Service Request Catalog: Failing to Fail

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Many IT organizations fail at their first attempt to go online with Service Management via a Service Portal or Service Request Catalog. Today I’ll look at some of the reasons why and provide suggestions for succeeding the first time, through widespread engagement combined with an agile growth that maintains momentum throughout your efforts. Before beginning, clarifying some terminology is important, due to the many ways people use certain terms interchangeably:

Service Portal refers to an online portal that provides access to information and actionable services as well as directing users to other sites that might be of use to them. In this case, the Service Portal is not only the gateway to requesting IT services, but also to the Service Catalog itself, other websites customers may find useful and even web based applications. In the most extreme sense, it could be built into the user’s landing page for virtual delivery of all services and applications they need.

Service Catalog refers to the listing of services provided by IT and others, along with information about these services. Where these services have defined offerings associated with them, the Service Request Catalog (also called the Service Catalog by many tools) provides the vehicle through which the customer may request them. I use the term Service Request Catalog to distinguish the two, even though they are really two views into the same catalog of available services, one strategic and the other tactical.

Focus on the Customer

The main reason so many Service Catalog implementations fail is that they look and act like something built by IT. The problem with this is that it discourages users from shopping for the things they need. In representing only IT services, it’s also not complete from the customer’s viewpoint. Essentially, the experience is not what people are used to when using the Internet to obtain services, rather it’s one that is designed to support IT’s needs, not the customer’s.

The primary focus for ensuring success is a focus on the customer:

  • Understand their needs,
  • Understand how they shop and use the Internet,
  • Understand what they expect.

Before beginning a Service Request Catalog implementation (or revamping an existing catalog, IT organizations should study successful Internet shopping sites and their design. Additionally, they should also consider expansion beyond IT services and the end-game for their catalog.

Essentially, the easiest way to ensure a successful catalog endeavor is to consider what makes Amazon successful:

  • Scale: You can obtain everything from Amazon, even though it began as a book store. IT Request Catalogs can benefit from this concept. Starting with IT services is fine, but true adoption will come as the catalog evolves beyond IT services.
  • Familiarity: While it’s now old-hat, Amazon creates an experience that is analogous to shopping, you select what you want, add it to a shopping cart and then buy it. It’s amazing how many IT organizations ask to disable the shopping cart experience because they don’t think their customers understand it. They set all kinds of design limits to the cart experience, ultimately disrupting the familiar Internet shopping experience.
  • Functionality: The customer is not expected to be an expert, Amazon takes you through the process, suggesting items you may have forgotten but which would be useful given what was purchased. Amazon expects customers to select one item and add it to the cart at a time, but helps the customer know what else to buy. For example, they don’t bundle a laptop with case, software and other accessories, guiding them to add these individually, if needed. This keeps the ordering process simple and nimble.

Let’s look at these three success factors in more depth:

Scale:

Why invest in a Service Catalog tool and then limit it only to IT when organizations typically have several service providers, like Human Resources, Facilities, Legal, Finance, and others? From the start, the most successful catalogs will consider the global audience, even if only implemented for IT initially. This is important because the most effective catalogs are designed with the end state in mind, then implemented over time.

A common failure point in organizations is that IT starts on its own and builds a technical catalog that doesn’t ready indicate IT’s interest in supporting the global organization. It looks technical, sounds technical and offers only technical services. When another provider in the same organization considers taking their services online they hesitate to approach IT because of this. This is borne out by looking at the number of HR and Facilities organizations that stand up their own catalog without ever approaching IT, even when IT already has a catalog people are using.

A better approach for IT is to think global from the start. They can engage the other providers in an organization from the start, defining requirements and selecting tool(s) that enable the implementation of a global service catalog with either global case management capabilities or the ability to integrate to provider-specific tools easily. When IT engages the other providers at the beginning, the probability of catalog sprawl is lessened, even if the initial pilot involves only IT requests. This is the scale needed to achieve lasting success. Engaging the communications and/or marketing departments at the same time will also help IT build a catalog that is better designed and less technical in appearance.

Familiarity:

The next area to consider is shopping behavior. We learn how to shop the Internet from sites like Amazon, e-Bay and department store-like services that offer a little of everything. These are typically organized into functional departments that are meaningful to the customer and certain products can appear in more than one department.

When moving into a corporate or organizational structure, customers will seek both goods and services and the catalog design needs to consider this. Rather than creating a silo for each department within the organization, set up the catalog with the customer in mind. They need goods like equipment, supplies and office accessories as well as services. Services may come in two favors: those typically requested by an employee for themselves or those requested by a manager which affect an employee or candidate for hire. Thus, you could group services in the way a customer would be likely to access them or functionally (for example Employee Services and Manager Services), while offering goods by the type of item it includes. Equipment can be represented as a cross-functional area including all office equipment from desktops and laptops to scanners, fax machines, copiers and printers, some of which are managed outside of IT.  Employee Services might include access to change personal data or manage benefits, while Manager Services could include On-boarding and Career Development services, but also services like Departmental Moves. Organized this way the customer doesn’t have to think too hard about who provides the item, thinking instead about what they are requesting and where it could be found. Additionally, using common names vs. technical names for requests will improve search capabilities, another important feature to consider.

Functionality:

Understanding what the customer expects is easy: think Internet shopping. There are several key distinctions when shopping the Internet:

  • Items like software are delivered immediately on receipt of payment. In a corporate environment this could mean anything from providing immediate downloads for software with corporate licensing to sending a link to download the software on receipt of manager’s electronic approval.
  • Services are provided end-to-end. Typically, people are provided a means to change addresses and other contact information on line, having them take effect after validation. This translates into a benefits and payroll environment by enabling the online request and then pushing the data to the correct system automatically. Essentially, the Internet provides true self-service, which many organizations stop short of achieving, most often because they are simply afraid of the complexity or don’t want to make the financial investment. Both of these are short-sighted reasons that negatively impact the long-term customer experience.

Organizing for Success

To achieve what’s described here, IT organizations looking to implement a Service Catalog should take several steps before beginning:

  1. Cast a Wide Net for Stakeholders: Gather a widespread group of stakeholders, including other provider organizations. Success comes from the combining catalogs and case management tools into a single portal, even if the portal drives people to existing self-service options in other tools. The most important aspect of Service Portal development is to provide a single pane of glass approach, where all Service Catalogs can be reached functionally, through a single portal. Remember to include stakeholders who can assist the effort as well. As mentioned before, communications and/or marketing personal are critical to the effort as they will ensure it meets corporate branding standards and fits in the overall Internet/Intranet strategy of the organization, which is critical to long-term success.
  1. Meet the Needs of Your Organization: Investigate and address everyone’s needs, making tool decisions based on the current environment and needs of the stakeholders. If the current ITSM tool doesn’t provide the functionality needed by the organization, look to one that will. Several tools on the market include functionality beyond IT and make it easy to bring several providers into a single tool, each with a case management module designed for their function in the organization. There is no need for IT to settle or to ask other providers to settle for a catalog tool that doesn’t meet their needs or which doesn’t support connectivity through a modern-designed portal.
  2. Be Agile: Don’t be intimidated by the scale of the effort and use Agile development techniques to achieve it. A catalog is not complete in a single release, but will continue to grow over time. Plan the journey and begin with the first leg. It’s not important to finish the effort before going live. Consider two approaches:
    1. Look at the most commonly requested items across the providers and implement those first OR
    2. Build out one provider’s catalog and move to the next and so forth.

While neither is the “right” approach for every organization, there is a benefit to thinking of this from the customer’s point of view and beginning with what they need most or expect to see in the catalog, then growing it. If IT approaches others and they’re not ready, the second approach also works as it can be used to demonstrate success needed to expand the use of the online approach. The most important step towards success is to design for the future and start NOW.

Learn more about taking your services online from Service Management Online: Creating a Successful Service Request Catalog, written by this blog’s author, Phyllis Drucker. Click here to download the first chapter of the book, which includes information on how to define services and their offerings, the first step to moving from delivering services to making them available on line. It will also help you understand the important strategic distinction between the Service Catalog and its actionable cousin, the Service Request Catalog.

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Phyllis Drucker is a business process consultant at Linium. ITIL expert certified with over 20 years' experience in the disciplines and frameworks of IT Service Management as both a practitioner and consultant, she has also served the itSMF since 2004 in a variety of capacities including volunteer, board member and operations director of the US Chapter. She is a frequent contributor of knowledge to the ITSM profession, through numerous presentations, whitepapers and articles. Since 1997, her goal has been to advance the profession of ITSM leaders and practitioners worldwide by providing insight from her experiences on a wide variety of Service Management topics.