Service Catalogs: Avoiding Shelfware

With the recent economic downturn, many IT organizations are increasingly aware of the need to partner with their customers and ensure they are delivering the right services at the right price. Service catalogs are a powerful tool for ensuring that the goals of your organization and its customers are aligned, while also providing greater visibility and cost control capabilities. Not only does a service catalog allow your customers the ability to maximize their utilization of IT, it is also a central part of any shared service or ITIL service management implementation.

Despite being a critical element of many processes, a service catalog can be difficult to implement. Many service catalog projects underestimate the effort or leave out critical components. These result in systems or documents that languish on the shelf and have little or no use. Often, the focus of the project is on the activity or the specific technology and not the intended business use, leading to a lack of adoption by the business. In a recent survey, only 57% of respondents characterized their service catalog implementations as successful.

So, what can be done to ensure your service catalog project is not one of those left on the shelf? Our experience across many large and small service catalog implementations shows the keys to success lie in four domains:

  • Motivation: A mutual understanding and clear communication of the reasons why you should implement a service catalog is critical for engaging your stakeholders and ultimately is essential to success.

  • Design: The initial design of service catalog should be built with the customer in mind, emphasizing their business needs.

  • Implementation: There are some common pitfalls during the initial implementation that can easily be avoided.

  • Managing: Ongoing success results from the infrastructure and processes to manage the service catalog over the long term.

This article explores each of these areas listing five key insights, or top tips, to keep in mind when building your service catalog.

Motivation: Why implement a service catalog?

For any project to be successful, stakeholders need to know why the project is being undertaken and have a common vision of the goals. Here are the key reasons both IT and the business will benefit from the service catalog:

Brings IT closer to the business – Until you start to define what you do in terms that the business can understand and align yourself in a way that clearly supports what the business does, you are still in a technology silo and not doing real service management.

Serves as the backbone for service management – Service catalogs provide the cornerstone for virtually all of the ITIL processes you might implement. They help the different processes organize and prioritize their time and ensure their efforts are tied to services that directly contribute to the business.

Optimizes investment – Efficiency is all about getting value for your money. Without defining your services through the eyes of the business, it is almost impossible for IT to ensure they are spending money on the things most important to the business. Similarly, without an understanding of costs, the business is not able to make informed decisions about usage.

Creates a baseline for SLAs, OLAs and underpinning contracts – A robust service catalog provides necessary context for defining performance measures to end users, between supporting services, and between the service and the external third party providers. Gathering performance information for the service also provides a substantive starting point for negotiating and agreeing more formal SLAs and OLAs.

Serves as marketing tool – Too often service catalogs are developed without the customer’s involvement, or they are allowed to sit on the shelf rather than being promoted and marketed throughout the organization. A service catalog should be a key to bringing IT and the business closer together. There is a limit to how much “silent running” the business will accept; some visibility of IT through the service catalog helps to reinforce the value of IT.

Design: Five tips for designing service catalogs

A good design will make sure the catalog meets the customer’s needs and build in flexibility so it will endure. Here are our five top tips for creating an effective design:

Focus on what your customers want – Even if you start by documenting the technology services that make up the building blocks of the service catalog, you need understand what is most important to your customers. The catalog should reflect how they operate the business including the potential for different tiers of service aligned with different customer needs and segments.