Fighting the IT War on Two Fronts - Part II

John Richardson

When looking at user frustration with IT, it often boils down to missed expectations. IT delivered what it thought was needed, while the user complains that it isn't at all what they wanted.

Did the user provide the wrong information? Did IT not listen? Or is the process of reconciling what the user needs to what IT offers broken?

The service catalog is a tool that defines the services IT is set up to provide. It details levels of service and associated costs. For example, a storage catalog might offer varying levels of storage performance and data protection at specific prices per terabyte for each level. This can be a breakthrough in your relationship with the business by setting clear expectations up front. The breadth and depth of what you have to offer is visible to the business, and it not only holds IT accountable for delivering to the service level, but holds the business accountable for its level of consumption. Whether you use showbacks or chargebacks, user consumption behavior becomes visible and helps justify resource requests. This is a fundamental piece of the service provider model-the model that allows IT to operate as a business.

For all the importance and seeming simplicity of the concept, many shops struggle with implementing a service catalog. Developing one may require skills you don't have in-house. It could be you're better at technical and operations work than with this kind of task, which could easily be classified as product management.

So how do you tackle the challenge? If it's not easily accomplished by your in-house team, is it something that should be done on a best-efforts basis, by whomever has the closest skill match and the most extra cycles?

I'll make the argument that creating a service catalog is best handled by professionals. Because of the statement it can make to your executive team and the impact on overall user satisfaction, getting it right can pay huge dividends. Properly executed, senior executives across the company will see IT running like a business and the focus of budget crunches will shift to the users.

But if your service catalog is too complex, not done on a promised schedule or if it can't be easily defended, IT can suffer a real black eye. The quality of this tool is a statement of your shop's organization and commitment to serving the business.

When you are ready to build your service catalog, there are two good options for getting help. First ,IT service management (ITSM) consulting providers can help you build a catalog that matches your business needs. This approach means professional consultants will work closely with your team to identify and document appropriate levels of service for your business and associated costs, help publish the results to the rest of the business, ensure your team is ready to support those service level agreements (SLAs) and then leave. This option ensures you get the process set up correctly, but it's up to your team to follow through on that process for optimal results.

Your second option is to outsouce to an external managed services provider that packages its services in a catalog format that you can leverage. In addition to gaining the benefits of the service provider's scale, skills and tools, you can leverage its process and build out your service catalog based on the provider's existing framework. Many times the provider will help you build out the rest of your catalog to be consistent with the services it is delivering.

A service catalog provides structure, sets expectations and helps IT manage mutually satisfactory SLAs. By implementing this structure, you are also able to manage costs and improve user satisfaction. Regardless of which route you choose for developing one, it's definitely well worth the effort and sets you on the right path for achieving the service provider model.

Now that we've explored the benefits and challenges of consolidating your environment and creating a service catalog, next we'll ask if now is the time to invest in new management tools that will help you address the challenges of performance management and business reporting.

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