The IT services catalog

Outlining what IT delivers helps align the business and demonstrate worth.

A retired manager tells how IT at Starbucks went from muddle to organized via a service catalog.

Three years ago, Starbucks' IT department found its services as muddled as a "venti soy, decaf mocha, double shot, one pump, sugar-free vanilla, no whip." The business side was frustrated, and IT was in jeopardy of earning a reputation as a black hole. "We were really ineffective," admits Ray Schutte, Starbucks' recently retired IT manager. "It took us days or weeks to deliver the simplest, rudimentary IT services," he says. The mandate was clear. Fix this.

Schutte's solution was to create a comprehensive IT service catalog, embarked upon in early 2002 and fully launched in May. The catalog gave him a clear view into IT workflow, improved customer satisfaction and proved once and for all IT's value to the business side of the house.

Starbucks' situation isn't unique. The new mandate in corporate America might be "align IT with the business," but decoding and applying this imperative has been a challenge. "That's what every IT organization is struggling with right now," says Bill Fine, vice president for newScale, a provider of IT portfolio management services.

Network executives need to figure out how to transform IT from a repository of technical competence to an organization that manages customers well and has sound marketing strategies in place, he says.

Tips for creating an IT services catalog

Do
Design the interface to mimic consumer computer e-commerce sites.
Include transaction capabilities for ordering and tracking services.
List the features of each service, including commitments for delivery and quality.
Don't
Overwhelm the customer with technical detail or use highly technical language to describe the IT offering.
Try to tackle other IT issues — such as help desk — from within the ordering catalog.

The service catalog is primarily a method to describe and sell IT services to users, early adopters say. In the process, the catalog can demonstrate the value of IT to the business side, make it easier to worth with the IT department and improve the efficiency of IT service delivery.

The first step to a successful service-catalog initiative is to document a comprehensive list of the services that IT offers, and in terms the business can understand. Schutte was so serious about this step that at the start of work on the catalog, he turned to process consultants, who specialize in defining processes. "Spend the real money on analysis," Schutte advises. "You really have to understand what you're doing, so you can shop for a tool that fits your operation."

Once you have the list of well-analyzed services, a common mistake is to publish it to the company intranet and forget about it. Information-only catalogs don't provide value to the IT department or the business side, and they often end up gathering dust and taking up valuable server space.

Customers must be able to order the services, complete authorization forms and track the progress of their requests. To the end users, an interactive IT service catalog provides a familiar shopping experience. "People are accustomed to making sophisticated IT service request through catalogs," Fine says, pointing to online shopping portals such as Dell's Web site, Amazon.com and eBay. "They expect the same kind of transparency and interactivity from their IT organization."

Catalogs also must include a method for collecting customer feedback. While this is useful for improving the catalog, it also can help align IT with the business. Orders and feedback work in tandem to track service ordering trends, delivery and fulfillment timetables, and customer satisfaction issues. That data can then be used to put IT's resources toward serving the business better, as demonstrated by the business side's shopping patterns.

Organizations also can use catalogs to implement corporatewide standardization, often a monumental task. "No more one-on-one conversations with the tech architect just to get a server," Fine says. "Let's give people four options. Push 80% of people to chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Sure, every once in a while you need to make a banana split, but the catalog enables you to preserve the avenue for the exceptions while driving people to standards."

Ray Schutte

Detailed order forms prevent back-and-forth clarification calls and provide a simple interface for tracking an order's status to keep customers informed. Before implementing its IT services catalog, a Fortune 500 financial-services company on the West Coast averaged three to six clarification calls per order. After implementation, those calls were almost eliminated, and the customer's overall experience of dealing with IT was dramatically improved, says the IT manager, who requested anonymity.

However, creating an IT service catalog can be a double-edged sword where outsourcing is concerned. With the catalog's statistics, IT's worth can be better judged. If your IT department is a better value than an outsourcer, you can use the service catalog to prove it. If, on the other hand, an outsourcer offers a better deal, this also will show in plain figures.

"If you don't understand the cost of providing your own services, you have no defense when an outsourcer claims they can do it cheaper," says the financial services company's IT manager.

Outsourcing and a reduction of IT head count did follow this company's implementation of the IT services catalog, though this "was always part of the plan," he says, adding that the catalog became the yardstick by which to monitor outsourcer costs. "You need to understand what you offer in order to hold the outsourcer accountable," he says.

Schutte agrees. "Your job is to keep yourself and your IT department competitive. One of the biggest mistakes is thinking someone else will manage it for you."

The IT service catalog places the power to make or break the IT business in the hands of the IT managers. The business just wants IT to work. The service catalog ensures that IT works well.

Schaibly is a freelance writer in Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at sschaibly@aol.com.

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