Building and Maintaining a Service Catalog

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Building and Maintaining
a Service Catalog

by Faulkner Staff

Docid: 00021384

Publication Date: 2002



Service catalogs allow an organization’s employees to shop for and
implement IT offerings, including software. This increasingly popular
model can reduce costs and improve efficiency, and it satisfies users who
have grown accustomed to selecting and managing their own technology. But
to realize these benefits, an organization must make broad, fundamental
changes to its IT philosophy, strategy, and tactics. This requires
careful, long-term planning.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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A service catalog identifies the IT offerings available to users and
enables them to choose and install the technology themselves.

ITIL for Enterprise IT
Management Tutorial
Self Service Concepts and
Technology Tutorial
IT Service Management Tutorial

In language shaped around business needs instead of underlying
technology, a catalog describes what each item does and provides other key
information such as its cost (if applicable), specifications (e.g.,
speed), and who is entitled to use it. A wide range of software and
services may be included, including services offered through third-party
cloud providers.

The catalog model is not entirely new, but it has blossomed in an age of
cloud computing and self-service. Many corporate employees have developed
a preference for ordering and setting up technology through automated
online systems. The older approach, in which IT dictated what technology
people got and then directly managed its delivery, has become less favored
among users. Service catalogs also benefit IT departments by reducing
their labor burden and enabling them to better track user demand.

To create a good service catalog, an organization must do significant
amounts of planning and manual configuration, even if it uses a catalog
management product. Making the transition from a traditional style of IT
delivery takes time. It is a large-scale project that affects many aspects
of an organization’s IT operations and that requires some deep changes to
an organization’s attitudes about how to provide technology and how to
interact with its users.


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A service catalog lets an organization’s users search for software and
technology services and then install or access them without the direct
involvement of IT. An organization’s catalog can include services it
manages or those offered by a third party. For instance, the service
catalog offered by the University of Pennsylvania gives users access to
Amazon Web Services, a popular suite of cloud-based offerings.1

Service catalogs are, in part, a response to changes in user habits and
preferences. Today’s users are accustomed to more independence, and they
even employ their own devices on corporate networks. They view technology
as an everyday, easy-to-use tool, not as something controlled by a small
group of specialists. Service catalogs put more control into the hands of
this new breed of user. In addition, catalogs help organizations better
measure and forecast the demand for IT resources.

Service catalogs are also a response to the development of formal service
management frameworks, in particular ITIL. The third version of ITIL defined
“Service Catalogue Management” as a process in itself, elevating it in
importance from its previous role as just one part of the Service Level
Management process.2 This change demonstrates that service
catalogs are becoming a more important and common part of service management
and IT management in general.

Catalogs typically publish the following information about each service:3

  • What will be delivered
  • The cost (if applicable)
  • Specifications like speed and capacity
  • The owner
  • Permission and approval policies
  • When it is available
  • Its level of importance (e.g., in a security or disaster recovery
  • Service level agreements

Catalogs usually provide this information in terms that are
comprehensible and relevant to end users, not in terms of the
underlying technology and IT processes.4

The design of a service catalog varies based on whether an organization
has some pieces in place already or is implementing from scratch. “The
initial framework upon which the service catalog will develop depends in
part upon the relative maturity of your IT organization,” says a Cisco
white paper.5 “In a situation where you might already have an
existing service catalog in place, the service cataloging process will
encompass analyzing the requirements, assessing and identifying any
particular gaps in your existing catalog with respect to best practices,
and providing recommendations to mitigate those gaps.” But if an
organization is building a catalog from the ground up, the process should
begin with a thorough analysis of the company’s business requirements, the
services it offers, its governance practices, and other key requirements.

A well-designed, well-maintained service catalog will help organizations
to reduce costs and labor by replacing manual processes with automated
ones; to manage chargeback arrangements across different departments; and
to boost user (or customer) satisfaction.6

Current View

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Cloud computing is shaping the development of service catalogs. Today’s
users are dispersed, and IT is less likely to directly control a user’s
desktop. Catalogs let organizations easily and quickly distribute
services. The cloud makes it less necessary to be directly involved:
services are preconfigured and are being designed for mass distribution.

Service catalogs are often portrayed as a key technology for enabling
cloud offerings. In a report with the blunt title, “Without a Service
Catalog, Your Public, Private, or Hybrid Cloud Is Just a Fog Bank,” CA
enterprise architect Frank Bucalo writes that when a cloud provider does
not publish its services in a catalog, “customers or potential customers
cannot understand what services are available much less what options exist
for each service. They don’t know service costs. They do not know quality
of service so they cannot do cost-benefit analysis.”Explaining
the relevance of cloud computing to service catalogs, Cisco’s Parvesh
Sethi says the following: “Cloud computing represents a major shift in the
evolution of the Internet, and as more customers migrate from traditional
IT infrastructures, the need for rapid self-provisioning and efficient
management becomes increasingly critical.”8

The development of cloud technology has influenced the design of
catalogs. “The services catalog of today differs from services catalogs
found in the initial days of SOA (Service-Oriented Architecture) in that
the underlying technology details are usually not provided to the users,”
says David S. Linthicum of Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud software and
services company.9 “The rationale is that keeping the
implementation details behind the catalog, as it were, provides IT with
the maximum flexibility to obtain resources from either private or public
clouds.” He says that this evolution is helpful for environments that
use multiple clouds.

Leading providers of cloud-based service catalog tools include the

  • Amazon
  • Axios
  • BMC
  • Broadcom
  • Cherwell Software
  • EasyVista
  • HEAT Software
  • Hornbill
  • Hewlett Packard
  • IBM
  • ManageEngine
  • ServiceNow
  • SysAid
  • TOPDesk


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The use of service catalogs is changing the relationship between IT and
employees. Traditionally, IT was hands-on and authoritative: it dictated
what resources people got, and it carried out the implementation. But under
the service catalog model, IT lets users help themselves. It assumes the
role of a provider trying to make a customer happy, not the role of a
gatekeeper controlling what users can have. Many organizations view this
change as an overdue correction. When corporate computer networks first
became widespread, IT exerted significant power, and companies often felt
that technology interests were driving decisions. The service catalog model
alters this dynamic, making IT subservient to an organization’s business
interests. Over time, business interests will change, however, so service
catalogs will need to keep pace. The use of service catalogs by government
agencies is also increasing. The federal government now lets agencies browse
the technology-based services that other agencies offer.10
Catalogs are also catching on at the state level, with Massachusetts and
North Carolina as two examples.

Over time, there might be a greater push for standardization among
service catalogs. Standardization would enable greater sharing and easier
distribution of resources. An example of an effort to push for
standardization is the EDUCAUSE paper “The Higher Education IT Service
Catalog,” which focuses on the use of service catalogs in higher
education.11 Additionally, it is projected that the market for
cloud-based IT service management (ITSM) will grow to $8.78 billion USD by
2021.12 Also, service catalogs will increasingly be accessible
via mobile devices.


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Plan the Implementation as a Project

Implementing a service catalog is a long, involved, and often disruptive
process, especially if an organization is currently using a very
traditional approach to providing employees with resources. The
implementation of a service catalog involves the following:

  • Identifying all of the resources that will be offered
  • Determining access policies for all resources
  • Implementing the technical means to advertise the services
  • Implementing the technical means to deploy services to users
  • Measuring the satisfaction of users or customers

To make this process successful, organizations need to plan the
implementation carefully and use good, thorough project management
techniques. To maintain a service catalog and ensure that it remains
relevant to business goals, an organization can routinely analyze its
strategy, measure the performance of services in the catalog, and
solicit user feedback. All of this information can be used to make changes
in a catalog as needed. In particular, picking the right technology is
important. If an organization uses a technology platform that turns out to
be ineffective or not suitable for its particular needs, it will need to
transfer its service catalog to another application, which will create even
more disruption.

Take a Customer Services Approach

Adopting a service model forces IT staff members to think in new ways.
Instead of focusing on technology, they must think about business goals
and about the experiences of end users. When possible, it is helpful to
anticipate user needs. Just as sites like Facebook continually make
changes to be more user-friendly, an IT department can routinely improve
its service catalog to make it more usable or to provide a wider feature

The changes in attitude and approach that an IT staff might adopt include
the following:

  • Services will be presented in terms that end users can easily
    understand, not in terms of the underlying technology.
  • IT staff members will enhance their skills in interpersonal
  • End users will be more involved in technology-related planning to
    ensure that the service catalog has the right content and features.
  • To promote use of the catalog, the IT staff will advertise new content
    and features, just as a business would advertise to customers.

One challenge, however, is that service catalogs can offer automation in
ways that displease customers. “While many automated practices implemented
by organizations focus on ‘low-hanging fruit,’ they do not take into account
the customer experience,” says a report on trends in the field by vendor
Axios.13 “In many cases, automation takes away the human
interaction and is a threat to the overall user experience. Organizations
must carry out process governance checks to ensure automation will increase
efficiency levels.”


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Cherwell Software:
HEAT Software:
Hewlett Packard (Enterprise):
Massachusetts Self Services Catalog:
North Carolina Self Services Catalog:

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