What is service mapping?

Service mapping is used to discover and track IT applications and components in an organization, outlining how each connects to business services.

Maps have been around for longer than recorded history, with some of the earliest examples of maps dating as far back as 25,000 BCE. This is hardly surprising; maps give human beings a way to easily visualize large, complex spatial relationships. With the right maps, we can navigate buildings, roads, towns, and countries, and humanity has even gone so far as to map the cosmos. But maps don’t always represent the physical world. Today, businesses are discovering that complex IT and service relationships can also be mapped, providing a detailed, comprehensive picture of an organization’s entire IT infrastructure. This is known as service mapping.

Service mapping charts a company’s interconnected IT environment. This allows organizations to build a service-aware view of how their underlying IT applications and related components connect to business services.

Service mapping is a way of more clearly understanding application services. An application service is defined as a group of connected applications and hosts configured to operate together, to provide a specific service to an organization or end-user.

One example of an application service is financial reporting. When an organization needs to generate a financial report, they employ an application service that includes computer hardware, web server, application server, databases, middleware, and network infrastructure components. Each of these works together to provide the service of creating the desired financial report.

Traditionally, IT departments have relied on horizontal discovery to map IT infrastructures. This delivery method creates inventories that act as though every application and device is standalone, without making note of the connections between devices and application services. Service mapping forgoes this outdated approach, relying instead on top-down mapping that focuses on the connections between devices and applications so that any issues or changes can be immediately identified along with their impact on the rest of the application service.

Business IT is made of a complex web of infrastructure, software, hardware, applications, and more. These various parts operate in tandem, interconnecting and depending on one another to support important processes and deliver value. Service mapping builds on this delivery mindset, charting services provided, rather than focusing primarily on the specifics of the infrastructure itself. Properly implemented, this focus on service delivery allows businesses to enjoy many advantages:

Graphic outlining the benefits of service mapping.

Service-aware operations

Perhaps the primary benefit of effective service mapping is that it provides businesses with the service-relevant insights they need to make decisions and respond to emergent IT events quickly. With service mapping, organizations can immediately identify service issues as they arise and then prioritize issues based on business impact. Beyond that, service mapping empowers businesses with a clear understanding of the services themselves, including their associated costs, how to optimize service architectures, how changes impact services, and more.

Hybrid environments

When businesses migrate to a multi-cloud environment, it’s usually not a clean break. On-premises applications that still demand support necessitate a hybrid environment where cloud-based and locally hosted services must coexist and interact. This can result in the creation of difficult-to-govern short-term infrastructure. Service mapping provides complete visibility into applications and services in hybrid environments, allowing organizations to create effective governance immediately.

Faster time to value

Effective service mapping allows organizations to quickly create an accurate picture of how their IT applications, equipment, and dependencies work together to deliver end-user services. This results in a faster time to value across the board.

Improved Security

A clearer, more accurate understanding of the entire IT infrastructure also delivers insight into which areas or applications may present security vulnerabilities. These high-risk services and conditions can then be flagged for immediate remediation. Additionally, service mapping improves ongoing monitoring of IT infrastructure, improving the speed of response when unexpected issues occur or outages present themselves.

Multi-cloud strategy delivery

Working through multiple cloud providers can create overly complex IT infrastructures, potentially leading to increased vulnerabilities, misutilized services, reduced governance, and other issues. Service mapping simplifies and accelerates multi-cloud strategies, helping businesses keep up with dynamic cloud environments across multiple vendors and technologies.

Proactive IT service management

Too often, organizations are forced to wait for issues to occur before they can identify underlying causes. Service mapping empowered organizations with detailed service maps so that they can identify bottlenecks, single points of failure, and other problems before they impact service availability. With service mapping, IT departments can protect the services their companies depend on, proactively maintaining and improving IT environments before any negative symptoms may be felt by service customers.

Key features of service mapping include the following:


Possibly more than anything else, service mapping exists to provide transparency, visibility, and clear understanding. With a coherent, visual depiction of how services, applications, and components insect and interoperate, decision makers can easily evaluate how specific infrastructure services are impacting employees, customers, and the business itself.


The modern business’ IT infrastructure is not static; it’s a dynamic, constantly evolving maelstrom of connected services. To understand how these connections work and to turn those insights into something actionable, organizations need reliable data. Service mapping functions in real time, automatically updating whenever any aspect of the infrastructure or its components change. With reliable, real-time data, decision makers can act secure in the knowledge that they are building on a firm foundation of accurate information.


A key reason that service mapping exists is to improve efficiency by performing specific tasks that would otherwise fall to human employees. Rather than having IT specialists dedicate their valuable time towards constantly monitoring IT applications and components, and addressing any errors or vulnerabilities they might uncover, service mapping takes over for many of these responsibilities. This frees up IT experts to focus on more strategic concerns.

Multi-cloud support

Because so many organizations have moved either partially or fully away from on-premises computing solutions, service mapping must be able to chart services through hybrid and cloud-based infrastructure environments. Service mapping should be capable of integrating with leading cloud services so that this functionality is available right out of the box. And, when faced with non-compatible cloud vendors, service mapping should be customizable enough so that organizations can extend their solution beyond the out-of-the-box capabilities.

Correctly implemented, service mapping creates a detailed, complete view of objects within the IT infrastructure, with a focus on the semantic connections between them. To do this, service mapping deploys different methods for identifying application services. One widely-used approach is through locating patterns. In service mapping, patterns are sequences of operations used to detect attributes of devices and applications along with their outbound connections. Asset management tags, for example, can help clearly identify relationships between applications and are valuable in mapping application services.

Additionally, service mapping may also be able to trace traffic as it moves between applications and devices (called traffic-based mapping).

Given the ubiquity of modern IT services even among non-IT businesses, organizations large and small across a range of industries can all benefit from effective service mapping. By creating a service-aware view of essential infrastructure, companies can make better-informed decisions and respond more quickly to unexpected changes.

The primary purpose of service mapping is to allow businesses to develop a clearer understanding of how service components connect and interact. Organizations may also take this further, by applying service mapping in a variety of use cases:

Root cause analysis

When problems arise within the IT infrastructure, it’s not always enough to simply put out fires or address symptoms. Identifying and remediating the root cause of the issue will help ensure that the organization in question doesn’t have to revisit the same problems at some point in the future. Complete visibility into application services and relevant connections greatly simplifies root cause analysis, so IT professionals can quickly eliminate or repair the problematic elements at the heart of the trouble.

Business analysis

Companies can deploy service mapping to help visualize the information systems and technical requirements necessary for evaluating options when considering possible business solutions. With data gathered from effective service mapping, leaders and other decision makers can make their choices with confidence, and can also more easily communicate their recommended solutions—and the reasoning behind them—to stakeholders.


A business’ resources are finite. There are only so many employees available to perform tasks, and only a limited number of work hours in which to do so. At the same time, some tasks are more urgent than others. As such, prioritizing work is an important part of operating a business with efficiency. Service mapping aids in prioritization, helping businesses understand the impact of different services, so that they can determine which issues, tasks, or concerns should be addressed first.

Configuration management

Configuration management is an approach that relies on the accurate identification of relationships between configuration items so that businesses have access to reliable information about configuration servicers and their components. Configuration management plays a role in availability planning, cause and effect analysis, cost allocation, impact analysis, and risk analysis. Service mapping can improve the effectiveness of configuration management.

Portfolio management

Service mapping can also help organizations manage their portfolios, informing decisions based on service objectives, investments, and limits. This is made possible by visualizing service components and dependencies. Backed by service mapping, portfolio management has more accurate data to help ensure that businesses are correctly executing their strategy within the confines of budget and other resources.

Relationship management

Relationship management is a business discipline focused on improving communication between stakeholders relevant to services, expectations, and experiences. Service mapping provides concrete details backed by reliable data and presented visually in a way that is easy to follow. This helps optimize communication and keep everyone on the same page.

Managing the myriad of essential IT services found in most modern businesses is an increasingly complex task. To do so effectively, IT departments need both a big-picture view of these services, as well as a detailed understanding of how they work and interact. Unfortunately, too many organizations still rely on outdated, inefficient manual processes to map their services. Even among those organizations that employ service mapping, too often the mapping solutions they depend on are insufficient to fully chart expanding infrastructures, leaving out vital data that can make a significant difference. And, as infrastructures continue to grow, the need for improved mapping grows along with it. When faced with the difficulty of mapping convoluted IT topologies, successful businesses turn to ServiceNow.

ServiceNow Service Mapping employs advanced automation to the service mapping process to build a fully-accurate and completely dynamic chart of every digital service within a company. An essential part of IT Operation Management (ITOM) ecosystem, ServiceNow Service Mapping leaves no corner of the IT infrastructure uncovered, providing flexible service-mapping options, including top-down mapping, tag-based mapping, intelligent traffic-based mapping, service mesh mapping, and dynamic CI groups. No matter the scenario, businesses that rely on ServiceNow will always have the correct approach to service mapping.

Built for effective mapping regardless of the computing environment, Service Mapping from ServiceNow is also fully compatible with multi-cloud environments, and provides out-of-the-box service visibility across Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google GCP, and can be customized to support other cloud vendors as well.

And, because Service Mapping is built on the Now Platform®, it automatically leverages existing discovery data from the organization’s Configuration Management Database (CMDB). Service Mapping likewise ensures that maps are being updated in real time; any changes to the IT environment are mirrored by updates to the service map in the CMDB. With ServiceNow, service maps are always accurate, up-to-date, and comprehensive.

Understand and manage your service applications like never before. Try Service Mapping from ServiceNow, and create the maps you need to navigate the complexities of modern IT infrastructure.

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