The ITIL Service Catalog

The ITIL framework is based on the concepts of Service and Customer Care, and the Service Catalog is at the core of these fundamental concepts.  Having a menu of available services is critical for effective IT service provisioning and management.  So many IT departments have grown up without maturing the way that they manage, support and offer services to their constituents, and have ended up in sheer chaos.  Usually, a user will have a need, and place a request to IT through the Service Desk.  The Service Desk staff member may not be able to help them, or will simply turn down the request since no procedures are in place to handle it.  Worse, there is the potential to just by-pass “the IT run-around” altogether because of the availability of downloadable applications and external services that may add additional, unmeasured, and unrecoverable costs and risks to the organization.  Do you know ALL of the applications in use in your organization and where they came from?

By taking the time to document the services that IT provides currently, the services that IT plans to offer soon, and asking what services the customers would like to consider in the future, IT departments can gain an understanding of their current environment, plan for the future, and engage their customers in developing new services.  The development of a service catalog can also aid in understanding what resources are needed for support, where the budget is being spent, what factors should be measured to gauge efficiency, what services can be automated or optimized, and where costs may be recovered or saved.

This available list of services should include everything that IT does, for instance, requests for a new laptop, new software, account provisioning, access requests, file permissions, or de-provisioning an employee’s account when they leave.  A help desk without a service catalog will not be able to provide its customers with consistent information about the services available and time requirements for delivery.

Service Catalog Contents:
Each service within the catalog typically includes:
  • A description of the service provided.
  • Service level agreement commitments for fulfilling the service.
  • Who is entitled to request or approve the service.
  • Costs and charge backs (if any).
  • How the service is fulfilled.
  • Formalizes the IT service offerings, illuminates shortcomings, and encourages dialogue with customers around future needs.
  • Promotes an understanding of what can be requested, expected, and any costs for “special requests”.
  • Sets clear budgeting goals, and answers questions like “why can’t I just have product or service X”.
  • Helps customers by providing them a clear view of the services available to them.
  • Introduces a new and helpful “face” for the IT department, improving the customer experience and satisfaction.
  • Reduces the time technicians spend on responding to user inquiries about service delivery times.
  • Provides an understanding of the trends of services over time.
  • Can be used in strategy and management discussions regarding resource leveling (staff, hardware, infrastructure, vendors, etc.).

Close Ties To Asset Management:
Not all services are created equal, and all IT services are provided at a cost to the business.  Remember, services can include things like end-user equipment ordering, provisioning, configuration, re-imaging, approved software deployment, hardening, patch management, unapproved software removal, etc.  A lot of IT shops simply are not setup to monitor or manage these things, go about them blindly, and their employees often take matters into their own hands.  This is how malware and other threats (like getting busted by the SPA or other software licensing agency) can become a serious liability.

As part of the service catalog creation process, it is important to know what hardware and software are present in the environment, and in what quantities.  Gathering a list of all of the network connected devices and resources, and all of the components on them will provide an opportunity to see what is being used, what products may overlap (who is using Word, and who is using WordPerfect?).  By knowing, you gain several opportunities to realize cost savings and reduce potential risks.

  • What applications are redundant, and can a vendor negotiated standard reduce costs?
  • What applications are not desired on the network or PC’s?  (IE remote management or access)
  • What software may be unlicensed?  (pirated, free for home-use, etc.)
  • What software may be Trojanized? (Keygens, cracks, etc.)
  • How many copies of a software product are installed without being actually used?
  • What platforms are in use?  (How many Win98, Windows2000, or other unsupported O/S are there?)
  • What applications should you be looking to patch for security vulnerabilities?
  • Do you need asset management tools?
  • Do you need deployment management tools?
  • Do you need vulnerability management tools?
  • What other services could you or should you be providing based on the intelligence provided?

As mentioned in an earlier post, all of the ITIL books are inter-related, and the processes that make them up share inputs and outputs, as evidenced by the last few questions leading you to think about what else would provide benefits to the customer and to the organization’s overall health and efficiency, and why.  The more services provided and the more robust those services are, the less time will need to be spent on maintaining them, the stronger the IT organization will become, and the more time will be available for business improvement and growth.  Building an IT service catalog goes a long way to creating a roadmap for the future of your organization and its capabilities.

Once the service catalog is built, it is very important to publish it in a dynamic format, such as a web or intranet site.  This is very important because it is a living document.  Expect your service offerings to change over time.  Invest the time to present it clearly and with a simple to use interface.  Look to the websites of well-developed companies that provide multiple services to a diverse and non-technical audience.  IBM, Dell, eBay and utility companies are good examples.  Make the service catalog an underpinning document for a self-serve or request generating portal.  Providing this service, updates to it and requests for updates to it should all be in your service catalog too!  An effective Service Catalog also segments customer access – whether end-user or business unit executive customers – and provides appropriate content based on functions, roles, needs, locations, and entitlements.

A truly useful and mature service catalog also serves as a “system of record” enabling IT to be managed like a business.  It can provide a vehicle for the measurement and reporting of customer demand, map fulfillment processes, report on service level compliance, drive process improvements, and track costs associated with each service.  No service-oriented business can run effectively without operational and financial metrics readily and easily available.  By providing internal customers with a central point for requesting services, IT can leverage this data to more effectively manage consumption and assess future needs.

Standardized and well-documented services allow IT teams to provide repeatable and measurable service delivery processes that will result in predictable and reliable service quality.