There is no argument against this great good -or was it best?- practice and, likewise, its content and how to publish it are seldom a matter of controversy. It’s a catalog for God’s sake! It should be understood, attractive and exhaustive.
We know the WHAT and the HOW. For me, the one million dollar question is WHEN should IT publish its catalogue?
I have met many IT leaders eager to publish their Catalogues and sign their SLA’s (mostly template driven minds). Perhaps because in doing this, IT is vested with a sense of leadership, professionalism, usefulness… you name it! The problems arise when the Catalogue is not aligned (yes, I said aligned) with the appropriate mind set. We have always heard about aligning IT with the business, but never about aligning ITSM initiatives with the internal IT mind set. This is no minor issue, because once we publish a catalogue we become some sort of providers. And providers know that clients are (almost) always right, and, on top of all, clients have this horrid tendency to have high expectations.
On one occasion, Adobe Acrobat Reader was published as a service. In essence, any user would be able to have it installed within two hours. But someone forgot to change the IT Policy that stated “all software installs must be approved by the requestor’s superior” and the Service Desk operator –for a change- decided to stick to the rule. It’s amazing how soon an IT Help Desk becomes an IT Hopeless. After a few other similar hiccups, the all singing all dancing new Service Catalogue, was a joke across the whole organization: “the service catatonic”.
Let’s be serious. And publishing your service catalogue is a serious matter: it means going from a technology black box for the end user, to being a visible and shining service provider. You’ve got one shot to be successful; don’t waste it with the wrong timing!
When should we publish the damn thing then? Relax, we’re getting there. Remember fit for purpose? The answer is: when your Service Catalogue is fit for purpose, then you are ready to publish it. The best approach to challenge the fit-for-purposeness is asking lots of questions. Now, this is no one man job. Involve your team, invite a few stakeholders including one or two IT skeptics (their corrosive views are sometimes a good tester for IT initiatives).
Just as a rule of thumb learned after all these years, I leave you with 5 fundamental questions.
1) Are you aiming for a whole service catalogue? It is useful to start with a department in mind and publish only the services available to that particular department. Yes, pilot testing is a better idea. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
2) Is your catalogue clear, as in clear enough for non IT audiences? Forget about using words like Exchange, Data Storage, Fiber Optic… They will put off your customers. I always describe Service Management as “The art of translating technology jargon into business eloquence”. This applies to the whole life cycle, and is the key to publishing a good catalogue.
3) Have you promised things you cannot deliver? There are a number of considerations that need attention. For instance, potential additional costs of opening the door to end-users requesting lots of things, new support arrangements, etc. Remember what value consists of? ITIL is very clear about it. Unfortunately, if you ask the question, 6 out of 10 ITIL certified IT Managers will remember only the word Utility. They tend to forget Warranty, and the lack of this element can derail your efforts. So, ensure the fitness of your catalogue to give real value.
4) Does your Service Catalogue revolve around your Service Desk? Then you may be taking a wrong approach. Service Catalogue and Service Desk are like chalk and cheese. Surely your Service Desk must be aware of the existence of a Service Catalogue and a number of requests will probably use the Service Desk channel, however the Service Catalogue has a wider and different scope and purpose. Don’t mix the concepts; the risk here is that the general perception of the catalogue might be undervalued by the customers, and you will be missing a great chance to communicate the value of IT.
5) Have you saved some costs by publishing your Service Catalogue as a static list on the Intranet? Wrong! Don’t publish your catalogue just because you’ve got to. Cater for some interactivity. Funding is not easy these days, but using some imagination and internal development resources when available is not that expensive. A simple static list is a recipe for forgetting the existence of your Catalogue. It will be dead before you know it, believe me.
One last tip as a conclusion: Create expectation, but manage it appropriately. Brand your catalogue initiatives, and ensure every IT customer is aware of your next move. And when the Catalogue is available, keep updating, improving and publicizing.
When I was a child I used to get a copy of the Sears catalogue from my neighbour, a savvy retired army logistics man. The catalogue kept coming through the post and passed on to me even after the good old man was gone. The moral of the story may be this: aim at creating value that people still appreciate even when you are trying greener pastures!
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