In basic terms, the service catalogue in IT service management is a list and combination of information collected in a simple database that lists the services an organisation offers.
Unfortunately, there is usually more complexity to the catalogue than that simple definition, and that needs to be recognised.
When asking people to define what the service catalogue is to them, there tends to be a wide variety of explanations – or even misunderstandings…
Because of the multiple layers of understanding people apply to the service catalogue – depending on the individual organisation and the way it’s used – it’s important to develop clarity about what it is and what it’s there for.
Sometimes, the complexity – and sometimes confusion – associated with this concept arises from the way the information is presented: for example, an end user version designed to help people order a new phone or software, or to report a fault, is rather a service request portal than a catalogue.
Being clear about this function is essential for any service organisation. Get it right and it presents an opportunity to manage efficiency, transparency and communication about services across the organisation. Get it wrong, and you risk service expectations being unfulfilled and a waste of investment and time in tools.
What you really want to avoid is the service catalogue becoming a point of pain for all concerned. We need to start with simplicity and clarity.
What is the value of the service catalogue?
A restaurant menu allows customers to choose food based on their appetite, taste and the price they want to pay. However, it also helps the restaurant to manage the way the kitchen operates.
Similarly, for a service organisation, having an effective service catalogue means you’re well prepared on a number of fronts:
- It’s the live repository of services: effective service delivery and operational effectiveness comes from having sound information and how well it’s managed.
- It’s integral to the lifecycle service: covering the pipeline of new projects, tools, etc and – at the other end – managing the retirement of services no longer needed.
- It’s a model for business information: presenting information to business customers about demand, consumption, performance, cost, etc.
- It really helps the IT organisation (particularly the service desk): helping them deliver better services through guides and Wikis, for example, and giving structure to the information to make it more efficient and professional.
- It’s a control point for new ‘live’ supported services: any new systems go into the catalogue, including full information and warranties.
Creating, populating and managing the service catalogue is work that needs doing. It helps teams to collaborate and work together and recognise what each owns in terms of services and systems.
There are many applications and valuable uses of the catalogue (I like to just call it the service database), and I’ve seen many people over the years gain real insights and value from it.
And, when taking it to the next level, it’s not just about managing systems and devices but understanding and clarifying joined-up business entities used by the business or by an individual. In this way, the service catalogue helps deliver a package of services, not just components.
So how do we make this work?
Essential steps to service catalogue happiness
- The first essential step is to remove the clutter of confusion and agree on a taxonomy.
- A workshop is useful to clarify the definition of a service catalogue for your organisation; to create a level playing field of understanding about what it is and what it provides.
- Identify your main services and cluster them if necessary, e.g. generic IT services plus the services specific to your organisation.
- Bring people together from different functions to discuss and agree – it’s important to remember that you don’t deliver services as individuals or teams but as a unified department or organisation.
- Collect information into one place, e.g. name of service, nickname, service owner, description, SLA, etc. Make it concrete rather than abstract by using a simple spreadsheet listing services and their attributes.
- Work to populate the entry and attributes for each basis service definition – this can take time as there are sometimes surprises of expected or unexpected ownership…
- Develop more sophisticated reporting, analysis, dashboards and portals based around the services.
- Align knowledge management in and around service definitions.
- Keep going – this will never be finished…
Unblocking the information drain
Rather than getting side-tracked by too much detail or complexity, what’s important when starting with a service catalogue is to get something working and to build on it.
Indeed, you can make progress quickly by keeping it simple and being clear about the taxonomy.
Start simple and build on the clarity of these definitions – complexity will come!
When organisations do this through collaborative working and achieving clarity, they unlock value and new thinking: like unblocking a drain, they’re getting the water of information to flow again.