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How to Solve the Service Catalog Conudrum

There needs to be a standard, writes ITSMWatch guest columnist Ivanka Menken of The Art of Service.
Aug 27, 2010

Ivanka Menken

The mighty service catalog, oh how you bring back memories. One of my first encounters with the ITIL framework was when I was interviewed by a contractor about the services we provided. He was part of a project team that needed to complete a service catalog document. This was in 1998. Little did I know that 12 years later we would still be debating the pros and cons of a service catalog and what exactly should be included in one.

And it’s not for lack of information; so much has been written about service catalogs in the past 10 years. You would think that there is nothing we don’t know yet about this wonderful tool (document, wiki, module ... give it a name). But like many things ITIL we tend to compare apples to oranges during our heated debates and discussions. The ITIL framework is a guidance and as such is open to interpretation. You don’t realize how creative IT professionals are until you start talking about service catalog management

Let’s go back to basics: What is a service catalog supposed to be according to our ITIL framework?

The service catalog provides a central source of information on the IT services delivered by the service provider organization. This ensures that all areas of the business can view an accurate, consistent picture of the IT services, their details and their status(page 61, ITIL Service Design Book)

Oh boy, what a lofty value statement. In my experience most companies out there struggle to get a complete overview of their services at any given point in time, let alone an accurate and consistent picture! The internal discussions usually revolve around the level of detail that needs to be shared with the customer and end user.

How visible do we want to be to our customer and what level of financial impact will this service catalog have on our IT budget? And shouldn’t the CMDB should be the basis of the service catalog, or is it really the other way around?

Many consultants have made a substantial income in the past 10 years by facilitating these discussions without really offering any solutions.

Why have we been going around in circles in the past 10-plus years? Why do we keep having the same discussions about the definition of a service and whether a file server should be a service component or rather a configuration item? Do you know why? I do.

The missing standard

This happens because there is no globally accepted standard for the service catalog. There is no definitive overview that tells us what a service catalog should look like and what the variables are to enable you to be flexible enough to make the standard service catalog fit in within your organization. Apart from some best practices and guidelines in the ITIL books, and the design architectures of software applications I don’t know that such a thing exist on a global scale (and if I’m wrong, please let me know as I’d love to learn of such a standard).

There are some examples of software vendors in our industry that have built amazing applications to help with creating and managing your service catalog. And then there are other ITSM solution providers have some sort of service catalog module tacked on to the back of a service desk solution which looks more a sales benefit for the software vendor than a real benefit for the IT department due to the lack of needed functionality.

To me this is a clear indication that there is no industry-wide shared understanding of what a service catalog should look like, and what the minimum requirements are.

Compare this scenario to the situation in a much more mature industry: Accounting. CPAs have standards for their accounting practices. We know exactly what the ledger should look like and how it is supposed to be set up in asset accounts vs. liability accounts, and income accounts vs. expense accounts.

We even have an understanding of the difference between Cost of Goods Sold and Operational Expenses. This standard structure of a ledger of accounts helps with the comparison and bench marking of businesses of various shapes and sizes. This also helps with obtaining a quick overview of the possibilities of this company, and where the possible flaws and faults may be.

In a similar fashion I would love to see a standard “ledger” for IT services. This ledger is build along the lines of a standard that everybody uses and understands. The business customer knows exactly what to expect from the various types of services they may purchase from their IT department. It also helps our customers to make an honest comparison of their internal IT group’s service offering with the offering of external service providers.

The level of detail depends on the needs and requirements of the business clients, in a similar way you can choose to add sub-categories to your ledger when you need more granularity in your financial reporting. But there should be a number of standard entries that every IT organization should have in their service catalog.

Once we have this standardization of service catalogs we don’t have to spend time on the discussion about the service catalog anymore and we can shift our focus towards the architecture that is needed to move towards a more agile service delivery model. With a clearly understood service catalog we can give the customer more control over the services they wish to purchase and even have the opportunity to offer subscription based services with appropriate service levels. It will help us with our cloud-based service delivery and overall flexibility of our IT services.

Surely more people in our industry will see that by offering a standard service catalog it will push us forward towards more maturity and universal possibilities. The service catalog moves beyond its current 10 year inception and only then is the enabler for subsequent growth: the sky is the limit, or rather the cloud.

Ivanka Menken is the co-Founder and owner of The Art of Service, an IT service management education and content development company focusing on providing on demand IT management knowledge to career driven IT professionals. Our clients range from Fortune 100 companies to individual IT professionals in 150 countries. Our educational curriculum includes cloud computing, ITIL, ISO/IEC 20000, help desk management and customer service. You can follow Ivanka Menken on her blog at http://ivankamenken.wordpress.com.

ITIL, ITSM, service catalog, Menken

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