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Modern ITSM Practices: The Customizable Service Catalog

itsm best practices service catalog
Let's start basic: What is ITSM? The simple definition is the strategy through which an organization delivers IT services to its customers (in most cases, internal employees). But the truth is, the definition of service management is changing. It varies across different organizations. It’s expanding beyond IT. Technology is evolving, and organizational service needs can change quickly. Cookie-cutter solutions have failed to meet expectations, both for requesters and providers. In fact, internal customer satisfaction scores are significantly lower than external customer scores.

The service catalog is like a restaurant menu for requesters.

That’s the problem, in a nutshell. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider. Service needs are unique to each organization. In fact, they’re unique to different parts of the organization. But at the heart of the problem is one central question: How do we ensure successful service delivery for our users? The customizable service catalog is the most important solution to this problem.

What is a service catalog?

Simply put, the service catalog is like a restaurant menu for requesters. The process of submitting a service request should be easy for users, just like customers at a restaurant. You know how it works when you dine out. Sit down, check the menu. Find what you’re looking for. Sometimes, the waiter has follow-up questions for more information. Once you order, the kitchen has everything it needs from you, and your meal will be out as quickly as possible. It’s the same idea with a service catalog. Users order from the menu of service catalog items that you provide. Your service management solution will act as the menu and the waiter. Depending on the item they choose, you will have custom fields set up to collect any additional information pertaining to that specific request. This way, you’ll collect all the data that your technicians need upon the creation of the request, with no need for back-and-forth. There are a few key differences between the service catalog and the restaurant menu. First of all, you can customize roles and permissions within your service management strategy so that not all service catalog items are available to all users. Maybe you don’t want to grant the “travel request” item to all users; you don’t have to. It would be as if a restaurant menu were customized to remove all meat dishes for vegetarians. In addition, users can easily request items that aren’t on your service catalog menu. If they can’t find their particular request in the service catalog, they can submit a ticket through the portal. If users are frequently requesting an item that isn’t offered, anyone with a license can create that item and build it into the catalog, so it’s an agile way to offer services.

Why do you need a service catalog?

No matter the organizational needs, everyone needs to communicate service requests efficiently. The larger an organization, the more different kinds of users they’ll need to connect. Departments and roles are larger and more diverse. The service catalog can bring everything together if it’s properly constructed. It can also mold in the shape of an organization’s evolving needs.

The service catalog can bring everything together if it’s properly constructed.

The idea is to build an engine that will automate and/or simplify as many requests, tasks, approvals, and business processes as possible. This can include everything in the organization from hardware procurement to vacation requests. The more items in your service catalog, the more quickly and efficiently you can serve your users. Keep in mind that you can continue to add to your service catalog as you recognize new opportunities, or as business processes change.

How do you build a service catalog?

Now that you recognize the value of the service catalog, it’s time to start building. Though some of your business processes are complex and multi-layered, it’s actually fairly simple to construct a functional and robust service catalog. There are three key areas in each service catalog workflow that need to be configured.
  1. Item Description / Vitals

Every service catalog item needs a name and a description. Other common details include images or costs for the request (usually as it pertains to product requests). This should be fairly straightforward. Requesters will see a list of these names -- that’s how they’ll choose the item they’re looking for. Names should be simple, straightforward, and easy for users to identify, such as “Time Off Request.” The description should confirm that the item is what the user was looking for, and provide any additional details. For example, it might say, “Fill out the following information and your time off request will be submitted to your manager.”
  1. Variables

Remember how the service catalog cuts out the need for a back-and-forth between the user and the technician? The variables section is how you achieve it. This section of the service catalog item acts as a form for the requester to fill out. The idea here is to solicit any information from the requester that the service desk will need in order to complete the request. The modern service desk will offer a variety of options to extract the information. For example, an onboarding request could include a variable that asks, “What type of laptop?” This would be an appropriate place for a drop down menu of all the laptops your organization offers. The same request might also include a variable that asks, “For which applications will employees need access?” Here, there might be a picklist that includes dozens of business tools, and the requester can choose all that apply. You can set up as many variables as you want within a request, and you can make responses mandatory in order to submit the request. This way, you’ll ensure the request arrives at the service desk with all of the information that your technicians need.
  1. Process

This section is where you build out the back-end response to a request. This includes building a workflow, delegating tasks, and automating approvals. Every request kicks off a series of tasks that progress sequentially until completion. You can set certain tasks to run concurrently if it makes sense for the request. The processes within the request can be fully customized to fit the organizational needs. You can create condition sets to run a task or approval only if certain conditions are met. These are “if, then” conditions. For example, if Salesforce is chosen as a required application for the new hire, only then is a task created for setup of a new Salesforce account. If Salesforce isn’t chosen, no task is needed. Concurrent tasks, conditional tasks, and automated approvals will help build versatile service catalog items to serve a variety of users, and cut tedious steps from a variety of requests.

Service catalog for ALL employees

You may think of the service catalog as an IT tool, and largely, it is. The bulk of requests that come through the service desk are IT related. Many tasks require IT experience and skills to fulfill. But, even in some of our examples above, such as new hire on-boarding, tasks and approvals can impact different departments. They might need an HR manager approval for benefits, a finance approval for expense reports, or a facilities task for new office equipment. Even though we think of a service catalog as a feature to help the IT team deliver service, you can see that it will help the organization in a much broader scope. Any department that serves employees, which, if you think about it, is EVERY department, can benefit from a service catalog. It takes buy-in from the entire organization to truly receive the maximum benefit from the modern service catalog.
Chris McManus
Chris McManus is a multimedia content producer at SolarWinds. He works with Service Desk customers on case studies and video stories, and he’s the go-to…
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