Driven by the service design module within ITIL® Version 3, today's maturing IT service management industry has experienced a surge of interest in the Service Catalog.

Now positioned as a central component of the service portfolio, the Service Catalog is increasingly seen as a means to bridge the gap between customers and users (customers being the business, and users being the service consumers) and the IT department. With this in mind Assumpta Venkatachalam considers the potential benefits of IT professionals and business managers learning to speak the same language - plus some of the pitfalls of misreading the signs.

In practice, implementing a service-driven approach, via the Service Catalog, is a task that requires considerable planning and effort. Not only is a degree of IT service management maturity required for successful implementation, a significant shift in mindset is required to enable IT personnel to deal with customers in a more proactive way.

For these reasons the Service Catalog is typically published well after the implementation of other ITILĀ® processes, for example, incident management. But is the Service Catalog really worthwhile and, if so, how can you tell when an organisation is ready to 'walk the talk'?

The power of communication

First and foremost the Service Catalog provides a logical layer of common ideas and understanding through which IT can align itself to the needs of business. Without this layer, IT risks operating in isolation: part of the greater business yet cut off from full participation - the classic scenario where communication between interested parties simply breaks down.

Luckily the Service Catalog is there to oil the wheels. Consider the usual business units of sales and finance. The sales department's costs and profit potential are generally well understood, while finance provides clear opportunities for cost savings and informs the business of potential profits and losses, allowing time to adapt. To the corporate mindset, in providing these functions, such departments automatically deliver value.

By developing and delivering a Catalog of services to business, IT begins to fit the same business paradigm. The end game is that through education, communication and alignment, over time the value offered by IT will be intrinsically understood in a similar way.

Key to the shift away from 'tiresome cost centre' to 'business enabler' is providing management with a set of products/services that are clearly defined - complete with associated measurements and statements of value. Agility and responsiveness can only improve as IT strives to keep its finger on the pulse of the business. In turn the wider organisation becomes increasingly aware of the value of IT - comprehending the investment required to deliver and receive a certain service - and so is more likely to release necessary funds, further allowing IT to support and respond to the business.

If this sounds like a wonderful circle of understanding, the challenge of achieving it should not be underestimated. Finding the right words to speak to the business about IT can prove tricky, while creating a Service Catalog is a process that has the potential to expose flaws as well as strengths.

Ready, steady, go...

So before giving the task of creating a Service Catalog the green light, it is advisable to ensure that the IT environment is in reasonable order and to have confidence - based on evidence - in the department's ability to 'deliver the goods'.

In essence this means that, at a minimum, incident management must be well established and mature (a three or above on the CMM is a good guide). Ideally all tactical processes should be in place and stable.

Service level management (SLM) is another foundation process for delivering your Service Catalog implementation. While service level agreements (SLAs) won't be based on services until after the Catalog has been designed, the presence of SLM, even at the configuration item or system level, is important.

SLM is certainly not a process to introduce for the first time on release of the Catalog - a vulnerable stage. The service desk needs some prior experience of the impact of, at least, rudimentary SLAs on IT operations.

The IT team should also have worked on developing positive relations with business in the past. If this is the first attempt at cordial relations, the business may be understandably circumspect. Gentler, less intrusive and smaller initiatives are the best way to prepare the ground for the advent of the Service Catalog.

Is the business ready?

The Service Catalog model maps top tier business services directly to business functions, in turn providing a guide for service development and enabling the IT department to visibly align itself with the business.

However, where the business itself has not identified its key processes, then such mapping will prove impossible. It is rarely productive for the IT department to try and drive the business to define these processes if they do not already exist. Business process definitions are in themselves complex and are generally undertaken during quality initiatives such as ISO 9001.

Where the organisation does indeed have the necessary foundations to build on, and in general fits into the model provided by ITILĀ®, a 'one step at a time' approach is often the best route to Service Catalog success. These are EMC Infra's top tips for getting a Service Catalog on the road...

Service Catalog - getting started

  • Generally speaking, there are no easy shortcuts to success - design the Service Catalog to meet clear priorities within your organisation rather than follow a generic 'blueprint'.
  • Don't expect the business to 'get it' right away. Articulating the value proposition to business is key so allow plenty of time for discussion and negotiation.
  • Identifying service 'owners' and clear responsibilities is vital.
  • Knowing your key performance indicators (KPIs) will enable you to report against meaningful goals.
  • Complex user groups mean a more complex Service Catalog - pre-plan and map services clearly. Pilot one area initially, learn the lessons and, only then, move on.
  • Be confident that your IT service management tool is up to the job. Integrated call logging and service request management are prerequisite and the supporting architecture should be scalable to future needs.
  • Don't underestimate the power of a web portal - easy user access to the Service Catalog can be a real vote winner.
  • Keep the lines of communication open: Design review stages into your catalog management process to ensure that users can locate the right service quickly and easily.

Assumpta Venkatachalam is product manager at EMC Infra.