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7 golden rules for getting the most from the Service Catalogue

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This article has been contributed by Yemsrach Hailemariam, ITSM Consultant at Macro 4.

Implementing IT service management (ITSM) according to ITIL best practice is often seen as a large, complex undertaking which those outside of IT may sometimes struggle to see the true value of.  This can mean the IT department feels some pressure to demonstrate early evidence of practical progress to help win the confidence of the wider business organisation.  But that should not mean they skimp on the all-important first stage of the process – which is the creation of a Service Catalogue.

Here is a list of seven important rules that you need to consider if you are going to squeeze maximum value from the Service Catalogue

Squeeze the most out of your Service Catalogue initiative, but watch out for some of those sour low-hanging fruit!

Rule number one: don’t judge a catalogue by its cover

I have seen organisations that are tempted to speed through the process of defining the services in the Service Catalogue, viewing this as a quick ‘box ticking’ exercise.  After all, they think to themselves, it’s simply creating a list of the services that IT delivers to the business, right?

Wrong. Despite the slightly uninspiring name, the Service Catalogue is much more than just a list of services with some related information.  And in reality that ‘just’ is a loaded word. When you consider that many organisations have never actually gone through the process of clearly defining the services that IT should deliver to the business, you start to realise that ‘just’ getting it written down is actually the catalyst for defining the roles and responsibilities of IT to the business – and getting that right is an essential cornerstone of IT Service management.

Rule number two: bang heads together

To create the Service Catalogue, you will probably have to get IT sitting down in a meeting or workshop with representatives from the business to hammer out the detail of which services the business requires, how significant they are and how they support the business.  There is usually also some discussion about what the priorities are among the services, the required service levels and availability requirements.

If one of the goals for ITSM is to help IT align more tightly with the business, then you can immediately see how the process of creating the Service Catalogue plays a significant role – by getting everyone to review the global picture of the business’s IT requirements.  Without such an impetus of how often would technical and business colleagues meet and discuss the details of what the business actually wants from the IT department, and how it can be delivered?

Rule number three: ask people what they want FIRST – then look at how you can deliver it

A good place to start discussions around defining the contents of Service Catalogue is to run an analysis of the existing service portfolio.  You can ask a number of useful questions.  Is this the optimal range of services for the business?  Is it possible to demonstrate how each IT service supports the key drivers for the business?  Is it possible to tie the service definitions to specific business processes, benchmarks, and KPIs which might also help with tracking and reporting service provided.

Rule number four: resist the temptation of low-hanging fruit – it may leave a sour taste

Too often organisations rush through the development  of the Service Catalogue in order to move on as swiftly as possible to other areas which they feel can provide some initial ‘quick win’ benefits.   Unsurprisingly the area they tend to start with is Incident Management  – which involves developing the processes for restoring normal IT service operations as swiftly and effectively as possible and minimising the impact on business operations ( in the event that normal services have been disrupted for some reason).

The rest of the business can easily appreciate the practical, tangible value of Incident Management.  After all, it is an important area for any business and the whole topic of managing incidents is very familiar to, and resonates well with, the service desk – which is often heavily involved in the rollout of ITSM.

But a well defined Service Catalogue forms the foundation of Incident Management and getting this completed accurately should be the first priority. If you don’t, you might just find that your incident management process falls flat on its face…when there is an unplanned disruption to a service, it is the Service Catalogue that provides the service desk with speedy access to key information – about Service Level Agreements, numbers and types of users of the service and related configuration items (CIs) – that enables it to prioritise effort to restore the service to required levels.

Rule number five: build upwards from solid foundations

As well as helping to ensure that the services that IT delivers are really those that are valued by the business, a comprehensive Service Catalogue is the place to document the fine detail about the specific range of available services, their relative value and associated costs, the configuration items (CIs) – the various parts of the IT infrastructure involved in delivering that service; and service level expectations.

A well-defined Service Catalogue will be the connector between the Incident, Change, Problem and Service Request processes. The relevant CIs associated with delivering services and their inter-relationships are very often recorded within the Service Catalogue. So when a business user calls with an issue or a service request then the service desk can quickly identify the possible CIs affected based on the service.

For example if there is a connectivity problem with the exchange server, the Service Desk will decide that the service affected will be Email – Connection. The affected CI can be easily identified as the Service Desk will have a small number of CIs to select from.  This makes the task of identifying the affected CI, in a vast organisation where the Service Desk might not be familiar with the IT infrastructure, easier – helping the Service Desk to do its job well.  If subsequently a change is required to the CI then a change can be logged against the same Service Catalogue.

Rule number six: use the service catalogue to deliver tangible value to business stakeholders

The other benefit of having an up-to-date Service Catalogue is that different parts of the business can use it to easily identify the services that are available to them, assess whether they need them and how much it will cost their business unit.  It allows the business to make quick, informed decisions about what services they want to use, while taking account of the cost implications to drive an efficient allocation of IT resources. Demonstrating value in this way will incentivise your service deliverers to keep it up-to-date.

Moreover, the documented Service Catalogue information about service priorities, costs, service levels and uptime will help with monitoring the service delivery success.  This in turn can feed through to helping   identify opportunities for making service improvements and identifying where cost reductions might be possible

Rule number seven: one size does not fit all

Of course different organisations’ Service Catalogues can vary greatly in style and format. They can range from the very simple document based formats, or static web based catalogues through to interactive portals and fully interactive tools or ITSM suite based products.  The more sophisticated tools and solutions, which take considerable time to implement and maintain,  have additional advantages such as integration with other support based processes, self service capabilities and the ability to act as the ‘front end’ to all other ITSM process areas.

Each organisation needs to decide on the style and sophistication of Service Catalogue it requires, based on factors such as the specific audiences it needs to cater for, the scope of the aims and objectives and the resource constraints it is working to.  But the Service Catalogue remains the most logical and efficient place to start the ITSM journey.

This article has been contributed by Yemsrach Hailemariam, ITSM Consultant at Macro 4, which runs the UK arm of iET Solutions. Yemsrach has worked as a technical consultant for the past 10 years consulting on many ITSM projects in the US, UK and Germany.  She has a BS in Electrical Engineering from University of Maryland, USA.




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