The IT Service Catalog: Who Owns It?

8 minute read
The IT Service Catalog: Who Owns it?

Many IT organizations struggle with the concept of service. They also wrestle with the development and utilization of a meaningful IT service catalog—a comprehensive list of IT services that an organization provides to its employees or customers.

They create an IT service catalog acknowledging the need to improve their communications and integration with the business. Only later, do they question the value of what they have developed.

Some IT organizations then ask themselves: Now what? Other IT organizations limit themselves to developing a menu of service requests that facilitate user self-service but do little to enhance their understanding of those services or how to integrate them with the business.

These scenarios can be avoided by addressing key factors related to your organization's understanding and management of IT services. It is also critical to establish a vision and execute a plan for using and maintaining your IT service catalog.

Senior Management Ownership

A key factor in establishing a meaningful and valued IT service catalog is executive level ownership. Not executive sponsorship, support or approval but ownership.

When properly developed and utilized, the IT service catalog becomes a key instrument for guiding IT strategy and design, as well as transitional and operational support. That is why proactive executive IT management ownership is a must-have for designing, developing, utilizing, maturing and maintaining your organization's IT service catalog.

The executive owner's responsibilities are broad in scope. While he or she may find the need to delegate specific assignments, the executive owner must remain accountable for the execution and fulfillment of these responsibilities. The owner's knowledge and practical understanding of services, and the role and value of the service catalog is critical to its success.

The executive owner should:

  • Align the organization around a common definition and understanding of service

  • Obtain senior management focus and secure proper resource(s)

  • Create awareness and a sense of urgency around the value and need for a service catalog

  • Ensure the use and maintenance of the service catalog

A Common Definition and Understanding of a Service

Aligning your organization around a common definition and understanding of a service may be more challenging than many organizations realize. Many IT disciplines, including application development and enterprise architecture, use the word service differently. Your organization's understanding of these differences and approach to addressing these differences and categorizing your services is essential for establishing a service catalog vision and plan.

The information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) defines a service as a "means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks." This definition should not be interpreted to mean the customer is not willing to pay for the service; rather, they expect the service provider to manage the cost so they pay a reasonable price.

ITIL further distinguishes between business services, IT services and infrastructure services. A business service is directly related to a business process, such as order-to-cash or claims payment. A key consideration with identifying and describing your business service is that it should be defined in the business context and semantics. It should resonate with the business. A business service is often enabled by an organized collection of IT services and infrastructure services. When identifying business services, it is important for an organization to maintain their focus on the desired business outcome.

ITIL acknowledges that the distinction between an IT service and a business service is blurred. Both enable business processes. An IT service is defined only as a service provided by IT and used directly by the business. Often, IT organizations identify the applications they support as its IT services. Other examples of IT services may include messaging and collaboration services.

Infrastructure services are those services used by IT in the delivery and support of the business and IT services. These services are not used directly by the business. In most cases, the general business population has no need to be aware or informed of these services. The executive owner of the service catalog should determine how to define and categorize these services.

The executive owner should ensure the entire IT organization understands and aligns with the organization's service structure and categorization. This organizational understanding and alignment is an essential requirement for executing the service catalog vision and plan throughout the company.

Service Catalog Should Be Positioned Initially As a Project

The service catalog executive owner should not design, develop or deploy the service catalog in a vacuum. To be successful, the service catalog effort, at least initially, should be positioned as a project. By managing the initial effort as a project, the service catalog is more likely to have the proper management attention necessary to ensure senior management alignment and support. A project approach helps ensure the scope, objectives and boundaries of the service catalog are well defined and understood; and resources are more likely to be firmly secured.

An effective service catalog is one that is constantly being maintained and is frequently used. As a result, the service catalog requires dedicated attention and governance to ensure the data is relevant, accurate, and current as well as to facilitate its proper use. Many organizations identify the role of a service catalog manager to assist the executive owner in fulfilling these responsibilities. It is important to establish an IT service management (ITSM) steering or governance committee to help provide organizational support for the service catalog manager role.

The service catalog manager and the ITSM steering committee are well positioned to aid the executive owner in identifying service catalog successes and benefits. Identifying and promoting these wins are essential to maintaining the momentum and support for the service catalog vision and plan.

Creating a Sense of Urgency

As with any investment, understanding the value of your service catalog is essential to creating an organizational sense of urgency for needing a service catalog. Applying the ITIL concept of the service knowledge management system (SKMS), you can easily depict how your service catalog becomes the glue that integrates your configuration management system (CMS) with your services. As ITIL depicts, this integration enables you to apply the knowledge enabled by your CMS to make informed service-based decisions.

How you identify the value of your service catalog is dependent on your ability to execute your vision in a practical manner. Some examples of the value a well-developed service catalog provides to each phase include:

Service strategy

Facilitates structured discussions regarding the integration of IT strategy with business strategy. This is achieved by working with the business to understand current and future service demand as well as the company’s competitive position of these capabilities.  This understanding enhances IT department’s ability to associate business value with technology costs.

Service design

Provides the foundational focus for assessing current service warranty (fit for use) and utility (fit for purpose) criteria in business terms. This should ensure proper design of newly chartered services for both utility and warranty. The service catalog should facilitate gap identification between existing service capabilities and business requirements. In addition, it can strengthen the relevance and completeness of the business impact analysis. From a design perspective, it also provides the foundation for evaluating and planning the sourcing required for each service.

Service transition

Enhances the IT organization’s ability to properly assess the business risk associated with a pending change, enabling proper coordination and enhancing release management planning and testing.

Service operation

Helps associate individual requests with business capabilities, enhancing the ability to establish meaningful service level objectives for each request type. In addition, the service catalog facilitates IT organization’s ability to prioritize problems for root-cause analysis and provides the foundation for assessing risk, and establishing and aligning access requirements in accordance with risk.

Ensuring Use and Maintenance

As noted in the aforementioned examples, when properly designed, the service catalog should facilitate the IT organization's strategies, designs, delivery and operations. It should enhance IT department's integration with the business. However, this ability doesn't occur magically or overnight. It requires a defined vision and a plan. The service catalog vision should be to clarify the end state while the plan needs to identify what part of the vision should be executed first. In addition, to ensure enterprise adoption, the service catalog plan should consider input from core IT disciplines such as application development and enterprise architecture.

One way to ensure your service catalog enables practical use is to focus on reactive, proactive and value-added ITSM capabilities. It is good to start with what you already know and build the foundation to enable the core ITSM processes (incident, request fulfillment, problem, change, and service asset and configuration management). By establishing a strong and foundational use of the service catalog with these core process disciplines, the IT organization should be able to align the definition and organization of services, facilitate timely improvement opportunities, demonstrate commitment to your customers, and provide opportunities for a few quick wins. In this way, the service catalog becomes a tool to help improve the organization's visibility into their transitional and operational support processes.

Service Catalog Helps IT Align Itself with the Business

As the organization matures from the reactive stage to a proactive stage, the service catalog is integrated with the organization's service strategy and service design processes, including service level, demand, capacity, availability and service continuity management. During this proactive stage, organizations should extend their service catalog efforts to other core disciplines, including project management, enterprise architecture, and IT finance. The integration and utilization of the service catalog with these processes and disciplines helps the IT organization align itself with current and anticipated business needs.

An earlier version of this article was published in ITSM Watch

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