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
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.