That’s not an IT service catalog! – Part One

I’ve seen lots of IT organisations attempt to create a service catalog, and many of these projects fail to deliver any value. Almost every time this happens it’s because they weren’t really trying to create a service catalog at all!

What is a Service Catalog? 

This sounds like a simple question, but there is lots of ambiguity and disagreement about how to answer it.  People can and do use the term to mean different things, often without even realising that this is the case. If you decide to create a service catalog and each person in your organisation has a different idea of what you are talking about, then your project stands very little chance of creating anything of value. So you need to make sure you start by ensuring that everyone has a common understanding about what a service catalog is.

Here are some different things that I have heard organisations call a “service catalog”.  Considering these descriptions should help you to be clear about whether your organisation is trying to create a service catalog, or something completely different.

Customers and Users

Readers who are familiar with ITIL® will know that it distinguishes between customers and users of services. A customer is someone who defines and agrees the service level targets, and agrees the funding for a service. A user is a person who uses the service on a day-to-day basis.

Both customers and users need to know what they can expect from a service provider, but their needs are not the same.  Customers need to know what services the IT organisation offers so they can decide what to obtain for their users, and so they can budget appropriately. Users need to know what services they can request, once the IT organisation and the customer have reached an agreement.

IT organisations sometimes call the information they provide for users a service catalog, but this terminology does not allow us to make a critical distinction between the information users need to allow them to make use of available services, and the information customers need to help them select and monitor those services. It is much more helpful to call the information we make available to users a service request catalog.

A user facing service request catalog

A service request catalog can be a very useful tool, but it is NOT a service catalog. It is a list all of the things that a user can request from the IT organisation. It is usually implemented as a self-service menu in an ITSM tool like Freshservice. Typical requests might include somebody asking for:

  • Rights to access specific information, or a particular business system. For example, someone may request access to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, or to the organisation’s financial data
  • Provision of hardware and software, for example a laptop with standard operating system and applications
  • Everything that is needed for a new employee, for example creation of user accounts, access rights to standard systems and services, provision of a laptop, tablet and phone, possibly even assignment of desk space or other non-IT resources
  • Configuration of infrastructure, for example opening a specific port on a firewall, or creation of a virtual server

A user-facing service request catalog will normally be supported with automation, to ensure that requests can be fulfilled quickly and efficiently. It usually also includes approval mechanisms, to ensure that requests are properly funded.

It is absolutely essential to create a service request catalog, but if you call this a service catalogue then you will confuse IT staff, users and customers.

Learn how Flipkart leveraged service catalog to transform their HR services.

An internal service catalog or a ‘customer agreement portfolio’

My copy of the old ITIL V2 Service Delivery book says that a service catalog “should list all of the services being provided … and details of the customers and maintainers of each”. This kind of service catalog is used by the IT service provider to help them understand which customers are using which services. This is described in the more recent ITIL Service Strategy publication as a “customer agreement portfolio”.

A customer agreement portfolio is another essential tool, which can help you plan and manage your services. For example it can help IT staff understand customer requirements, so they can plan appropriate levels of availability, continuity or capacity. This is certainly something you need, but a customer agreement portfolio is not a service catalog, and you need to make sure you don’t confuse the two things.

And the rest..

There are many other things that IT organisations call a “service catalog”, I’ll describe some more of these in my next blog, where I will also offer some concluding thoughts.