Service Catalog: To Build or Buy?

Challenges and Costs

It is challenging, to say the least, for an enterprise IT department to compete with commercial software vendors in developing tools. Commercial products receive millions of dollars in R&D investment and offer scale and reliability far surpassing most internal efforts. This is especially important as service catalogs are now more likely to include both IT and non-IT services.

Some of the more popular non-IT services include employee on-boarding and off-boarding for HR, and equipment and office supply orders for the purchasing department. Employee on-boarding can require complex orchestration across many business departments including payroll, facilities, telecommunications, and IT. And functions like purchasing require integration with third party service providers and ordering systems. The service catalog has evolved into a critical enterprise application and requires a tool of that same caliber.

How does the ad hoc tool get multiple language support for multi-national businesses? What is the cost of ongoing maintenance and enhancements? What happens when your lead developer leaves the company? Commercial service catalogs help IT organizations quickly move past these challenges so they can focus on their own unique value add. Rather than spending time developing tools that already exist, IT staff can focus their energy on automating and improving critical business and IT services.

Limiting ITSM Maturity

Beyond the more classic challenges and costs around building a tool in-house, the service catalog is also very much a moving target. Leading service catalogs provide significant value beyond service publishing or automated request fulfillment. Service catalogs are becoming a gateway to higher levels of ITSM maturity. These service catalogs integrate capabilities including demand and financial management, service level management and service portfolio management.

As the central point for linking users and IT, the service catalog is well positioned to track or even control service demand. Leading offerings provide facilities for establishing service costs and corresponding prices. While most IT organizations have not developed to the point of charging business units based on actual usage, service catalogs with integrated demand and financial management capabilities provide greater understanding and control of service costs. Similarly, service catalogs with integrated service portfolio or service level management capabilities, provide far greater potential for the maturing IT organization.

The most common use case is automated request fulfillment, but IT groups need to consider their longer term growth and maturity. Organizations that build their own service catalogs will not position themselves to achieve higher levels of ITSM maturity. Instead they risk sinking their investment into tools with limited capabilities and lacking the quality, flexibility, scale and performance of commercial offerings. Service catalog is becoming so much more than service visibility and automated request fulfillment. For the majority of IT organizations, the recommendation is to start with a commercial service catalog offering.

Paul Burns is a senior analyst with Boulder, Colorado-based Enterprise Management Associates (, an industry research firm focused on IT management. Paul can be reached at [email protected].