Essential Guide to Creating an IT Service Catalog

Anthony Orr

Jarod Greene, Cherwell Software

As a former Gartner analyst with more than 12 years of IT service management industry experience, Jarod understands the market from the vendor, end-user, customer, and analyst perspectives. His proficiency in IT service support management processes, organizational structures, and technology is sought after for speaking engagements, customer consultations, and product development. He has published numerous white papers, research articles, blogs, and delivers innovative IT-focused presentations at events around the world.


Effectively responding to the complex requirements of today’s IT customer demands a framework that is robust, agile, and adaptable to the modern, ever changing business paradigm. This Essential Guide to Developing a First-Class IT Service Catalog will provide an introduction to the IT service catalog and promote the value a well-designed catalog can bring to any organization.

The IT service catalog was originally introduced as part of the IT Infrastructure Library’s (ITIL®) set of best practices for IT service management (ITSM). The British Government was the first to introduce ITIL to the world, stemming from its dissatisfaction with the quality of IT service being provided during the 1980’s. As such, the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) was given the responsibility to develop a fiscally re¬sponsible framework for the efficient use of Britain’s IT resources within the British government, as well as in the private sector. ITIL versions include V2, V3, and the most recent, ITIL 2011. ITIL is comprised of five primary publications, which include:

  • Service Strategy
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continual Service Improvement

Service Catalog Management is an essential IT process contained within the IT Infrastructure Library’s Service Design publication. The Service Design publication is especially important to overall business operations, including everything required to identify, conceptualize, design, and improve the services your business requires. This guide defines the IT/ITIL service catalog, explains its purpose, and outlines how to develop a catalog that works for your business, metrics you should measure to monitor success, pitfalls to avoid, and how to leverage technology to implement your service catalog.

The service catalog is at the core of IT service delivery and contains a centralized list of services from the IT service portfolio (the service portfolio includes the entire lifecycle of all IT services – services in development, services available for deployment, and retired services) that are available for customer use. Within the IT service catalog, you will find an organized, digitized presentation of all of the IT services that your company provides – from resetting a lost password to accessing a financial system.

The typical service catalog is composed of two views:

1) The customer view

This is how the end-customer experiences the service catalog. Usually presented using an IT self-service portal, this view presents services in customer terms and gives them the means to initiate service requests. For example, the following are customer views into higher-education service catalogs:

2) The technical view

This is intended for internal IT resources and includes technical information that is required to effectively deliver a service, including important relationships, approval processes, and impact on related services.

The service catalog should be designed with the end customer in mind. Most importantly, the information necessary to request a service needs to be clearly defined with easy to understand instructions. Some of the key service information includes:

  • Name of the service
  • Description of each individual service
  • Service category (i.e. Infrastructure, Software, Hardware, Video, Support, etc.)
  • Supportive and related services
  • Service Level Agreement (a contract between the service provider and end-customer defining the expected level of service)
  • Who can request the service
  • Service owner
  • Costs associated with the service
  • Delivery expectations
  • Who to contact with questions

The Relationship Between the Service Catalog and the IT Self-Service Portal

The service catalog should be tightly integrated into the customer-facing IT self-service portal, through which business users can request IT services that are defined within the service catalog. In other words, the service catalog powers the options displayed within the portal’s user interface (UI). Services are pre-defined (and bundled when necessary) and associated with automated workflow processes that notify approvers and staff of the tasks or activities that need to be performed in order to deliver the requested service(s). The business user can then monitor and track the status of their service request throughout the approval and delivery process.

There are no "right" or "wrong" ways to develop an IT service catalog. That said, based on the best practices contained within this guide, we have compiled a set of real-world service catalog examples that were built to accommodate the unique needs of their businesses.

In the slide share to the right, you will find examples that illustrate the following:

  • Offering your end users everything they need to get help, request equipment, and gain access
  • Providing a familiar interface with clear service definitions
  • Simplifying access to the services your employees require to be productive
  • Providing access to global support services across time zone
  • Quickly delivering maintenance, repair, cleaning, and installation services
  • Presenting employees with pre-defined benefits, payroll, and employee relations services
  • Creating a unified portal for all business service requests

The perception of IT has gone through enormous change in recent years. IT has historically been undervalued – viewed as “a necessary evil,” simply managing the company’s information technology systems without a clear understanding of how they impact the overall business goals. With the advent of the service catalog, the value of IT is now becoming more apparent. The delivery of services that are critical to the daily operation of business, such as company web access, email, software solutions, and related services, clearly demonstrates its present and future value to business.

Visibility into the essential business services IT delivers is one of the main benefits the IT service catalog offers. Additional benefits include:

  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Improved resource allocation
  • Reduced IT service delivery time
  • Simplified and improved service delivery processes
  • Reduced overall service costs
  • Improved communication and collaboration

Developing a service catalog may sound simple, but in order to encourage customer engagement and set proper expectations, it helps to consider the following tips to make it work:

1) Identify the services your business needs in order to operate

Developing a service catalog is an exercise in good communication. Know your company and learn about its wants and needs. Business unit managers and other decision makers should work with both end users and stakeholders to determine what they need to perform their jobs. Differentiate between the services that your service desk and other IT teams currently provide and what may be missing. Are they essential and, more importantly, do they align with company goals?


 Category  Service
 Software Software Distribution, Licensing, Implementation, Licensed Software, Web Developer Tools
 Support and Training  FAQs, Online Help, Training Programs, Teaching and Learning, Knowledge Sharing
 Networks and Connectivity  Wi-Fi, VPN, LAN, WAN, Network Monitoring
 Messaging and Collaboration  Email, Instant Messaging, Mailing Lists, Calendar, File Sharing, Fax
 Voice  Mobile, Telephone, Audio Conferencing, Video Teleconference, Radio
 Accounts and Access  Identity Management, Guest Accounts
 Cloud Services  Provisioning
 Data Center  Off-site Storage, Facility Management
 Hosted Services  Web Hosting, Database, Data storage, Backup Services, Content Management
 Security  Security and Privacy Policy, Disaster Recovery, Network Monitoring
 Video  Video Equipment, Television
 Print  Printing, Copy, Printer Maintenance
 Infrastructure  Web Services, Wiring Services, Load Balancing, Mainframe
 Hardware  Desktop PC, Laptop, Mac, Mobile Device, Server, Accessibility Resources, Tape Management
 Professional Services  Strategy, Planning, Project Management, Document Management, Application Integrations, Digital Asset Management
                               












 

 

2) Define security and access permissions

Who will have access to the service catalog and specific services? Restricting access to the service catalog or specific services is important. You may want to allow end-users to request a keyboard or mouse, but limit items with a higher price tag, such as laptops or tablets, to management. 

3) Simplify the search process

Categorize services with your end user in mind. Simplify whenever possible and keep technical jargon to a minimum. For example, would a business user know to look under ‘infrastructure’ for backup services, or should ‘backup’ be front and center? Think about the intuitiveness of Amazon categorization. Confusion creates dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction will defeat the purpose of your service catalog.

4) Optimize the user experience

Make the user experience a friendly one with an easy-to-access, simple-to-navigate IT self-service portal that contains all of the services that they will need to do their job.

5) Roll out in phases

Test a representative portion of your user pool with a small selection of services. Find out what works and what doesn’t.  Solve the “glitches” and slowly increase the user base and offerings within your catalog.

6) Invest in automation

Once you feel confident in the design of your service catalog and processes that support it, select a software product that best manages your company’s specific service needs – and automate delivery whenever possible.

Don’t quit after you create and release your service catalog. It is equally important to continually measure and improve your service catalog by removing unnecessary or unused services and adding new services. Review your processes and learn from both your successes and failures. And, most importantly, be sure to share your successes with both business stakeholders and management.

Consider metrics such as:

  • The number of people accessing your catalog
  • The least and most accessed services
  • The number of requests associated with services
  • Costs associated with a service
  • Service level metrics (Did you meet, exceed or breach service level agreements [SLAs]?)
  • Problem and incident resolution time (Has it increased or decreased?)
  • Mean time to resolve by service

Each of these metrics helps define the effectiveness of your service catalog.

There are “do’s and don’ts” to consider when implementing any ITIL process. You can achieve success when creating your service catalog by avoiding some of the most common mistakes:

  • Don’t use tech-talk to describe services. Avoid technical language, and keep details simple to ensure your customers know what to expect.
  • Don’t limit services to what you THINK your customers need. Offer the services that your customers are looking for to do their job.
  • Don’t set access boundaries for internal office staff. Make sure the catalog is available anytime, anywhere.
  • Don’t respond and deliver when you feel like it. Be responsive to the needs of your customers, make SLA commitments, and keep them.
  • Don’t stop communicating after a request is received. Provide your customers with a timeline for service delivery, and keep them apprised of status throughout the process.

The key role of service catalog software is to provide simple access to services, creating a user-friendly experience, and automating the service delivery process. Your service catalog will be similar to a self-service portal, simulating an “online shopping” experience with web and mobile accessibility. It must therefore be flexible enough to add additional services and related details, with the ability to automate approvals, and communicate via email and web.

In addition, and depending on your industry, growing regulations and more complex business demands may have increased your need for technology solutions that support or are compliant with best practice frameworks/methodologies, such as ITIL, COBIT, ISO 20000, ISO 27000, VAL-IT, or Risk IT. Consider compliance, risk management, and industry regulations when selecting your solution.

The software solution you choose may offer IT service catalog templates that can be configured to include your IT and business services. The tool should allow the creation of multiple service catalogs that can be accessible via a single self-service interface. It should also have broad functionality that includes the ability to provide automatic service progress notifications, monitor metrics, and the flexibility to implement on-premises or in the cloud (software as a service, or “SaaS”). 

According the Gartner, organizations should “select an IT service catalog tool from one of these options, according to your organization’s I&O maturity:

  • I&O organizations with a lower I&O maturity (ITSIO Level 2 or lower) - Focus on service request fulfillment features from a basic or intermediate ITSSM suite for now, and be prepared to revisit service catalog at a later stage (see Note 3). Otherwise, they are likely to produce an asset database that is focused on technical components and IT capabilities that aren't really IT services
  • I&O organizations with a medium I&O maturity (ITSIO Level 2 to Level 3) - Buy service catalog functionality as part of an ITSSM tool suite after defining an IT service portfolio.
  • I&O organizations with a high I&O maturity (ITSIO Level 4 or above) - Those ready for enhanced catalog features and movement into provisioning the catalog beyond IT offerings should buy a stand-alone IT service catalog tool suite, after defining an IT service portfolio. Otherwise, use service catalog functionality as part of an ITSSM tool suite after defining an IT service portfolio.” <Gartner Market Guide for IT Service Catalog Tools, July 2, 2015>

Finally, consider integrations with related IT support applications, IT asset management systems, human resource management solutions, a CMDB, and financial solutions.

As customer demands on IT continue to escalate, key shortcomings in IT service delivery practices become readily apparent. Automating the delivery of IT services is acknowledged to be the wave of the future, as business and technology are inextricably linked.  Implementing agile, mobile, adaptable, and user-friendly capabilities within your service catalog will be an integral part of your company’s success.

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