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Don't let your IT service catalog go to waste: Six maintenance tips

You worked hard to launch your IT service catalog. How about maintaining it? We asked four ITSM experts for tips for making sure your IT service catalog doesn't sit on a shelf.

Building an IT service catalog is hard work, as IT Service Management expert David Cannon explained in "The fundamentals of launching an IT service catalog," the second installment of our ITSM series. Even the task of defining the services provided by IT is rarely as simple as it sounds. Part of the difficulty is terminology: Business and IT speak different languages. The larger challenge, according to experts, is getting IT experts to think in terms of business outcomes.

"One of the biggest hurdles in implementing the service catalog is agreeing what a service is," agreed Sharon Taylor, chief architect for the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), our interview with whom ("Getting clarity on the ITIL framework") kicked off the ITSM series.

Once the definitions are hammered out, begins the gargantuan effort of mapping the agreed-on services to all the IT components required to provide them. The technology components also need to be described in the IT service catalog, but at a "layer behind" the menu of services presented to IT customers (both internal and external), Cannon and Taylor advised.

So, having put in the hard work to understand your service catalog, you certainly don't want it to go to waste. Here, four ITSM experts offer their advice on maintaining an IT service catalog: Cannon, head of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s ITSM practice and co-author of the Service Operation book in ITIL Version 3; Taylor, ITIL chief architect and president of Aspect Group Inc., an ITSM consulting and training company in Ottawa; Pierre Bernard, chief examiner for ITIL service catalog certification for APMG-International, an ITIL accrediting company in the U.K., and head of education for Pink Elephant, a Toronto-based ITIL training firm; and Evelyn Hubbert Oehrlich, senior analyst and ITIL specialist at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. Here are their tips for making sure the IT service catalog doesn't sit on a shelf.

Lead by example: The cardinal rule of any major IT-business initiative is buy-in from the top ranks, and the IT service catalog is no exception. Senior management from IT and the business must make a commitment to use the catalog. "The service catalog is far more likely to have a cultural change effect and success when championed by senior management than if it is a missive put out by midlevel management," Taylor said.

Don't implement the IT service catalog as an IT project: "When things go wrong, it is because the service catalog is considered an IT project rather than a business transformation initiative," Taylor said. Another mistake is thinking of the catalog as a project, period. Projects imply a finish date. "[The] IT service catalog is a way of life," Bernard said, so there have to be mechanisms for continual service improvement.

Continual service improvement includes checking that the menu's items accurately reflect the terms and services of the IT service catalog and meet the current demands of the business, Cannon said.

Over-engineering a service catalog and making it too complicated, both technologically and for the customer to use, just blows the whole thing out of the water.

Sharon Taylor, chief architect for ITIL

Make people accountable: Responsibilities for maintaining and using the IT service catalog should be spelled out in people's job descriptions, with metrics for measuring performance. Does the CIO want to reward only the people who put out fires or instead, the real heroes of ITSM, the people who make sure no fires gets started? "Does the CIO instead reward the people who provide an environment that is consistent, repeatable and free of issues?" Bernard asked.

Don't over-engineer the catalog: The words complex and comprehensive are not synonymous, Taylor reiterated. "Over-engineering a service catalog and making it too complicated, both technologically and for the customer to use, just blows the whole thing out of the water."

Appoint an IT service catalog manager and consider setting up a service management office, or SMO: The IT service catalog manager is responsible for managing the outbound relationship with customers and for bringing back what he learns from customers to make adjustments to the provisioning of IT services. "In some cases, there is a business relationship manager who sits between IT and the business," Cannon said. "The service manager needs to be tied to that person."

Make measurements visible: "Don't be afraid of metrics and of making them visible. Even bad scores are better than no scores," Hubbert Oehrlich said. That said, one of the reasons it's so difficult to measure service management is that it crosses so many components and constituencies, she added. When associating actions with metrics, think SMART, she advised: specific, measurable, actionable, repeatable and timely.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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