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Demystifying The Confusing Service Catalog

Five answers to five vexing service catalog questions from ITSMWatch columnist Valerie Arraj of Compliance Process Partners.
Apr 16, 2010

Valerie Arraj

What is a “service catalog”? Ask this question to 10 people and you may get 20 answers. The answers may vary from a documented resume-like list of IT capabilities to a list of requestable items that IT can provide to an end-user. As IT vendors and consulting organizations, we’ve done nothing but contribute to the overall confusion around the service catalog.

The only thing we’ve been able to convey with any consistency is that if you are an IT service provider (whether internal to an organization or an external third party) it’s important to have one. But, that’s where the common theme around service catalog ends, I’m afraid.

So, let’s break it down from an ITIL perspective:

Question 1: What is a service? A service is something that provides “value” to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want (an email or other service that has a customer facing service where you can clearly articulate a desired business outcome) without the specific ownership of costs or risks.

Because the customer is not a technology expert (they are a subject matter expert for their business area) this does not mean they don’t pay for the service. It means that, as the technology expert, the IT service provider has a better opportunity to understand and control the costs and risks. Therefore they’ve put ownership in IT’s more capable hands.

Question 2: What is a business service and what is an infrastructure service? A business service is an IT service that directly supports a business process. Benefits administration, for example, is a business service that allows the HR business unit to track and manage corporate benefits, benefit entitlements and the subscription choices of employees.

In a water delivery system, think of the faucet being the business service. When I turn the cold water faucet on I get cold water. When I turn the hot water faucet on I get hot water. An infrastructure service is an IT service not directly used by the business, but is required by the IT service provider to provide business services.

For example, in order for the benefits administration business service to perform it’s required functions it needs to be supported by server administration services, storage services, directory services, communications services, etc.

Question 3: What is a service catalog? A service catalog is a database or structured document with information about all live services or services planned for delivery. It is used to support the marketing and delivery of IT services. The service catalog includes information about deliverables of IT services, contact points, prices, ordering and request processes. The portion of the service catalog that is visible to business customers are only the business services. Both business and infrastructure services are visible to the IT organization.

Question 4: What is a service request? A service request is the action of subscribing to a service or turning on, off or altering some underlying aspect or capability of a service. For example, if email is my business service I may be able to make the following requests:

Add or remove mailbox Add or remove a mail user Grant or restrict rights to access a mailbox to a user Extend the amount of space in a mailbox

Question 5: What is an actionable service catalog? It is an electronic version of the service catalog described in Question 3, constructed in such a way that allows you to search services, service levels, service contacts, make requests related to services. It provides both a communication vehicle (linking real-time service level metrics, or alerts to service changes, for example) and an automated service request mechanism to allow for self-service.

Prioritizing your goals and objectives and along with understanding the service catalog breakdown above will assist you in determining the implementation strategy as you put together your own service catalog. Whether your vision is to develop a service catalog for internal IT use in managing services or an actionable service catalog that customers can use to request service features or understand service status and performance the fundamental first step is to identify the business services supported by IT.

Valerie Arraj is principal and managing partner for Compliance Process Partners, an IT compliance focused consulting and training company that uses service management and control objectives to help organizations lay the groundwork for compliance to regulatory and governance guidelines.

ITIL, service catalog, Arraj, IT service management

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