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The Service Catalogue: a waste of time?

Posted By Barclay Rae, 17 January 2017

Service Catalogue is a single term that is interpreted and used in a number of different ways. It is a key area of ITSM that has grown in importance and relevance in recent years – both to define and manage IT Services and value, plus also as a means to automate and speed up service fulfilment.

Many organisations have embarked on projects and initiatives to build service Catalogues or one sort on another – in particular this has been supported (and in some ways driven) by the vendor market who have improved their capability and offerings in this area  

There are a number of different terms and varied taxonomy in use in this area, particularly around different areas of Service Catalogue – e.g. technical service Catalogue, business Catalogue, user Catalogue. In fact these are different outputs and ‘views’ – basically of the same data.

‘Service Catalogue’ is quite a specious term that can be applied to a number of different entities. This can be a source of confusion and also of misplaced criticism of the actual Catalogue concept.

Essentially the Service Catalogue can be defined as follows:

  • An automated portal for self-service and request fulfilment by users – this help  to reduce lead times for e.g. IT ordering and can help to open up access to the IT organisation (and increasingly other departments)
  • A strategic business level view of IT Services – that can help to clarify IT priorities and used as the basis for prioritisation, service reporting and service level management
  • A technical repository of ‘supply chain’ information for the IT Service provider to use as the basis for management and delivery of services. This includes knowledge management, supplier and contract information, internal support and departmental responsibilities etc.

Detractors of the Service Catalogue fall into 2 main areas:

  1.  ‘Old IT’ cynics who have been running IT for many years and can’t see what value the Service Catalogue can add, particularly if they’ve tried and failed to implement SLAs with their customers.
  2. Futurists who see no need to try to define services when technology and business has already moved on from the concept of IT Services.

Register your place on the upcoming Service Catalogue workshop.

So, let’s look at three key issues around the Service Catalogue that detractors like to make.

1 – We already know what to deliver

IT departments can argue that they already know what to deliver, so what’s the point?

Often they can’t say what they do or what value they deliver – so it’s helpful and vital from a strategic / business perspective. And the automation of request fulfilment speeds up customer response and reduced lead times, plus usually cuts support costs. Business level reporting cannot realistically be achieved without some service-based definition of what IT does.

At a simple level the Service Catalogue helps IT to be clear on its priorities and what it is there to deliver.

2 – It’s already been surpassed

The futurist view is that Service Catalogue is already out of date and unnecessary, given that everyone buys IT and we don’t need to try and shoehorn everything into an IT Service…

Service Catalogue as currently defined will probably be transitional — it probably won’t exist in 5–10 years’ time. The process of defining and developing a service focus is still useful for IT departments as part of a learning / development process. And self-service and automated fulfilment are essential and will continue to be areas for development.

3 – It’s often misunderstood

Certainly, the practical steps to implementation are not well defined. This is an area where ITIL training doesn’t provide much direct help. Also the multi-level nature of the subject can make it prone to misinterpretation.

As a general rule it’s good to be clear on taxonomy and local definitions/variations from the start. The simplest definition is where Service Catalogue is seen as the ‘live’ services actually running as part of the wider IT Service Portfolio.

9 top Service Catalogue tips

  1. It is not one single document or tool – the Service Catalogue has a number of stakeholders and outputs, so can be manifest in many forms. SLM is a process and approach rather than a single document or tool.  ‘Service Catalogue’ is definitely not just ONE thing or ONE type of document or system. This is because organisations and individuals have different needs, different focus and also different entry points.
  2. The value is achieved from engaging with IT customers and IT departments – to work towards demonstrably common goals. Customers should be engaged to discuss service improvement, not SLAs or Service Catalogues.
  3. Successful implementation requires a collaborative approach – a service is in affect a supply chain that may cross several reporting lines. Customers/users need to be consulted and involved, as well as stakeholders across the IT ‘supply chain'.
  4. Workshops are a good way to get people involved with consensus and momentum – they are also a good way to achieve common understanding and e.g. agreed definitions/taxonomy around SLM and Service Catalogue concepts.
  5. Start simple and strategic – complexity will come. It is a good idea to aim for a single page view of services initially, in order to focus on overall end-to-end services and outcomes delivered, rather than starting at the technology level.
  6. The corollary to (5) is that some vendors and organisations do start at the unit technology level – this will work in order to develop a fulfilment catalogue but will not deliver strategic end-to-end service value.
  7. Most vendors provide not just tools but also useful data and content for Service Catalogue. This can save a lot of time in creating service records and data.
  8. A visual representation of the service (catalogue) structure is useful to build understanding – a picture can be vastly more descriptive than a 20 page document.
  9. Get started – too many organisations dither and prevaricate on this topic. The result will change and will probably never be perfect so it is useful to just get started and learn how to develop this by doing it…

Tags:  Service Catalogue 

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Automation and Self-Resolution – Are we up to the challenge?

Posted By Robert Stroud, 06 September 2016
Updated: 05 September 2016
With our growing dependency on IT, we need to start delivering services in the way that our customers really want them.
I was recently shopping in a store, something that I don’t enjoy doing. Whilst waiting in the long line the announcement echoed over the store intercom that sales were temporarily suspended due to a computer failure. Now, instead of abandoning my trolley and leaving the store, I thought that I would wait this one out and see how IT and the business interacted to resolve the problem. As I watched, the store manager worked on the phone with the ‘help desk’ to isolate and remediate the problem. The triage and resolution took for what seemed hours but actually was only a matter of minutes.
Especially interesting to me during this entire incident was the reinforcement that technology was a single point of failure in the company’s business process and the assumption that ‘IT’ will always be on and will work. 
After the shop had reverted to business as usual, I asked the manager why his staff couldn’t simply use calculators to process the customers’ orders. He explained that it was company policy to suspend transactions in these circumstances due to the total interconnectivity of inventory systems, differing tax rates and so on for which the staff had not been appropriately trained.
For me this was a stark reminder of the growing dependency on technology that we all face in our lives, a situation reinforced by a number of changes:
  • Mobility – no longer a fad but business as usual.
Smartphones and tablets are everywhere; just look around you at the moment. Today, enterprise applications are being delivered in ‘fit for purpose’ apps on mobile devices, threatening to make desktops and even laptops irrelevant. Think for a moment about the growing number of virtual stores where cameras on smartphones are used to scan barcodes, and then the associated app interfaces with the inventory system, processing orders and credit card transactions and emailing receipts. This represents only the beginning. Apps will proliferate and even be integrated into a constructed business process that can be developed within the organisation by a business analyst. Mobility is no longer a ‘fad’, it’s the norm.
  • Complexity across the service value chain 
IT services are becoming increasingly complex. This is partly due to the way that third parties are used for selected functions, while older technology retained at the heart of the organisation is required to do unnatural acts! This added complexity makes it more difficult and expensive to address issues with these services, which means that IT must become more proactive. This can be achieved with the integration of IT infrastructure tools that monitor all aspects of the service topography, including partner interfaces, and then aggregate the outputs of these tools – metrics, alerts, etc. – related to the services. The goal is to understand potential performance issues or failures and to deal with them before they recur or become a problem.
  • Self-resolution the norm 
I, like many others, regularly network with my virtual peers and community to seek answers to questions. My daughter-in-law, for example, was recently trying to resolve a problem with some software she used for her work. Instead of calling the service desk, she posted a question on Facebook and the community pointed her to an update to the software application and she self-provisioned the solution, without any interaction with the IT organisation.
Today we trawl the internet for great travel deals and book our travel online. Only a decade ago we used a travel agent. Now, if there are problems with our reservations, we can resolve them quickly on our own, instead of having to queue or contact a service desk. Today, if my plane is cancelled, I am notified almost instantly of my new arrangements on my wireless device and I only need to call if I am not satisfied. The airline is acting proactively, not waiting to react when the phone rings.
Self-resolution is clearly becoming the norm and will become more pervasive.

  • Automate everything 
IT organisations must focus on the automation of service creation, delivery, resolution and escalation. This is not just to provide better customer service; forward-thinking organisations are automating in order to make resources available for value-added activities such as building new services or proactive problem management.
It is not enough, though, just to automate the IT process. We must ensure that relevant audit checkpoints are maintained and automated restoration is available in case of failure. Automation is critical!
  • Deliver services, not resolve incidents
The accelerated business cadence is all about delivering service to the organisation’s customers with speed, quality and differentiation; but to achieve this requires more than automation and slick technology.
The service desk team must also transition. The team must shed the image of waiting for the phone to ring, documenting and passing the issue to the next step in the chain. The team must focus on building and delivering in order to increase both their real and perceived value within the organisation; otherwise they will quickly become irrelevant.
Many people tell me that service management is dead. Not true! What is true is that the role of service management is evolving - from one of support to one of focus on delivery and proactivity. With our growing dependency on IT, we have a challenge and an opportunity to add even greater value to the business in the months ahead. 
Are you up for the challenge?

If you'd like more help with this subject then why not attend one of our workshops? For more information visit our events page 

Tags:  Automation  Managing Complexity  Service Catalogue  Service Delivery 

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9 Top Tips to Create an Awesome Service Catalogue

Posted By Rebecca L. Beach, 31 May 2016
Updated: 31 May 2016


Some people will tell you that your Service Catalogue is the most important step in the journey of your ITSM organisation. That’s a lot of pressure.

There’s no denying it’s hugely beneficial to the business (that includes IT!) as it can improve communication between service providers and consumers, increase demand awareness and service visibility. The problem is that when there’s that much pressure it makes it difficult to know where to start.


At ITSMF UK we’ve been developing a new set of workshops and masterclasses and while working on Service Catalogue I started thinking about what my top tips might be to get started. Then I thought why stop there! So I asked some of my favourite ITSM experts what their top tips would be. Check them out below. 

1.     Ian Connelly, Chair at BCS Service Management SIG

The one tip I would suggest is not to try and boil the ocean… Very simply, start small. Either a limited scope (part of an office, datacentre etc.) or selected attributes from each CI, then expand it out.

Too many initiatives have attempted too much too soon, which leads to a feeling of climbing a mountain with the task.


2.     Barry Corless, Business Development Director at Global Knowledge

Service catalogue implementations that fail often do so because we are unsure of the objectives that service catalogue management (the discipline) is aiming to meet.  This leads to building and implementing the wrong tool.

For example, there is a big difference between what a vanilla service catalogue (a list of services) and a service request catalogue (used to drive self-service and automated workflow) will deliver.  Both outcomes are eminently possible using modern toolsets but we must concentrate on what we want service catalogue management to do before rushing headlong into a toolset implementation.  In many respects, the throw backs and similarities to the early days of configuration management and the lust for a CMDB should have taught us valuable lessons.  


3.     James Finister, Global ITSM Strategist at Tata Consultancy Services

Check and double check that the services you put in the catalogue are recognisable to senior managers in the business


4.     Stephen Mann, Writer at Quick Content Ltd

Involve the service catalogue's customers from the outset. It’s clichéd, but getting the right people involved is key. Remember that this is the business’ service catalogue, not IT’s. Thus IT shouldn't drive the look and feel, or content of the service catalogue – the business should. And it’s not a one-time consultation – keep them involved from design through to delivery.

Plus, given the growing pressure on corporate IT organizations to keep up with employee's consumer-world experiences and expectations of technology and service, the user experience and customer experience aspects of self-service and service delivery will be key to service catalogue success. With those responsible for the service catalogue needing to differentiate between the sexy-looking technology, with its great-looking user interface (UI), and how end users actually use and experience the technology and the service it provides. 


5.     Steve Morgan, IT Transformation and SIAM Consultant at Syniad IT Solutions Ltd

Ensure that you understand the business outcome that you expect the Service Catalogue to achieve.  Failure to “begin with the end mind” can lead to huge amounts of time being spent developing massive spreadsheets, that are never used.  For example, the term Service Catalogue can be confusing.  Ensure that you understand whether it is a “request” catalogue or a “business service” catalogue that you’re developing, and ensure that all of those involved in its development understand the definition, to avoid the risk of you veering off track, or producing a document that doesn’t hang together as a single entity.

Be very wary about trying to build a paper version of your CMDB under the guise of a business Service Catalogue.  It may be better to build a data model within your Service Management tool, and build a prototype directly into the tool, rather than trying to import a few thousand lines of Excel!


6.     Barclay Rae, CEO at ITSMF UK

Collaboration and close working will sort out more problems than a perfect design


7.     Stuart Rance, Service Management and Security Management Consultant at Optimal Service Management

Don’t confuse a service catalogue with a request catalogue

Many service catalogue projects fail because IT organizations are confused about what a service catalogue is, and what it should be used for. Every company needs a catalogue to help customers understand what services they offer, and IT is no different. You should create a service catalogue to help your customers understand what services you can provide and help them choose what will be available for their users.  Don’t confuse this service catalogue with the request catalogue that you make available to users so that they can order components of a service. For example, a customer may choose “mobile user support” from your service catalogue. This service could provide phones, tablets, connectivity, an app store and many other things needed to support a mobile workforce. If the customer chooses this service, then you will need to add specific phone models and apps that a user can select to your request catalogue. You need both types of catalogue, but make sure you know which you are trying to create and why.


8.     Matt Hoey, Chair at ITSMF UK Service Transition SIG

One of the difficulties in creating a Service Catalogue is the daunting amount of time it could take.  Tasks such as getting agreement on what goes into it and writing the definitions all take time when you are starting from scratch.  This can lead to a large amount of time elapsing between starting out and customers and Service Management teams getting value from it.

Taking an agile approach (in a nutshell: early minimum viable product and then iterating incrementally through feedback) can help you get something out sooner.  Make a first pass at the catalogue picking out the easily identifiable services, some basic information and put an early version of the catalogue out there.  You may not have all the services identified, or all the definitions written or even all the fields for the definition identified, but why not start using what you have rather than waiting for it to be complete?  In other words, don’t lock away that value whilst you wait for the finished product.  You’ll also get feedback from customers and Service Management teams from the early use which will help you with the further work on the catalogue which you can continue to do incrementally until you’ve built up your catalogue.


And my tip?


9.     I see many people creating what is, in effect, a repository of services. Having a centralised area for this information is good but if that’s all you’re creating it’s a waste of time and effort.

Create your Service Catalogue like you’re going to use it! Think about how and why IT and the business will be using this information and design it accordingly.


What’s your tip for creating an awesome Service Catalogue? Comment below or why not share with the ITSMF UK community on Twitter.



Tags:  Service Catalogue 

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