Tuesday, 27 November 2012

We Need to Talk About the Service Catalogue

Back in 2009 one of the first posts on this blog was a link to an article I wrote with Michael Jagdeo about how much rubbish is talked about the Service Catalogue. Since that article is no longer available, and taking into account some of the recent heated discussion on Twitter and Back2ITSM perhaps it is time to re-visit the key points.

The sad thing is most of what you read or hear about the SerCat has little relationship to the real world. Of course there are people who want you, or convince themselves, that it is the most important thing ever. Usually this is because:
  • They can charge you a lot of money for their product
  • They can charge you a lot of money for a year's work helping you create a service catalogue
  • Having spent a lot of money on a product and consultancy they aren't going to admit it didn't achieve anything - so if nothing else they'll claim it moved them to ITIL v3


Before talking about the truth I guess we need to address the  two big myths,

"The service catalogue was the big innovation that distinguished ITIL v3"

Funny that, because back in 1993 we were teaching about the service catalogue on ITIL courses and you'll also find it referred to in PD0005, the BSi guide to Service Management published in 1998.

To be fair back then the guidance was so vague that you were pretty much on your own. The examples we used to hand out on courses were orientated towards sales and projects - so a new external customer or a new project starting up could be made aware of the options available to them in choosing new services. In the service catalogue you might find the gold, silver and bronze contingency options, and whichever one the customer chose would end up in the SLA.

The other thing to point out here is that much of the utility that  ITIL now attaches to the service catalogue and portfolio would still have been done under previous versions of ITIL but under different headings. For instance we preached that CMDB and the cost model needed to be tightly coupled .Services were a "virtual CI" and output cost units equated to services. We also recognised that portfolio management was going on within the wider context of the IT department.

OK, that's a history lesson. It doesn't have a material impact on whether or not you should be implementing a service catalogue.


"Introducing a customer facing Service Catalogue improves the customer perception of IT"

What gets me about this one is that no one seems to ever ask the customer. Whilst I don't subscribe to the view that all of ITIL is too theoretical this is one case where I do think ITIL has lost touch with reality and swallowed the kool-aid of wishful thinking. It amounts to

"We think the customer should like it, so they must do"

So what  happens in reality? The IT department spends a year producing a two inch thick document, or an impenetrable Sharepoint site. How does the business react?

"Wow, that's fabulous, after giving you millions of pounds year after year you can finally tell us what it is you actually do?"


If you are a CIO who needs a service catalogue project to identify what you do for your customers I think you should seriously consider another career. Especially when, in the majority of cases, when the business open the Service Catalogue they find it almost totally inaccessible and that it talks about services in a language that is resolutely unaware of just how "inside-out" it is.

What the business actually think is:

"Are you telling me you guys didn't know what it is that you do?"
"There is nothing in here that I recognise as a service"
"How is this supposed to help me?"
"Well I won't need sleeping tablets anymore"

Now some of you will be thinking that this only applies to a badly constructed service catalogue and that a good one would deal with all of these issues. The problem with that is I still haven't seen an example of a "good" service catalogue that stands up to scrutiny.

Hands up here, I include the ones that I've occasionally been forced to write.

At this point let me quote that brilliant Irish comedian Dara O Briain at one of his less successful early gigs

'This is awful, I am causing you more pain than you are causing me.’

So let me suggest...

What You Really Need to Do

First of all take away from ITIL the bits that are good and useful.

  • You and your customers do need to know what services you offer.
  • Different audiences at different points in the service lifecycle need different views of your service portfolio 
  • Services are customer facing 
  • Services are what you should cost and price
If your customers ask you what you do that adds value for them then you don't know your services.
The Architectural Review Board need a different view of your services to the one the HR Director needs, and that is different again from the one a service designer needs. What they all need is different from what you need yourself to manage services internally.
Database tuning is NOT a customer facing service.
If you can't easily integrate IT costs and process with the business cost model then you probably aren't costing services.

That's pretty much it really, but here are some more tips.

Understanding your services doesn't mean being able to look them up in a catalogue.  Watch how a good salesmen sells. What they understand is the customer need and how they make the customer feel that need has been fulfilled. That means being able to engage the customer in a conversation about what a service means for them.

Make sure you understand the fundamental difference between an aspirational service  catalogue aimed at customers and a transactional request catalogue aimed at users. Integrate the request catalogue with the service desk self service portal.

Understand that business services aren't simple to identify - the business operates a complex value network.

Understand how good cost models work and apply that thinking to your service model.

And most important of all...

If you are going to build a service catalogue "for the business" at least have the decency to ask them what they want it to look like and how they think they might use it.



Friday, 9 November 2012

My First ITSM Conference

To balance out my own view of this year's itSMF UKconference I've asked Andrea Kis to provide a practitioner's perspective:

" I have been always a keen follower of itSMF and its events, contributors, publications and occasionally I have even managed to get hold of the Service Talk Magazine to read too. Sadly so far I haven't worked for organisations who were members so attending the annual ITSM conference was always a very distant wish.

This year, however, thanks to an amazing offer from Matthew Burrows at BSM Impact to collaborate on an article about Business Relationship Management, I have found myself being involved with itSMF UK despite not being a member. Our article was published in the summer edition of Service Talk Magazine and later it became a finalist in the Submission of the Year Awards.

Then thanks to even more kindness and generosity by Sophie Danby of Ovum and Ben Clancy and itSMF UK I was invited to ITSM12 taking place in London.

I was incredibly excited about the conference because I believe that meeting like-minded professionals is the perfect opportunity to broaden my own knowledge, share and exchange ideas and learn a lot. As a comparative novice in the Service Management industry I was very excited to be meeting some of my ‘ITSM Heroes’ in person and I was very much looking forward to seeing the presentations of those who I have seen presenting on other conferences and I've learnt to expect good thought provoking topics from.

What surprised me at the conference was the one shade of gray of the delegate ‘pool’. There were moments when I’ve felt I was possibly in the wrong place, as if I had wondered into a Victorian British Gentlemen’s Club in St James’s. It made me wonder where are the new faces in Service Management, where are the newcomers, where are the new generation passionate service managers who can continue and build upon the established building blocks of this industry? I wonder what can be done to bring out more of the ‘freshers’ into the light?

I think I would try and reach out to more practitioners, engage with them before the conference, give platforms to more real life studies and practitioner experiences. It is the perfect opportunity for all on different experience levels to get together.

I love networking, and being a bit of a Miss Chatterbox [Editor’s note: We’d noticed] I really enjoyed all the conversations I had with fellow delegates. It would  be good however if delegates could have more opportunity to be able to bond and chat without having to do so on the vendor exhibition floor, on the limited space lunch area and bar or between seminars when you need to rush to the next presentation.

I was also surprised to see how many ‘theorists’ attended and how rare it was to bump into a real life practitioner, someone  who doesn't just preach the best practice theories and frameworks but actually does them. It would be great to see more presentations by practitioners to see how something can be achieved and done. I would love to hear about CSI, problem management, business and IT alignment, basically all those exciting hot topics and theories told in practice, in real life. I may be too passionate but it frustrates me if I hear or read too much about what doesn't work, how it should work or what should be done about it, yet I don't see many practical solutions and real life examples.

Because of this reason I thoroughly enjoyed Angela Wint’s (London Borough of Merton) presentation Turning Adversity into Advantage – Supporting the Council’s Transformation Strategy It was an excellent insight into the journey of the Council’s transformation agenda and how was it supported by IT.

Also I have been extremely taken by Mark Smalley’s presentation Reinvent IT Service Management and Pre-empt Occupy IT which made me realise that I am a partisan revolutionary service manager who has never been limited by thinking inside the ‘IT box’. After his presentation I was even more determined to go poke and persuade others working in IT to open their eyes and stop worrying about the so called gap between IT and the Business and between IT processes and Business processes. That gap is something we created for ourselves in a space where there shouldn't be any gap at all.

It was a real pleasure to meet Paul Wilkinson finally whose blog is a big favorite of mine since I’ve read an excellent rant about why everything is IT’s fault

I have always had a deep respect for Stuart Rance and Aale Roos so I was delighted to meet them in person. Aale’s Unlearning of ITIL and Stuart’s common sense approach to service availability is something everyone should learn from. Meeting Kevin Holland, who was weirdly kind and made me laugh a lot, embarrassing Jimbo Finister with my outspoken battle comments (he will hide under chairs when Hurricane Kis will approach next) and finally meeting Mark Lillycrop in person were other peak points of my conference experience I will fondly remember.

It was great to discover that I am not the only maniac who demands amazing quality of service and observes service processes everywhere. This discovery even resulted in inventing a buzzword for 2013 with Michael Busch (ServiceBlub) and Mark Smalley: OCSD (Obsessive-Compulsive-Service-Disorder). This is something we want to build upon and expand it’s possibilities so watch this space.

I would also like to say a few words about meeting Kathryn Howard who is a delightful, beautiful lady with a strong intelligent presence to look up to. The service management industry needs strong women so other women can be inspired to follow a career path into it.

All in all it was an excellent experience attending ITSM12. Thank you for those who made it possible for me to attend and my thanks to everyone whose task was to make the event possible and made everything run smoothly. Ben disguised as a wedding party organiser with an ear piece and organiser in his hand, the facilitators, guests and presenters alike."

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


This year was the 21st itSMF Conference. I nearly didn't go. I'm glad I did. Some people didn't.

What more do you need to know?

The event has settled comfortably into the two day London based format and this year everything from registration through to the pacing of the awards dinner seemed slicker than ever. The two day format does come with a couple of catches. A 9.15 start makes a very long day for those of us traveling to the event  on the Monday. I had to be up at 5 am and found my bed at 1 am . Needless to say others were up much later than that in the bar enjoying the now mandatory piano sessions with Matt Burrows and Barclay Rae. With only two days and six streams the chances are also higher that interesting sessions are going to clash with each other.

What one person finds interesting might not be what others want to hear. I'm very conscious of this whenever we discuss events on the podcast  because we go to so many conferences that it is hard for us to judge their value to first time and practitioner attendees. Most of the feedback I heard was positive, and that certainly came across in the two very animated conference review podcasts we recorded and which should be out soon. I've also got Andi Kis to write a review from her perspective as a practicing service manager.

Talking of feedback I was disappointed by the low level of Tweeting going on using the #ITSM12 hashtag. Mostly it was the usual suspects, which was fine but they also tended to all be in the same sessions. It would have been good to have had tweet walls around the venue as well instead of the odd single, and often very out of date tweet going up on the screen. Whilst I'm talking of feedback the conference app was a useful tool but could do with a few tweeks to make its use more obvious.since it took me quite awhile to discover where the session  feedback button was. Perhaps I'm just a bit slow when it comes to all this technology malarkey.

So what about the sessions?

Simon Wardley was an interesting opening keynote speaker who delivered the sort of data and content rich material I like. Others in the audience I spoke to seemed to like it too. I'm not sure if any of us took in everything he said but for me it certainly kick started a conference experience that was about disruptive evolution rather than desperately trying to maintain the status quo.

Being the TCS European Lead for Service Integration I couldn't really resist Steve Morgan's session on Service Integration. It was one of many sessions this time around that I thought would have benefited from a longer time slot because SI is a big topic with lots to debate. I believe an upcoming itSMF London  and South East Regional group meeting in January is going to do just that with Kevin Holland scheduled to be one of the speakers. As for Steve's conclusions, well it is interesting to see that all of us involved with SI recognize that it is a developing area and neither suppliers nor in house IT departments are really up to speed on it yet.

Speaking of Kev Holland I missed his session on Service Integration and the cloud so I had to wait until we recorded the podcast with him to discover that "What the Romans did for us" was to coin the phrase caveat emptor. I still don't know what Boris Johnson did for us though.

If I'm honest I was a little disappointed in the one practitioner war story session I went to. Angela Wint from Merton Council has been a great guest on the podcast and was a well deserving winner of the 2011 ITSM Champion award so perhaps my expectations were set too high and in contrast to Steve's session I thought the material on introducing self service was stretched out to fill the slot. Others raved about it though.

I missed out on a lot of the official conference activity over lunch and the early afternoon whilst having the sort of intense ITSM conversations that only happen at an event like this. I'm sure I'm not alone in finding  the networking and discussions that take place provide a lot of the value of attending these conferences. For me it was a personal delight to meet up with so many international speakers and visitors, especially those I hadn't seen since Pink 11. Equally it was enjoyable to broker some introductions between my connections.

It wasn't until I was on the way home after day 2 that I realized how few exhibitors I'd spoken to even though I had a long list of those I wanted to chat with. In fact I'm not sure any of them even managed to scan my badge. I also didn't get to meet many new faces although I know many were at the event for the first time. The exhibition was clearly a success with people were showing a genuine interest in the stands they were visiting rather than just killing time. APMG deserve a special mention for the mini seminars on a wide range of topics they were offering on the stand as well as some very refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails.

The real interest for me was in the first two sessions I went to on day 2.

Aale Roos and I have been collaborating for some time on the concept of Service Desk 2.0 and he has been making waves with his message that it can be useful to Unlearn ITIL. In the Nordics this has led to him being recognized as a major contributor to the ITSM industry. Having seen some of the venom that has been unleashed on him by the old guard here and on other blogs I was intrigued to see how his session was going to be received. I'd already been told there was disquiet in the iTSMF UK about its content, so I was keen to get a ringside seat.

I think Aale himself knows that the thinking behind Unlearning ITIL still needs some work. The result is that it is easy to find individual elements of the presentation to pick on and pull apart and in doing so to believe you are undermining the whole concept. I'm afraid that's exactly what one well known member of the audience did. It made for some interesting traffic on twitter.

My take-aways on the subject at the moment are:

  • ITIL is claimed to best practice but  even in basic areas such as incident and problem management what ITIL suggests isn't in line with Lean, ToC, Agile, and  (non-ITIL) Service Design thinking or the best approaches to those subjects outside of ITSM
  • The customer and user view of service expectations is evolving much more rapidly than the underlying ITIL operating model
  • Education that focuses on what ITIL says distracts delegates from exploring how to make ITSM work in practice
I'm sure Aale will comment himself on whether that is a fair representation of his position, but I have to say reading what I've just written it makes perfect sense to me and echoes what I'm seeing in the real world.

Aale did make a point of stressing in the podcast that he isn't advocating throwing the ITIL baby out with the bathwater.

The session led to probably my favourite tweet of the conference, from Clare Agutter

Their tiny arms make it hard to tweet #itsmdinosaur

If retweets are anything to go by though I think Mark Smalley's session probably produced the most popular tweet of the event, and since I sent it I got the benefit of all the klout:

IT is Something the business don't understand delivered by people they don't trust

Mark, whose job title seems to have changed from IT Paradigmologist to Ambassador, gave an inspiring session on the reality of trying to understand the business and how BiSL might help. One comment of his that got the room clapping but divided opinion was

Ban SLAs

Let us be honest SLAs don't really capture the essence of the true service that the customer wants, and as we know metrics drive behaviours so if the targets are sub-optimal so is the service.

I spent the last two hours of the conference recording two episodes of the podcast and I really wish we'd done them as a formal session in front of an audience because the debates were really powerful. So let me thank our international band of contributors

Kaimar Karu, Stuart Rance, James Norris, Ros Satar, Kathryn Howard, Kevin Holland, Aale Roos and Ben Clacy. Unfortunately my lens wasn't wide enough to get them all in. Ben's contribution was linked to the upcoming joint venture "sale" of ITIL and his time was very much appreciated when I'm sure he had better things to do with the conference coming to a close.

I did feel that both overall attendance was down, and some sessions were very poorly attended  so I'm waiting to hear what the official figures were. I did notice some companies and individuals were noticeable by their absence, and a few people told me that with money being tight they might got to the SDI conference instead next year.

Overall conclusion? As always it was an enjoyable event and it was great that this year there were a few more sessions pushing the boundaries and leaving ITIL trailing in their wake. Will I definitely be going next year? Well that depends on a lot of factors but I'm not a very representative member of the audience. If you haven't ever been to one, or you haven't been for a couple of years then I think it is a good investment.