IT Service Catalog-- Rebuilding trust between IT and the business

Business unit executives and end users alike don't trust that IT is working on the right things to move the business forward. As a vehicle for communicating and marketing IT services to both business decision-makers and end users, the IT Service Catalog can help address this trust deficit on two fronts.

By Rodrigo Fernando Flores

The disconnect between business goals and IT priorities consistently ranks among the top three issues facing CIOs year after year. While the specific wording varies from survey to survey, the strong message is the same -- business unit executives and end users alike don't trust that IT is working on the right things to move the business forward.

At the heart of this problem is a breakdown in communication that impacts trust from multiple directions:

  • End users don't know what to expect from IT, so they set their own expectations.
  • Business unit executives want more transparency into what they get for their IT budget, yet they lack visibility into the return on their IT spend.
  • Most IT organizations communicate using terminology and context that is difficult for business unit executives and end users to understand.
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Re-establishing trust means that IT must fundamentally change the way it views its relationship with business units and end users. A critical first step is a fundamental shift to a provider-customer relationship where IT continually markets the value of the services offered -- where business unit executive and end user expectations are not only correctly set, but consistently met.

Gone are the days when the internal IT organization owns a monopoly on service delivery. Today’s business unit executives view IT operations like any other vendor. Poorly executed service today means they may shift to another vendor tomorrow.

The IT Service Catalog

More and more leading IT organizations are deploying a Service Catalog as the cornerstone of their shift to a more service-driven and customer-focused approach, or as the foundation of their ITIL initiative. As a vehicle for communicating and marketing IT services to both business decision-makers and end users, the IT Service Catalog can help address this trust deficit on two fronts.

The most important requirement for any Service Catalog is that it should be business-oriented, with services articulated in business-relevant terms. Yet depending on the audience, users will require a very different view into the Service Catalog. IT organizations should thus consider a two-pronged approach to their Service Catalog:

  • The executive-level, service portfolio view of the Service Catalog used by business unit executives to understand how IT’s portfolio of service offerings map to business unit needs. This is referred to in this article as the "service portfolio."
  • The employee-centric, request-oriented view of the Service Catalog that is used by end users (and even other IT staff members) to browse for the services required and submit requests for IT services. For the purposes of this article, this view is referred to as a "service request catalog."

The business executive view

Business executives need to gain visibility into the value delivered by IT infrastructure and operations. According to a recent Gartner and IBM survey of 456 senior business executives, only 17% of finance executives agreed with the statement "Our investments in IT are delivering business value."

As the economic buyer of IT services, these executives look for a portfolio view of the service offerings provided by IT at the budget planning level. They demand greater transparency and they expect the service portfolio to help them answer questions like, "What does IT do? Why does IT cost so much? Is IT doing a good job?" 

An executive-level service portfolio should describe the broad categories of service offerings, with service tier options and cost elements. Examples of service offerings represented in a service portfolio may include application hosting for an ERP system; or e-mail with gold, silver, and bronze service level options. Taking the portfolio a step further, services can be represented in the context of how IT supports business processes -- such as the infrastructure to operate a kiosk at a retail location, or the underlying IT services that enable the order-to-cash process.

Once this portfolio of services has been defined, business decision-makers can browse the service offerings and drill into the associated agreements, service components, and financial information. With a business-oriented view of available services, including key cost and quality metrics, they have greater visibility into the business value of IT. IT relationship managers and service level managers can create a tailored portfolio of offerings, establish agreements, set pricing and objectives, monitor performance, forecast demand, and track service consumption for each business unit customer.

The end-user view

End users want improved service quality and reliability. What's critical is that the day-to-day IT services they need to perform their jobs are easily accessible, delivered consistently, and of high quality. Yet a TNS National Omnibus Survey found that 43 percent of employees are dissatisfied with the responsiveness of IT service delivery. A common complaint from the end user audience is "Why is IT so difficult to work with?  Why does it take IT so long to fulfill a simple request?"

End users need an actionable and easy-to-use service request catalog that describes the products and services they are entitled to order or request from IT. Items in this view of the Service Catalog typically include orderable services where the user initiates a request that results in a series of delivery activities. Examples of orderable services include the traditional IMAC (install, move, add, change) services required to provision a new PC, upgrade an email account, or provide access to an application.

Other examples in the service request catalog include more "advanced" IT services -- such as application enhancement requests, or even IT-to-IT requests like setting up a new server to host an application. As the central intake point for all IT demand, users will also expect to submit "break/fix" incidents through the service request catalog. Finally, this view of the catalog may also provide FAQs and other information-only content readily accessible to end users.

The end-user view of the Service Catalog offers a way to standardize service deliverables, establish service level expectations, and market services to end users. The user can quickly browse or search for available services in the catalog, submit a request, and monitor delivery status -- making it as easy for employees to find and order IT services as it is for consumers to order a book on

Time to get moving

Individually, both the end user and executive view of the Service Catalog can help to improve internal customer satisfaction and re-establish trust between IT and the business. When adopted as part of a complete IT Service Portfolio Management solution, IT organizations find they are able to quickly transform the IT-business relationship.

There are multiple paths to realizing the benefits of a Service Catalog -- whether starting with the portfolio of services for business executives or publishing the service request catalog for end users. IT organizations should begin by focusing initially on the view that addresses the most pressing challenges in their interactions with the business.

Whatever you do, get started with your Service Catalog now. Every moment delayed is time wasted and opportunity lost -- IT can't afford to let the distrust prolong and fester.

Rodrigo Fernando Flores is the founder and chief technology officer of newScale, with more than 20 years experience in software development and IT management. He is a member of the IT Service Management Forum, and has advised several leading Fortune 500 companies in their Service Catalog initiatives.