By Derek Martin, principal consultant at BSG

Ordering from a menu at a restaurant is an experience that most of us can identify with. You look at the menu, select an item that you want, review the price and place your order – expecting to receive the item you have ordered and to pay the displayed price. Similarly, why should dealing with your IT department be any different?

An IT department is often viewed as necessary to deal with the complex technology which no-one else in the business understands. Yet a fundamental shift in thinking is required to understand that IT exists to service internal and external customers. For example, the last time you forgot your email password and had to phone someone to reset it, you were consuming a service provided by the IT help desk.

This customer-centric approach to IT delivery is known as service management and the service catalogue is the list of services IT provides. Focusing on services the customer consumes can drive improved benefits and returns from the underlying technology.

Defining the service catalogue is often the first step in major IT transformation projects, with the intention being to enable customers to request IT services through the service catalogue “menu”. Additional reasons for defining a service catalogue are to assist IT in identifying gaps and implementing service improvements. The service catalogue should be used to assist IT develop a service-driven mind-set and ultimately deliver customer-focused solutions.

If used effectively, the service catalogue enables the realisation of multiple benefits to IT and the business as a whole:

  • Higher levels of accountability through detailing required service performance measures and identifying accountable service owners;
  • Allows for an integrated and holistic IT service level management process across IT, and its users and customers;
  • Demonstrates the value of IT to business by forming the basis through which IT services can be measured and thus managed;
  • Forms a basis for the definition of service level agreements (SLAs), which are key to creating an IT internal costing and chargeback model per service; and
  • A starting point for the consolidation and optimisation of IT services.

Defining the service catalogue does not instantly transform IT into a more productive organisation. The process of defining the service catalogue is only the beginning of the journey and significant effort is needed to gain value from it. The service catalogue can be defined as follows:

Establish the boundaries of what will or won’t be included

The essence of the service catalogue lies in the elements or information used to describe the services. For each service listed, business relevant information about the service is provided.

One of the greatest hurdles to creating a service catalogue is deciding how much information to include. Selecting which service elements to include in a service catalogue is not a “one size fits all” exercise; rather it is dependent on what elements the organisation thinks are important in contributing to the achievement of organisational goals.

Understanding your environment and the types of services in question is key in identifying which elements are essential. This also determines how services are delivered in IT.

Key questions to ask at this point are “what does the IT organisation intend to use the service catalogue for?” and “is the service catalogue customer facing or not?”.

Depending on the intended use of the catalogue, you may also consider categorising services in terms of criticality. This will help to highlight the key, or most used, services that form the backbone of IT.

Identify which IT services fall within the boundaries

Well-defined services are key in ensuring the effectiveness of the service catalogue. Each service needs to have a simple title and should be easily recognisable, to ensure customers clearly understand what they are requesting and what IT will deliver.

It is especially useful to emphasise any dependencies and exclusions – especially where service ownership is shared between two or more service owners or departments, as this creates a clear picture of what is being delivered.

Defining services comprehensively provides the basis for the creation of SLAs, which ensure a detailed explanation of the performance and quality of the service to be delivered to the customer. Clearly defining the promise to the customer reduces the chance of misaligned expectations.

Categorisation of services

The usability aspect of the service catalogue is vital to ensure services can be easily located. The service catalogue is of no use if the customer cannot find what they are looking for. Categories that group hundreds of services into ten or twenty logical groups make using the catalogue more straightforward.

A suggested approach for service categorisation is to identify high level service categories as they are referred to in the environment, for example architecture, infrastructure and training. High level categorisation of services is not always a view of the functions in an IT organisation, but a logical grouping of similar services.

This can, for example, group both mobile internet and network access services in a category called enterprise communication even though these two are provisioned by different departments in IT.

Identification of gaps

A useful phase in the creation of the service catalogue is identifying any service gaps that if filled, could enable IT to better support business.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library’s (ITIL) definition of a service catalogue includes using ITIL as a guideline and indicates a list of standard services. Using this as a baseline is a starting point to identifying any possible gaps.

Through consultations with the service owners, these proposed services can be defined and expected service availability dates included.

Obtaining value from the service catalogue on an ongoing basis

The service catalogue can create the foundation for organisations to move from a focus on day-to-day tasks to delivering services, and then finally to holistic service management. While the service catalogue is important, it will only be useful if it depicts a true representation of IT’s role in service delivery.

Benefits, such as improved IT visibility and its use as a starting point for SLA creation, can only be realised if the service definition is effectively done.

IT organisations are constantly evolving. To obtain value from the service catalogue over a prolonged period of time it is imperative that the catalogue of IT services be kept up-to-date and a process for these updates be documented and communicated.

This requires conscious effort, but without this focus, IT’s customers will not have the ability to use a menu of services to readily understand what they can expect from IT.

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