By Anna Solska

Solution Consultant at GuideVision

For many ServiceNow implementers and customers, one of the most complicated subjects when working with the Now Platform is how ServiceNow subscriptions are calculated and managed. But why is it so important to understand how subscription management works in ServiceNow?

It’s all about the money.

ServiceNow customers buy user-based licenses based on estimates of how many resources they need. If a customer’s subscriptions aren’t correctly calculated, they could be surprised with additional costs after the Compliance report was issued by ServiceNow. In theory this sounds reasonable, and in practice we’ve seen customers become frustrated because they’ve lost control. The game has changed, and customers don’t know when or how the overview dashboard, which was a reliable tool in the past, suddenly shows incorrect numbers. What’s more, the corrective actions, which previously worked, don’t have the desired effect.

When did it go so wrong?

If you go through the release notes, you will find that a change occurred with the Quebec release. Most likely unless a new ServiceNow compliance report was issued, it wasn’t discovered by anyone.

How can customers regain control and peace of mind? They will most likely reach out to their license suppliers and platform support teams and request an explanation.

And that’s where our consultants enter the picture. We are the ‘quants.’ Yes, quants, like in the movie “The Big Short.” We’re the people who know the math. We’re the people who are thorough and very persistent. 

Here’s a case study which might illustrate the situation better. My journey with one client started with the Compliance Report file and access to their ServiceNow instance. I knew nothing about this except for the fact that the numbers must match, and they clearly didn’t.

As a ServiceNow solution consultant at GuideVision, full of trust in ServiceNow, I started my fact-finding investigation by asking how the Compliance report was pulled, what the data scope is, naively hoping I would spot the mistake. During my investigation I learned that the starting point for the compliance verification for user-based subscriptions is the User Roles table. 

All roles, including custom roles, are classified as the appropriate user type for the subscription, such as Fulfiller, Business Stakeholder and Requester. That sounded reasonable, so I went back to the Subscription Overview dashboard to see how those numbers are calculated, and then to do the match. 

I found a module called Subscription User Set, which is now a legacy module. It listed records for each of the user-based subscriptions. The logic was based on defined filters within each of the records. Each user who met the criteria was automatically allocated to the relevant license. It’s a very nice, scalable, automated solution.

One detail, however, caught my eye: Group Conversion Status. Three of them were successfully converted, and one was ignored. What were the groups for? Why did they have to be converted? 

At that point I started my research, and it provided me with all the answers. 

It all started with the Quebec release. This was when ServiceNow introduced a simplified approach to user allocation administration for per-user types subscription, to enable the switch from a reactive single allocation model to the proactive subscription management model. 

Nowadays subscription management provides the ability to monitor user-based subscriptions by leveraging groups management. It enables subscription consumption management as a part of the user administration process without managing security and entitlements separately. Associating groups to Subscription enables the identification when adding a user to a group will require an entitlement which is enforced by the approval process. Groups allowed this type of logic to be specified per-subscription and enforced by group.

One of the known errors is the situation when upgrading from pre-Paris to Quebec or later releases. Subscription user sets resources, even though the feature is not feeding any information to the overall number any more, tends to keep their licenses, and so they continue to have the access, which may cause the overallocation issue.

How were those changes captured in ServiceNow? To support the approach shift, Subscription Management on the platform converted the subscription user sets to the snapshot groups, meaning records which look like a normal group, but in fact are dummy records, resistant to pass on any changes to the subscribed user related list on the subscription record.

Those groups, however, are easy to recognize. They are prefixed with the LIC_USR_SET abbreviation, and contain no roles. As already mentioned, they are not dynamic, meaning they are rather the snapshots of the allocated resources at the time of the conversion, and any changes to the group member list on the group or user record would not be mentioned in the Subscription record. This is an interim solution, and not intended to be used permanently. Those groups are meant for temporary use while setting up proper groups. Once finished, it is recommended to replace the dummy groups with the proper ones. 

So how can we allocate the proper groups to the subscription records? In the subscription record and on the group form, there are related lists dedicated to build a relationship. But this relationship will not automatically assign the ‘licensed’ role to the group according to the connected subscription. The roles must be added to the groups separately - this is the preferred way to grant the user the required privileges. Once done, the group members from the group record become subscribed users on the Subscription record. This number is shown on the  Subscription Overview dashboard as an allocated result. 

If this is done properly, and all the pitfalls and best practices are addressed, the administrator is able to proactively manage the groups to get control over the subscribed user numbers. There will be no further surprises with overallocation.

To summarize the new approach, it’s “managed with Groups, audited based on Roles.” In short, this means there are no subscribed user sets in use any more, and the focus is on groups management. Currently this is the only available approach to user allocation.

The proper order of allocating a user to a subscription, as opposed to creating a group and assigning roles to the group, is associating the group to the subscription as the third step, and only then assigning the proper number of users to the group and that’s how they will inherit their privileges. 

Remember: Do not assign roles directly to the user, as you will then struggle to control the number of subscribed users outside of the designated group and therefore outside the visibility of the subscription overview dashboard. 

To conclude, here is a list of the best practices and pitfalls in working with subscription management. Removing not-critical users from the subscription-relevant groups;

  • Cross-checking the groups of Fulfillers and Business Stakeholders to understand and point out overlapping resources, and deciding which license they should use;
  • Automating the user-to-group association process with the Service

Best practices:

  • Ensuring the “snapshot” groups are replaced with production groups for each subscription;
  • Understanding the scope of roles for the specific license;
  • Catalog and Request Management, in doing so leveraging the Flow Designer.


  • Insufficient precautions to support clean User/Group Management (i.e. manual procedures such as approvals requests, removal from groups, etc.);
  • Inactive Users/Groups associated to the Subscription record;
  • Users with a Last Login Time of more than 365 days still listed as group members;
  • Direct role assignment (not inherited from group);
  • Lack of knowledge of which roles consume which license.


This article is based on a presentation by Anna Solska at GuideVision’s RADAR 43. RADAR is an internal knowledge-sharing platform whose overall goal is to boost and enhance internal knowledge sharing. We publish summaries of selected presentations from RADAR both as a way to inform the overall ServiceNow community and as an insight into the way we work. If you’re interested in learning more about careers at GuideVision, find out more here.

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