What is an IT service catalog?

An IT service catalog is a database of IT resources available within an organisation, designed to provide for user needs efficiently and effectively.

When someone decides to eat out at a restaurant, often the first request they make is to see a menu. A menu provides a list of available items, sides, beverages and other options for the discerning gourmet to consider. And when something catches his or her fancy, they can easily inform the server as to their choice without having to explain in any detail. It’s an easy process, and one that most people are very familiar with.

An IT service catalog functions similarly to a restaurant menu. It allows users to browse through available IT services, hardware, software and support options. And, like a menu, it should be clearly structured and user friendly. IT service catalogs may be designed for any relevant stakeholders, from the customers themselves, to those within the organisation that may need support or easy-access to resources to deliver on customer-facing services or otherwise perform their duties.

At the close of the last century, as businesses began to incorporate more and more IT services into their standard processes and customer services, it became apparent that some form of detailed documentation would be necessary to help keep track of available IT resources.

The IT service catalog evolved to meet this need, arising from the earlier information technology infrastructure library (ITIL)—a framework that standardises the selection, planning, delivery and support of an organisation’s IT services. The concept of the IT service catalog was formally introduced in 2007 as an “IT service management best practice” of ITIL v3. Since that time, businesses have begun to rely heavily on IT service catalogs and similar databases to help ensure availability, efficiency and user satisfaction within IT services.

Because of the IT service catalog’s importance in providing user self-service, it is sometimes confused with a self-service portal. But the reality is that the two terms describe different things. Where an IT service catalog functions as a database of available services and relevant supporting information, a self-service portal is an interface that allows users to navigate knowledge bases, raise support tickets and otherwise connect with the organisation’s IT department. Oftentimes, a self-service portal may incorporate an IT service catalog.

There are many advantages to implementing and using an IT service catalog within an organisation. These benefits include the following:

Enhanced self service

An effective IT service catalog empowers employees and customers with a complete database of available services. This allows those who understand their needs most clearly to identify and request the products and services that are best suited to their situation. This advanced form of self service cuts down on the time and resources needed to resolve many user issues.

IT Service Catalog Benefits

Increased operational efficiency

A comprehensive IT service catalog is more than simply a list; it’s a resource detailing all IT services, as well as their associated availability, routing and process-execution information. This allows organisations to reduce the time and resources applied to managing individual services, thus improving efficiency across the board.

Optimal user friendliness

Collecting and presenting all relevant IT-service information in a single, easy-to-use database eliminates many of the hurdles to finding solutions and making IT requests. In its simplest form, an IT service catalog allows users to choose and request services, without having to worry about everything that goes on behind the scenes to fulfil those requests.

Improved productivity

Incorporating automation solutions into an IT service catalog allows businesses to move requests forward without need for manual intervention from IT personnel. Simple requests can be facilitated automatically, improving productivity and freeing up teams’ valuable time to focus on more-strategic tasks.

Complete visibility

An effective IT service catalog provides real-time insight into IT requests and orders. This makes it possible for administrators to review essential metrics, such as order volume and velocity and then make informed strategic decisions based on reliable data.

Heightened user satisfaction

Perhaps the single-most important advantage of an IT service catalog is that it fills an important user need. With easy access to the complete IT service database and relevant resource information, users can get more back with less time invested. This means a better overall experience and a more-satisfied user base.

An IT service catalog exists to inform users as to available services, assist them in making service requests and supplement the list of services with other relevant information. But what information should be included? And is there anything that should be left out?

When creating an IT service catalog, consider including the following details:

  • Service name
    A designating name for the service being offered, following an established and intuitive nomenclature so that users will be able to discern from the name the approximate purpose of the service.
  • Service category
    Which category the service falls into, such as hardware, software, email, data management, etc.
  • Service description
    A more-detailed definition of the service than is available from the service name.
  • Service owner
    What team or individual is responsible for fulfilling the service.
  • Service availability
    Whether the service is currently available, unavailable or may have scheduled availability.
  • SLA
    Any service level agreements (SLAs) that may have been made between the service provider and the end user detailing and defining expected service levels.
  • Service costs
    Breakdown of all associated costs of the service, if applicable.

While the above details are found commonly in service catalogs throughout different industries, there is no set standard as to exactly what must and must not be included. For example, details that are not relevant to the user, or that may be sensitive, can and should be left out of the IT service catalog.

Additionally, some businesses might choose to exclude certain services from the IT service catalog. This may be the case when their service catalog is intended only for specific users. For example, a customer-facing IT service catalog would not need to include employee-facing services and vice versa. Likewise, service catalogs may be tweaked to fit specific use cases. Leaving out service options that are neither needed nor relevant for the intended user can help eliminate redundancy and prevent option fatigue from setting in.

An IT service catalog is a tool designed to help users achieve specific objectives. As such, when creating a service catalog, it is important to first identify and outline those objectives. To help facilitate this, consider the following steps:

Gather stakeholders

A service catalog can be a large undertaking and in many cases will function as a single source of truth for service requests. It’s important to start the process of building the catalog by gathering support from key decision makers. This will make it easier to bring project goals into alignment with larger business goals and ensure that the catalog will have executive backing if it runs into any challenges.

Additionally, in this stage it’s vital to assemble a team from multiple IT areas within the organisation, so that those creating the catalog are those who truly understand the different services and processes.

Identify users and fulfilment providers

The next essential step is to identify the users who will interact with the IT service catalog. Whether these be customers or employees, understanding who they are and what services they will be using allows organisations to define and set boundaries (called entitlements) based on needs and roles.

Similarly, organisations need to clearly identify which individuals, teams or groups will be responsible for fulfilling on which requests.

Define the available services

To determine which services will be included in the IT service catalog, the company needs to take full inventory of all IT services within the organisation. This means working through any legacy service delivery methods to identify the ones that are most often requested. As these frequently used services are identified, they may also be updated and streamlined.

Next, end-user expectations should be properly managed, such as those related to timelines. Finally, all included services should be categorised based on logical connections and then tagged with relevant keywords/search terms. This not only simplifies navigation within the service catalog; it also allows for easier interpretation of reporting metrics. Also, consider bundling together related services (such as all of those related to employee onboarding), so that users can easily access all the relevant services they will need to perform specific tasks.

Design the catalog itself

The IT service catalog must be informative and detailed, but it also needs to be something that users won’t cringe away from just by looking at it. Design the Service catalog with aesthetics and usability in mind. Display the most vital details—such as costs, availability and expected date of fulfilment—upfront and resist the urge to force users to fill out overly long or detailed forms to request services.

Usability and transparency are two essential aspects at this stage. Share the information the user needs, in a way that is easy to comprehend. For example, when a service request has been submitted, design the service catalog to automatically provide status tracking and updates.

Test and deploy the catalog

With the catalog fully designed and functional, the next step is to test it with actual users. Focus groups pulled from a cross-section of users can help organisations accurately gauge user acceptance. At the same time, testing will help stakeholders determine whether the service catalog is meeting established business objectives. Collect and apply feedback to make any final revisions to the catalog.

After completing last-minute refinements, publish the catalog and bring it online for users. Ensure that the right links are directing users to the catalog and that the right marketing channels are being employed for maximise reach.

Invest in continuous improvement

Finally, continuously measure important metrics and keep track of user behaviour. This will make it easier to demonstrate the ongoing value of the IT service catalog, and to identify potential issues that should be resolved or improvements that might need to be made. By continuously monitoring service-catalog usage, businesses can ensure that the IT service catalog remains a viable and useful resource for years to come.

A service catalog is a popular solution for managing customer and employee requests, but it is not the only option available. ServiceNow, the leader in IT management solutions and workflow automation, provides several advanced solutions, all built on the award-winning Now Platform®:

Request Management

ServiceNow Request Management is an AI-powered solution to employee self-service. Request Management allows organisations to resolve common issues, follow up on services with status updates and notifications and integrate with the tools that employees already use to support work-friendly experiences automatically and intelligently.

Employee Center

Setting ServiceNow distinctly apart from other IT management providers, the Employee Center is essentially a multi-departmental employee portal that integrates with IT service catalog items and knowledge base content to provide unmatched self-service. Employee center is more than a portal; it’s an advanced engine for connecting employees from across the enterprise and giving them the support, they need to perform to their best ability.

Asset Management

Asset Management from ServiceNow is a top tool for integrating physical, technological, contractual and financial aspects of information technology assets. And, in addition to empowering organisations with the ability to manage and monitor operations, field services and vital infrastructure, Asset Management also offers asset-request solutions. This gives managers and employees a streamlined process for vital requests and offers complete transparency into asset allocation.

Finally, the ServiceNow Service Catalog makes it easy for organisations of all sizes to create and integrate effective IT service catalogs for users of all kinds. Managed through a single, centralised request portal and supported by chatbots and intelligent virtual agents, Service Catalog has all the resources and direction a business needs to build the perfect interactive database of services.

ServiceNow IT Service Catalog

Take service requests further than ever before, with ServiceNow.

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