example:
We will take two most popular ServiceNow tables - "Task" (task) and "Configuration Item" (cmdb_ci). These two tables are parent tables. A lot of other tables are extended from them and are child tables. For example, “Request” table is a child table for “Task” table:

From this perspective, it is important not only to understand inheritance, but also mind the user access permissions. Generally users have access to some task-related tables in ServiceNow, as the primary parent table itself is usually available to administrators only.  Note that there are different permissions for reports and tables. Having access to some reports involving the "Task" table does not give you access to this table.

Reference Fields

Many tables in ServiceNow contain reference fields, which link one table to another. When reporting, you might need to "dot-walk" through these references to fetch related data and connect it in Power BI.

Example:

When you hover the icon next to a field, you can see some details about the record that's being referenced. On the screenshot the 'Caller' field in the Incident table references to the User table:

Additional reading:

https://docs.servicenow.com/en-US/bundle/vancouver-platform-administration/page/administer/field-administration/concept/c_ReferenceField.html

Dot-Walking

At its simplest, dot-walking involves navigating through table relationships.

Thus, user can access the inherited fields using dot walking notation, like this: "child_table.parent_field". However, since the inherited fields are accessible in the child table just like any other field of the child table, you can also access them directly using their field names, like this: "child_table_field_name".

For example, incident.assigned_to.name accesses the assigned user's name for an incident.

But it is recommended to use dot walking notation to access inherited fields, as it makes the code more readable and easier to understand.

System Fields

Tables in ServiceNow have system fields like sys_id (a unique identifier), sys_created_on (creation date), and sys_updated_on (last updated date). These fields can be invaluable for tracking changes and timelines in reports. 

Power BI Connector for ServiceNow: Reporting Best Practice

Multiple Data Sources

Data source in the context of Power BI Connector is the initial source of data sets that contain tables and fields for further analysis. It is a customized and well-defined data set which you wish to export to Power BI.

Application allows to create as many data sources as you need, in order you could tailor your data export per every report instead of exporting all huge data amounts at a time.

Example:

Every team using different ServiceNow tools in daily operations, and each team needs its own reports as all of them track and monitor different metrics relevant to their jobs. It is recommended to create a data source per every Power BI report/dashboard which will include only the tables and fields needed for this definite report.

Ready Power BI Templates

Ready Power BI templates for ServiceNow reports have been included in Power BI Connector scope to cover the following use cases:

  • customers which are in the very beginning with Power BI and don’t have enough Power BI knowledge, but they need to do the POC phase and check the fesaibility of ServiceNow reporting in Power BI for their company. In this is case they build their first reports using the templates and get a more clear understanding of what Power BI can do with ServiceNow data, and if this is something they’d need for their case;

  • smaller teams not having a BI expert can instantly get the reports from Power BI templates and see the most popular metrics calculated in their ServiceNow Data;

  • customers can quickly check the correctness of their data fetched by the Power BI Connector and understand if the app works for their business case;

  • the provided built-in templates in Power BI Connector can be further changed and customized according to the customer requirements.

Using Refresh Capabilities

ServiceNow instances tend to contain huge amount of data, that is why the export time becomes a crucial point for many customers. It is important to make the data export and report refresh as effective as possible, keeping the near-real-time data for your Power BI dashboards.

The best practice is to use refresh capabilities, that is why Power BI Connector supports them in order to make users life easier.

Scheduled Refresh

Scheduled refresh in Power BI is a feature that enables automatic data updates in Power BI reports and dashboards. Users can define a refresh schedule, specifying when the data should be refreshed on the Power BI side from ServiceNow. This ensures that the Power BI content reflects the near-real-time information without manual efforts.

Examples of when to schedule an update:

  • at 8 am every day Monday-Friday to have the updated report before the daily team meeting;

  • 1st day of the month 8 am to track team KPI on a monthly basis;

  • before submitting a target achievement when renumeration is based on KPIs and performance.

As you can see, scheduled refresh is very useful when dealing with regularly changing data, such as daily or hourly updates, and helps maintain the relevance and accuracy of the reports over time. It is a crucial functionality for organizations relying on timely insights from their Power BI data visualizations.

Additional reading:

Configure a scheduled refresh for Power BI Connector using our step-by-step guide.

https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/connect-data/refresh-scheduled-refresh

Incremental Refresh

Incremental refresh in Power BI is a feature that allows users to avoid full data over writing and refresh only a part of their dataset, focusing on the most recent or changed data. By specifying a range or criteria for data to be refreshed, users can significantly reduce the refresh time and improve overall performance. This is especially beneficial for large datasets where the majority of information remains unchanged.

Incremental refresh helps in optimizing the use of resources and enables more frequent updates without the need to refresh the entire dataset. It is an efficient strategy to manage and maintain Power BI reports with large volumes of data while minimizing data processing costs.

Additional reading:

Configure an incremental refresh for Power BI Connector using our step-by-step guide.

Data Security

From the data access perspective, Power BI Connector for ServiceNow does not copy or transfer the customer’s data. It builds a bridge between 2 systems using API on ServiceNow side and Odata feed on the Power BI side, having the connection secured.

As a result, all customers have the following points ensured:

  • data stays inside the ServiceNow instance under the solely customer’s control;

  • only the authorized users can work with Power BI Connector, all the rest don’t see the app inside the instance;

  • users can only export the data they have access to from ServiceNow based on their user permissions;

  • vendor’s team does not have any access to the data through the app.