A poorly designed IT service catalogue is your enemy

While an IT service catalogue can bring the IT department much credibility for the services it performs for the business, a poorly designed catalogue can also mean a lot of negative publicity, warned an analyst with Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates Inc

“The key to doing this well is the design and delivery so you can show value,” said research director Lisa Erickson-Harris during a Web cast about what is driving re-investment in the service catalogue and how to design a successful catalogue.

Even if the workflow for a service request is running immaculately in the back-office, the front-end interface that is the gateway for employees deserves just as much attention. “It’s that front-end piece that essentially you’ve been judged on,” said Erickson-Harris.

Service catalogues are typically a front-end Web-based listing of services, products and pricing delivered by the back-office IT infrastructure. But Erickson-Harris said part of the design challenge is to ensure that the catalogue is well integrated with the necessary components required for a seamless workflow that will process those requests: service desk, provisioning and change management tools, CMDB (configuration management database), etc.

“Take care of those integration points,” said Erickson-Harris

She said that although the IT service catalogue was a big priority about five years ago, the faltering economy ensured it took a backseat even though it remained a necessity. But it has begun to re-emerge as an important priority in the last 12 to 18 months.
Cloud computing is one driver behind the re-emergence of the service catalogue. An EMA study at the start of 2010 had 21 per cent of respondents saying they would be ready within 12 months to offer cloud services through their service catalogue. Given that service quality through reporting and governance are key to a catalogue, it’s no surprise that the catalogue is a delivery mechanism for an enterprise’s cloud strategies, said Erickson-Harris.

The basic challenge for enterprises looking to introduce a catalogue is knowing which services to provide, tracking the frequency of requests per service, and the level of end user satisfaction, said Pandian Athirajan, product manager with Armonk, New York-based IBM Corp., who was also on the Webcast.

But that largely remains elusive for enterprises, said Athirajan. “There is no tracing mechanism, there is no mechanism of how effectively the service has been delivered,” he said.

Similarly, end users are often unaware which services they are even eligible to request nor how to go about getting them. Moreover, the back-office process is inconsistent and ill-defined at best, said Athirajan. “Right now it’s more of person A does it differently, person B does it completely differently,” he said.

End users want service catalogues to be a single point of access for services, regardless of where that request gets routed in the back office, said Athirajan. So catalogues must be designed as a structured and searchable database of services available as it is appropriate for an employee’s position, department and office location.

Once services are requested and placed in the shopping cart, the back-office order processing should route through the required levels of management for approval, assuming that service needs approval, said Athirajan.

But a catalogue needn’t be just about IT services. It’s role can be broadened to encompass non-IT services that get routed to other lines of the business. For instance, an office move would be performed by operations, a new employee badge by human resources, and replacing a light bulb by facilities.

On-boarding a new employee for his or her first day of work is a complex process that can be facilitated by a well-designed catalogue with proper integration in the back office. “There are multiple tasks to be performed by multiple departments … and this is where the service catalogue can perform a crucial role,” said Athirajan.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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