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How To Produce An Actionable IT Service Catalog

By Rodrigo Fernando Flores Faced with continued cost pressures, as well as growing business unit demand for new services and higher service levels, the IT operations of many Global 2000 corporations are embarking on a fundamental transformation.
Jul 18, 2005

ITSM Watch Staff

By Rodrigo Fernando Flores

Faced with continued cost pressures, as well as growing business unit demand for new services and higher service levels, the IT operations of many Global 2000 corporations are embarking on a fundamental transformation. CIOs and other IT executives must align their services with the needs of the business, improve internal customer satisfaction, and deploy standardized processes to achieve greater operational efficiency. This imperative to improve service quality - and demonstrate value to the business - is driving many IT organizations to implement ITIL and other process methodologies.

The ITIL framework is based on the concepts of Service and Customer Care, and the Service Catalog is at the core of these fundamental concepts. Many IT groups produce a Service Catalog as part of their ITIL Service Level Management deployment. Others see the opportunity to leverage the Service Catalog as the focal point for interaction between IT and the business, as prescribed in the most recent ITIL Business Perspective publication. Wherever you are in your ITIL initiative, the Service Catalog is essential to success p providing the foundation for defining services and communicating with the business.

To be effective, the Service Catalog must be understood, embraced, and used by the business. Yet all too often, IT departments invest countless hours to create Service Catalog documentation that few customers will ever read or use. Ultimately, the majority of these static Service Catalogs are rarely seen or read by either end users or business decision-makers - and thus have little to no impact.

In order to ensure a successful and customer-focused ITIL initiative, IT organizations can follow three guidelines for their Service Catalog:

The Customer is King
First and foremost, the Service Catalog should be created with an unwavering focus on internal customer needs. The most common mistake IT organizations make is to articulate their services from an IT perspective. The customers of IT don't want to review detailed service descriptions in "IT-speak" - they want to see services described in terms they can understand, written in non-technical terminology, and addressing an immediate concern or need.

Successful Service Catalogs are defined from the customer in, rather than from the infrastructure out. For guidance, refer to real-life online catalogs that your customers use every day - like Amazon.com, Dell, and eBay.

A Service Catalog should look like these Web-based consumer catalogs, with easy-to-understand descriptions and an intuitive store-front interface for browsing available service offerings. An effective Service Catalog also segments the customers who may access the catalog - whether end users or business unit executives - and provides different content based on function, roles, needs, locations, and entitlements.

This customer-focused approach helps ensure that the Service Catalog is adopted by end users, and provides the basis for a balanced, business-level discussion on service quality and cost trade-offs with business decision-makers.

Make it Actionable
Second, the Service Catalog should be more than just a static repository of information. A consumer viewing an online catalog at Amazon.com or Dell.com assumes that if they see something they want, they can order it. Likewise, the Service Catalog for end users should be tied to service request processes - with a Web-based shopping cart interface enabling end users to order services and track fulfillment status online.

Similarly, business unit executives should have their own unique view of the Service Catalog that provides greater transparency into detailed IT budget items, consumption drivers, service levels, and the business impact of each service that IT provides.

IT matters to employees when they want to upgrade their laptop or when they need to increase the size limit on their e-mail inbox. IT matters to business executives when they are reviewing budgets or when they receive their IT bill. It is at these moments that the Service Catalog needs to be available and actionable.

To ensure success, the Service Catalog must become the single access point that end users will turn to for all their IT service delivery needs, and readily available anytime your business customers want to understand what IT does and how well it does it.

Enable a System of Record
Finally, an actionable Service Catalog must serve as a "system of record" that enables IT service organizations to be managed like a business within a business. The Service Catalog can provide the vehicle to manage customer demand, map fulfillment processes for each service, ensure service level compliance, drive process efficiencies, and track costs.

No service-oriented business can run effectively without such operational and financial data readily and easily available. By providing internal customers with a central point for requesting services, IT can leverage this data to more effectively control consumption.

With standardized and well-documented services, IT teams can enforce repeatable and measurable service delivery processes that ultimately result in predictable and reliable service quality. And IT executives have access to the necessary information for business-relevant and fact-based discussions with their business counterparts about budgets and pricing.

The Service Catalog is the cornerstone for success in any ITIL initiative. By defining and publishing a standard portfolio of business-relevant service offerings, IT can more effectively market its value and establish a framework for communication with the business. And by making the Service Catalog operational and transactional, IT operations can help standardize service fulfillment processes, manage consumption, and drive continuous improvement.

Services that are not frequently requested can be discontinued. Delivery processes for high volume services can be optimized. Key performance indicators can provide greater visibility to control costs, ensure optimal service quality, and support budgeting conversations with IT decision-makers.

With an actionable and customer-focused Service Catalog in place, IT organizations can truly operate as a service-oriented provider to effectively meet the needs of their business customers.

Rodrigo Fernando Flores is the founder and chief technology officer of newScale, with more than 20 years experience in software development and IT management. He is a member of the IT Service Management Forum, and has advised several leading Fortune 500 companies in their ITIL and service catalog initiatives.

Prior to founding newScale, Flores led the development and market launch of Action Technologies' Metro products. Flores holds three patents on workflow technology, co-founded the Workflow Management Coalition, and was its first vice chairman.