5 Proven Practical Tips for Starting Your Service Catalog

Start service catalog

Is your organization thinking about creating a service catalog and service request catalog (or starting over with it again)? It can be a daunting undertaking (and “undertaking” always seems such a terminal pursuit), but a well-thought-out service catalog (plus the associated service portfolio management activities) can add tremendous value to your organization.

Service catalogs provide insight and help us to organize resources and provision services quickly and effectively. And, if we do things right, service catalogs will help to ensure that we align the IT services offered with business needs and strategies.

Knowing how much our services cost supports us in making better investment decisions. For instance, if we know what kind of return on investment (ROI) an IT service provides, we can justify the retirement of any legacy services we’re clinging on too. Or, alternatively, it can help us to see where we need to start investigating potential new services.

Furthermore, service catalogs can also help us to identify inefficiencies and excess by better understanding how we perform a service. For example, with greater insight we can clearly see if supporting more people with a given service could lead to a per-unit cost reduction or increase.

These are just a few of the benefits of employing a service catalog. As to how best to achieve them, here are five proven tips on how to start your service catalog in the best way possible.

1. Find Out What Data You Already Have

You might think you’re starting your service catalog from scratch, but it’s likely that someone, somewhere in your organization has already collated at least some of the information you need. For example, I previously worked at an organization where I spent many, many hours listing all the services they had/required only to discover that three years earlier a similar project had collected much of the required information.

Even if a similar data collection project hasn’t been run in your organization, some of the information might still be out there. So start by talking to people and what your trying to achieve – you never know what you might find. And this is perfectly in line with one of the ITIL Practitioner guiding principles – “start where you are.”

2. Define What You’re Creating

Uh, a service catalog…right?

Yes, but there are different audiences and depending on whom you’re creating it for will drive the level of detail you go into and the language you use. If it’s purely for use within IT, then you can use as much technical jargon or abbreviations as you want. However, if it’s a business document/capability, then it needs to be simple to read and understand. To misquote my good friend Forrest Gump: “Simple is as simple does.”

3. Ensure Everyone Knows Who Is Responsible for What

The service catalog is an ever-evolving “thing” – it might be a fit-for-purpose service catalog tool or just an Excel spreadsheet, but it must always be kept up to date. So this isn’t just a six-week project that you complete and forget about. Instead, to gain the most value from your service catalog, it needs to be updated as changes are made to services. This includes ensuring that the offerings are right for the business and that discontinued services are pulled/archived/deleted.

To make this work longer term, you’ll need to decide who handles the maintenance of the service catalog. Spell it out clearly so that everyone knows where they stand and what they need to do. It’s also worth performing regular “check-ups” with business customers to ensure that the service catalog is still understandable and providing the services they need.

4. Get Real Buy-In

I say “real” because I’ve known IT and business executives to “talk the talk” about how the proposed (and then new) service catalog is the best thing since sliced bread but then never actually use it. You want, and need, more than just the payment of lip service – sadly if people see that the executives aren’t using it, they will assume that something is wrong with it or that it’s okay to ignore it too.

Real buy-in will make or break a service catalog. If executives don’t think they’ll use it, then find out why. Fix the barriers to uptake and ensure that the service catalog fits with, and is understood by, your business colleagues. Ultimately, this should be the business’ service catalog; it should be designed to make their lives easier. If people understand this, then you’re more likely to get their input.

5. You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure

When your boss comes to you in three months’ time and asks how the service catalog is doing, what the uptake has been, and whether it’s been a success, how are you going to answer? “Err, well we think it’s going well and that people are using it” isn’t going to be the answer your boss will be looking for.

Deciding on which metrics you’re going to measure, and how, should happen long before go-live. Ideally, the metrics should be based on the critical success factors agreed on at the justification stage. For instance, knowing how many people used the service catalog (usually in the form of a service request catalog) is great but knowing how they used it is even better. And to do this, you’ll need a baseline to compare to. For example, the service catalog view/use data can also be used to understand things such as whether a given service misses the business need or is overpriced versus expectations. Or to predict the growing demand for a particular service as the need, or perhaps just awareness, grows.

Creating a service catalog, and associated end-user facing service request catalog, is not necessarily easy; and many projects have fallen by the wayside after poor uptake post-implementation. But if you create it with the intention of it being a useful tool for the business, which belongs to the business, then you have a much higher rate of success. You might also want to check out this blog by my boss Sarah Lahav: 5 Tips for Creating a Successful Service Catalogue.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips for getting started with service catalog that readers will benefit from.