Service catalogues are a key component within the service level manager's 'toolkit' but are often an afterthought behind better known products such as service level agreements, operational level agreements and service improvement plans, says Stephen Griffiths MBCS CITP, managing director of Datadeck Ltd. In this article, he outlines ten reasons to implement a service catalogue.

I believe that a service catalogue is a logical starting point and enabler to drive implementation of service level management and ITIL® best practices and is a critical product used in the drive to align customers with service providers.

Service catalogues are simple yet powerful documents that record potentially complex environments and relationships. Contents include:

  • a list of services provided to a customer by the service provider / maintainer of those services;
  • a clear, concise summary of their characteristics;
  • details relating to the customer, provider and maintainer of each service.

A service catalogue is not a list of processes, products or components.

Ten reasons to implement a service catalogue

1 - SLAs, OLAs, UCs

The service catalogue is a logical reference point and enabler for the generation of service level agreements (SLAs), operational level agreements (OLAs) and underpinning contracts (UCs).

When creating SLAs (with customers), OLA (with internal support and delivery) and UCs (with external third party providers), the service level manager can benefit by utilising the information previously gathered within the service catalogue which can be supplemented with more detailed and comprehensive information.

In the same way that OLAs and UCs underpin SLAs, it could be said that SLAs, OLAs and UCs underpin the service catalogue.

2 - Service review meetings

As part of the SLM process, the service level manager meets with customers on a periodic basis. Service Review meetings are undertaken to review the performance of service providers versus the agreed service targets and commitments (agreed between the customer and provider as part of the service level requirements / service level agreement definition).

Prior to a review meeting, the service level manager will gather a compendium of information to use during the session.

The service catalogue is a central, valuable reference document for use throughout the discussions (other items taken to the meeting might include a standard agenda, minutes / actions from the previous meeting, management reports, response and resolution information, availability, incident and change metrics etc.).

3 - Service improvement plans

Many believe that a Service improvement plans (SIPs) is the key enabler and starting point to the implementation of ITIL® best practices within an organisation.

However, the first natural steps of any improvement programme are to establish visions and to determine current capabilities (i.e. to baseline the existing services).

The service catalogue forms an integral part of this baseline, formally recording what services are in existence and who they are maintained by.

During the generation of the service catalogue (by a team from both the customer and service provider groups), service improvement initiatives will be highlighted and might form the first entries into a SIP.

4 - Gap analysis

Following completion of the initial baselining, the next logical step is to undertake a gap analysis between the customer’s / service provider’s visions for the services and the current position. Again, this activity should be undertaken as a joint initiative between the customer and service provider.

When generating the service catalogue, service gaps or differences of opinion may be highlighted. For example, the customer may believe that the service provider delivers more than has been recorded, or on the flip side, the service provider may not think that they support all of the services highlighted during the catalogue production.

The gaps highlighted assist in building the vision, resulting actions and further development of any SIP.

5 - Negotiation

The service level management team are continuously working to improve their relationship with their Customers.

When developing the service catalogue, it is critical to involve representatives from both customer and service provider departments to discuss and develop the product (to senior management level).

The service catalogue is therefore an enabler to discussion, understanding and agreement of the services required by the customer and how they are provided.

Post implementation, the catalogue remains a valuable asset to enable ongoing negotiation, discussion and relationship building.

6 - Common language

How many times have we all heard the discussion regarding the differences between a fault, an Incident and a problem?

The service catalogue and the linked SLAs, OLAs, UCs etc. help facilitate the introduction of a common language. This is not only between the customer and service provider but also within IT departments and externally with third party suppliers.

Utilising common terms, educating the customer and service provider personnel (using awareness campaigns and initiatives) and ensuring that the service desk and customer facing personnel use the common language is often a major step in improving co-operation and understanding by all parties.

7 - Reference material

The service catalogue (and other SLM documents) are important reference documents for all parties.

The content of the documents are particularly useful to raise awareness across the support and delivery functions about their customers, the services delivered to them, the delivery targets, critical business times etc. The service desk and incident recovery teams should be fully aware of the content. This often raises customer perception and satisfaction levels.

The catalogue can be used during awareness sessions, as part of induction programmes, a basis for negotiation with new third party suppliers etc. Imparting awareness and common understanding can also lead to improved team working across an IT function.

8 - Culture change

Development of service catalogues and other service management documents can be an enabler to culture change and the way that service, customers etc. are perceived and understood.

Preparation and implementation of these products might enable the service provider resources to see the services provided differently.

Rather than services being viewed as 'technology offerings', they might be seen as 'services delivered to support the customers' business', 'essential productivity tools' or 'critical to ensuring business progression and success'.

Perception changes from that of 'service provider' to 'an important and recognised contributor to corporate success'.

9 - Tools, processes, management info

The service catalogue can also be used as a launch pad for tools, processes and MIS / reports implementations etc.

For example, the CMDB CI hierarchy can be designed and developed based on the services identified in the catalogue.

Management information e.g. service review meeting reports and statistics can be built around the known business services.

Operational targets defined in SLAs, OLAs, UCs can be directly related to individual services.

Ensuring key processes are in place for each key services is a gap analysis activity using the list of vital business functions (VBFs) and services in the catalogue as a starting point.

10 - Finance

The service catalogue also forms the basis for the development and implementation of financial management activities, products and processes.

Annual budgets can be linked to each service within the catalogue. This might include capital and expense projections, depreciation, maintenance, project activities etc.

Once approved and in place, finance can account for the costs of running each of the known catalogued services.

Charging mechanisms may be put in place relating to each customer and services used to distribute or recoup operational costs. Unique charging keys relating to each service within the service catalogue will be required.

This article was written in December 2006 by Stephen Griffiths MBCS CITP, managing director of Datadeck. Stephen has been working in IT for 25 years, is a companion member of the ACS, member of the Institute of IT Service Management, ITIL® Managers Certificate examiner and director of Whitmore Solutions.