How many Service Catalogs do we need

By ITIL® from Experience©

When talking about preparing a service catalog the discussion usually evolves to the number of service catalogs needed.

Even though ITIL® refers to the service catalog as one, it does state that there are “customer-facing services that are visible to the business; and supporting services required by the service provider to deliver customer-facing services.”1 Moreover, ITSM people usually recommend a User Request Catalog. This later catalog provides the information to configure the Service Catalog tool for -users to initiate the Incident Management or the Request Fulfillment process and to track progress in a self-service model. Thus, generally three catalogs are proposed: Business/Customer Service Catalog, User Request Catalog, Supporting Service Catalog.

The challenge is that three catalogs rarely reflect the "real" clients of IT since Customers and Users are not all created equal. Some are entitled to more services than others. As a result, IT management may want a service catalogue for VIPs and another for regular users (see Do we need an SLA for VIPs). Another catalog may be required for a specific business unit because it has custom services IT does not want to make generally available to others. Other catalogs would be useful to list services offered to suppliers and subsidiaries; not to mention that each IT group may want its own catalog of services it offers internally to other IT groups.

In this context concerns quickly arise about the complexity and resources needed to maintain information across all these catalogues. Discussions stretch as more opinions are voiced on what the definitive list of catalogs should be. Depending on the organization, the focus now shifts as varying viewpoints need to be reconciled in order to make a decision. From experience, a debate on the number of service catalogs required is the result of people thinking of the service catalog as a traditional mail order2 catalog, published on paper, as a PDF or as plain HTML web pages.

True enough that the dictionary defines a catalog as "a book containing a list of things that you can buy." 3 However, to catalog also means "to list or describe (something) in an organized way" 4 , which does not mean that this ‘organized way’ needs to be in a book form.

When people approach the service catalog from a database perspective as suggested by ITIL®1 then only one (1) catalog is required. Services can then be categorized as being a Customer, End User, Support service or any other type as required. Presentation views (e.g. reports) can be developed to address the needs of various audiences without having to manage multiple documents and service information across each of them. Of course, some will argue that this does not resolve anything as it simply changes the debate from: a) the number of catalogues needed to, b) the number of views required. Nonetheless, this approach removes the complexity and effort required to maintain each static catalog.

Let’s use a family to illustrate how a services database can change that debate. In a family there are people (services). Some are categorized as parents, others as children or grand-parents (Customer, End User, Supporting services). When it is time to take family photos, people can be assembled in many different ways (e.g. parents only, parents and children, children with grandparents). The result is like the picture cube in Figure1. Regardless of the picture looked at, the viewer is still looking at the same family, simply from a different viewpoint or perspective.

The benefit of a services database goes beyond the service catalog. By giving each service record a status of Pipeline, Live or Retired means that the services database can also be used as the Service Portfolio as described by ITIL®.5

Although several “catalogs” may be required to address the needs of various audiences, one (1) authoritative and definitive source of service information should exist. Moreover, it should be under change control with adequate governance.

picture of photo cude
Figure 1

Last updated on: 2015-05-04

"With responsibility for their individual catalogs, managers gain a clear understanding of the lines of business they run and the results (products and services) that they're accountable for." Meyer, Dean. Internal Market Economics , 2013. p. 193

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Service Catalogue Management

Category: ITIL Process > Service Catalogue Management

1 Service Catalogue: "(ITIL® Service Design) (ITIL® Service Strategy) A database or structured document with information about all live IT services, including those available for deployment. The service catalogue is part of the service portfolio and contains information about two types of IT service: customer-facing services that are visible to the business; and supporting services required by the service provider to deliver customer-facing services. See also customer agreement portfolio; service catalogue management." Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, 2011 http://www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx
4 Ibid
5 Service Portfolio: "(ITIL® Service Strategy) The complete set of services that is managed by a service provider. The service portfolio is used to manage the entire lifecycle of all services, and includes three categories: service pipeline (proposed or in development), service catalogue (live or available for deployment), and retired services. See also customer agreement portfolio; service portfolio management." Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, 2011 http://www.itil-officialsite.com/InternationalActivities/TranslatedGlossaries.aspx


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