Service Catalogs: Avoiding Shelfware

By Alan Houghton

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With the recent economic downturn, many IT organizations are increasingly aware of the need to partner with their customers and ensure they are delivering the right services at the right price. Service catalogs are a powerful tool for ensuring that the goals of your organization and its customers are aligned, while also providing greater visibility and cost control capabilities. Not only does a service catalog allow your customers the ability to maximize their utilization of IT, it is also a central part of any shared service or ITIL service management implementation.

Despite being a critical element of many processes, a service catalog can be difficult to implement. Many service catalog projects underestimate the effort or leave out critical components. These result in systems or documents that languish on the shelf and have little or no use. Often, the focus of the project is on the activity or the specific technology and not the intended business use, leading to a lack of adoption by the business. In a recent survey, only 57% of respondents characterized their service catalog implementations as successful.

So, what can be done to ensure your service catalog project is not one of those left on the shelf? Our experience across many large and small service catalog implementations shows the keys to success lie in four domains:

This article explores each of these areas listing five key insights, or top tips, to keep in mind when building your service catalog.

Motivation: Why implement a service catalog?

For any project to be successful, stakeholders need to know why the project is being undertaken and have a common vision of the goals. Here are the key reasons both IT and the business will benefit from the service catalog:

Brings IT closer to the business – Until you start to define what you do in terms that the business can understand and align yourself in a way that clearly supports what the business does, you are still in a technology silo and not doing real service management.

Serves as the backbone for service management – Service catalogs provide the cornerstone for virtually all of the ITIL processes you might implement. They help the different processes organize and prioritize their time and ensure their efforts are tied to services that directly contribute to the business.

Optimizes investment – Efficiency is all about getting value for your money. Without defining your services through the eyes of the business, it is almost impossible for IT to ensure they are spending money on the things most important to the business. Similarly, without an understanding of costs, the business is not able to make informed decisions about usage.

Creates a baseline for SLAs, OLAs and underpinning contracts – A robust service catalog provides necessary context for defining performance measures to end users, between supporting services, and between the service and the external third party providers. Gathering performance information for the service also provides a substantive starting point for negotiating and agreeing more formal SLAs and OLAs.

Serves as marketing tool – Too often service catalogs are developed without the customer’s involvement, or they are allowed to sit on the shelf rather than being promoted and marketed throughout the organization. A service catalog should be a key to bringing IT and the business closer together. There is a limit to how much “silent running” the business will accept; some visibility of IT through the service catalog helps to reinforce the value of IT.

Design: Five tips for designing service catalogs

A good design will make sure the catalog meets the customer’s needs and build in flexibility so it will endure. Here are our five top tips for creating an effective design:

Focus on what your customers want – Even if you start by documenting the technology services that make up the building blocks of the service catalog, you need understand what is most important to your customers. The catalog should reflect how they operate the business including the potential for different tiers of service aligned with different customer needs and segments.



Understand the building blocks – A catalog design shouldn’t be a flat, two dimensional construct. Think of the catalog as having a number of customer facing services that are essentially products the business can purchase. It should also have a number of resource facing services that are the building blocks used to deliver those customer facing services. The customer’s experience should be seamless and end-to-end.

Measure your services – Services should be defined in ways that make them measurable in terms that are important to the business. Can you track how much of something you deliver? How often? At what service level? Can you track how long it takes for you to deliver it? If you can’t, you might want to re-analyze the way you’ve defined that service.

Emphasize cost transparency and demand management – If you’ve documented your units of measure properly, you can start to track and report on the costs of the service. Think ahead about how you can model the cost of the service. This transparency is what allows you and the business to make informed choices based on the cost/benefit of the service provided. This also gives you to ability to use prices to implement better demand management for services.

Relate it to all of your processes – Capacity, financial, change, availability, release and all of the ITIL processes relate back to your service catalog and it makes all of their implementations that much easier. Without a service catalog, the other ITIL processes are navigating without a compass. It is the service catalog that gives them the ability to prioritize and direct their work in a way that is most beneficial to the business.

Implementation: Five pitfalls to avoid during implementation

Even the best designs can be thwarted by a poor implementation. Here are five common traps to be avoiding in the implementation:

The field of dreams – Assuming that if you build it they will come. A service catalog is a living, breathing representation of what IT delivers to their customers. It needs to be a centerpiece for helping customers understand what IT can do, and for helping the internal IT processes prioritize and organize their efforts. A strong communication strategy is a good plan to help implement it in the right way, but continual efforts are needed to keep it at the center of what you do.

It’s all too much – Inundating the client with too many choices. End users need an intuitive service catalog that is simplified and gives them relevant choices. IT can do this by bundling common packages into single choices for customers and by making the interface to the catalog dynamic and context dependent to help users in their selections.

Dazzle them with science – Don"t sell the technology over the value. customers want to buy services that provide value to the way they do businesses. They are buying a service not a technology component. Describe your services in business terms: improved response, less wait time, improved productivity, not in technology terms like bandwidth or fiber optic cables.

Myopia – Concentrating on the now and ignoring the long range. Use your catalog to introduce new technologies to the organization and take into account your strategic directions when building the catalog while encouraging your customers to invest by identifying the value of your enhanced services.

Rocking the boat – Don’t undermine your customer satisfaction by changing the rules every year. Allow your business to chart progress from year to year by introducing stability in terms of services, costs, usage, forecasting and reporting.

Managing: Five tips for effectively managing service catalogs

Finally, good management processes are essential to making the service catalog last and be used effectively. Here are five critical areas to effective management of a service catalog:

Owners and customers are critical – Services don’t magically appear and manage themselves. Instead, it is important the owner of the service be identified and given the responsibility for managing the service’s performance over time. This could include negotiating to update the underpinning contracts that support the service or requesting the necessary resources to improve it. The customer is needed at the table to determine priorities and ensure they are getting the performance they need.

Store and control your services – The services definitions in your catalog should be protected, formally documented, stored, and only changed through your change control processes. The service documentation is not only an external, customer view of what the service does, but it also includes the internal, technical documentation necessary to understand how the service is delivered. Change control insures proper governance around changes to your services. It also gives your change control process a solid way in which to evaluate changes and understand the implications of a change to a service.

Integrate with your processes – Capacity, availability, financial management, and all of your service management processes are tasked with delivering services to the customers. Make sure they are prepared to deliver the information they need to provide into the catalog, and they have the proper level of visibility into the catalog to support it properly.

Implement continuous improvement – Make sure your services are monitored and measured and regular reviews are held with your customers to discuss the performance of the service. Not only does this give you visibility into customer perceptions, but it also allows you to market the things you are doing to improve the service performance.

Document a service on-boarding process – Make sure all of your processes are ready to support the newly launched service. A formal process for on-boarding helps to verify that each of the process owners has evaluated the defined service, understands the effort from their area to support that service and has taken steps to ensure it is ready for launch.

Alan Houghton is a principal consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IT Consulting practice, specializing in analyzing and rationalizing portfolios of applications and projects either for investment planning or for the development of sourcing strategies. He also brings significant service management experience, having recently co-led the successful ISO 20000 certification and ITIL v2 implementation processes of a major European bank

Augusto Perazzo is a consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IT Consulting practice. An ITIL certified practitioner, Augusto has developed an expertise in IT service management, application development management and project management.

Derek Lonsdale is a managing consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IT Consulting practice. With more than fifteen years in the industry, Derek is an ITIL manager and has contributed to the design and deployment of ITIL processes for numerous ITIL programs.

John McCord is a principal consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IT Consulting practice and an acknowledged expert in the financial aspects of IT costs, with particular emphasis on benchmarking, outsourcing, and the issues of strategic demand management.