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SMBs building IT service catalogs on their own terms

SMBs are choosing their own IT service catalog building blocks as ITIL proves too resource intensive.

More than 300,000 individuals worldwide have taken IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) exams since January 2009, according to anecdotal research gathered by IT Service Management consulting firm Pink Elephant. That isn't necessarily translating into full-out IT service catalog implementations based on ITIL practices, however -- not at midmarket companies, at least.

Many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are opting to develop an  IT service catalog on their own terms, having suffered resource drain by following methodologies recommended within the broad ITIL Service Strategy and Service Design frameworks.

An IT service catalog brings order to what can potentially be chaotic: IT service delivery. The catalog helps IT shops define the services the business needs and automates the process for requesting and paying for the services. On the IT side, it gives administrators set policies for change, incident and configuration management, among other processes.

Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data, said he's a "huge" proponent of the order that ITIL practices can bring to such areas of the business as regulatory compliance. However, he added, it's not necessarily well suited for IT service delivery.

"We started [an IT service catalog] to a very minor extent and quickly realized how hellish it is," he said. "The idea [of having an ITIL service catalog] is outstanding, but unless you have a fleet of people who can manage the metrics -- how the services are performing, if you are living up to those metrics and how well you are maintaining services -- it is an exercise in futility."

Loveland, Colo.-based Kroll Factual Data, a 380-employee division of Kroll Inc., has adopted many ITIL processes for change management, and is a better-run organization because of it, he said. However, he cautioned, applying change management and configuration management best practices to all aspects of IT and IT services is not realistic.

It's more realistic to use ITIL as a "business tool, and not a tool to run your business" he said, adding that SMBs interested in developing an ITIL service catalog -- or any service catalog, for that matter -- should start with four areas:

  • A service description.
  • The service-level agreements or a basic time frame to complete the service.
  • The cost to complete the service (measured in man-hours, actual dollars, etc.).
  • Any specific steps that can be listed that are required to complete the service (basic outline of steps performed).

With the recent release of Microsoft's System Center Service Manager, Steffen said his team may take another crack at an IT service catalog but will let the tool functionality, vs. ITIL methodologies, guide development.

Service Manager is Microsoft's recently released service desk, or platform for automating IT Service Management best practices. The product is based on the Microsoft Operations Framework and ITIL practices, and is integrated with Microsoft's other systems management products: System Center Configuration Manager and System Center Operations Manager.

Microsoft is not the only IT service catalog platform game in town. FrontRange Solutions USA Inc.'s FrontRange ITSM, ITSM and VMware Inc.'s recently purchased Infra are affordable options as well, said George Spalding, an executive vice president at IT management consulting firm Pink Elephant in Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Creating a service catalog from scratch

Jeff Kadlec, IT director of Ridley Inc., a holding company for animal feed and nutrition companies such as Feed-Rite and McCauley Bros., has had his share of ITIL certifications over the years. And the ITIL practices he learned are reflected in the company's IT service catalog.

He and his team built an IT service catalog based on SharePoint and Microsoft Windows Workflow processes that allows employees to make individual service requests for an application.

"They can ask for wireless, new desktops, a new report out of the ERP system or IT training on Office 2010," he said. "The request is automatically sent to the right person on our team."

The idea [of having an ITIL service catalog] is outstanding, but unless you have a fleet of people who can manage the metrics … it is an exercise in futility.

Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect, Kroll Factual Data

He said he doesn't believe in the ITIL service catalog practice of making automatic chargebacks to the business.

"I think [automatic] chargebacks isolate IT from the business, and with how expensive [IT] is, we want that interaction so the requestor sees the value in the service and what we're doing," he said.

He, like many IT executives, chose the ITIL practices that work best for his organization.

Pink Elephant's Spalding agrees that many companies will be overwhelmed when faced with implementing 24 ITIL processes within a year. "Focus on IT operations, what needs help, and focus on the pain right up front," he said. "ITIL has some processes that solve those pains -- change management being the No. 1 pain."

A starting point for SMBs could be an order request fulfillment portal, he said. This automates service requests and doesn't involve a full-out service catalog implementation. Think of it as a site for easily automated requests such as a new laptop, vs. an IT service catalog in which the request is for 700 new desktops and the core automated services needed for those employees: email, OS, applications, access permissions, storage, etc. The requestor decides who gets access to which services and how the department will be billed.

And remember: Configuration management is a necessity you will eventually have to face.

"I would say that 90% of organizations get into ITIL for incident, problem and change management, make some quick wins, and say 'That must be ITIL,'" Spalding said. "If you really want to define services, put them in a catalog, and make promises about how well you'll provide them to users, then configuration management becomes a necessity."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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