The Enterprise Service Catalog: Expanding Beyond IT’s Origins

Every large organization—whether a university, business, non-profit, government agency, or other entity—develops processes over time to enable employees to obtain the products and services necessary to do their jobs. But too often, these processes vary based on the service needed, the department that provides it, or even the worker’s location. Employees are forced to navigate a maze of forms, online systems and request processes, leading to frustration and wasted time.

In an EDUCAUSE Review article, The Unified IT Service Catalog: Your One-Stop Shop, authors Tamara Adizes, Mark Katsouros, Reginald Lo, Simon Pride, and Karalee Woody, propose a unified service catalog as the solution:

Kinetic Data's internal ERM enterprise service catalog“A unified service catalog provides a single common framework and approach for delivering services across the institution — a one-stop-shopping approach that enables customers to efficiently submit their requests.”

While acknowledging implementation challenges, the article outlines methods for overcoming these, and concludes the benefits are worth the effort.

The Problem

In the absence of a unified service catalog, the authors present a common scenario, in the context of a university setting:

“Imagine a new faculty member preparing to teach a course. She needs access to the learning management system, a lecture capture system, etc. The department’s IT support person responds, ‘You need to contact central IT for lecture capture, the libraries for the LMS, and I will get you a new workstation.’ The look in her eyes lets you know she has neither the time nor the desire to learn and remember this maze. She wants to focus on preparing her course, and the necessary technology resources should be easily accessible…

“And, this is just the beginning. Many institutions have a labyrinth of methods for acquiring services. Perhaps central IT requires customers to fill in a web form, and facilities requires customers to e-mail requests, and yet another department requires customers to visit the help desk. Following the varied and complex methods for each organization is time consuming and confusing, and delays customers from doing their work.”

While the terminology and specifics may vary, employees in many different types of organizations face essentially the same hurdles.

The Answer: An Enterprise Service Catalog

The authors recommend creation of a unified IT service catalog, explaining “A service catalog provides an easy-to-use online portal for faculty, staff, students, and others — the customers — to learn about, and request, the services the institution provides. These services may range from academic, administrative, human resources, and finance to those associated with student life, but many service catalogs start out as an IT service catalog. ”

It’s true, as noted in research from HDI, that service catalogs generally originate in the IT function. But while there is clearly value in unifying different types and sources of IT services within a unified service catalog, even greater organizational benefits flow from extending the services offered beyond IT, to those from “human resources and finance” as referenced in quote above as well as maintenance, facilities, logistics, and other functions.

Enabling employees to request virtually any services, resources or products needed to do their jobs from a single, intuitive portal, is the objective of enterprise request management (ERM). The ERM approach combines a centralized portal with back-end process automation software to simplify the request process and streamline fulfillment. It’s not merely about creating a single source for requesting IT services, but rather a true enterprise service catalog.

Unified – But Personalized

The EDUCAUSE Review article uses the metaphor of a magical restaurant menu in describing how the service catalog should work: “As a metaphoric ‘diner,’ I want a ‘menu’ of choices, but I want it to be magic. Wheat allergy? Show me only gluten-free options. Vegetarian? Don’t show me dishes that contain meat.” They then tie this back to designing a unified service catalog in a university setting:

“The unified IT service catalog may also be ‘intelligent’ and understand the needs of a specific customer. When customers authenticate to the IT service catalog, the catalog should know their role (faculty, staff, student) as well as their department affiliation and only present the services available to them. Business school faculty will see the IT services offered within their school, those offered by central IT, and any other services for which they are eligible. However, they won’t see services offered only to faculty in the college of engineering, for instance.”

This type of “intelligence” is at the core of ERM creating a personalized, contextual experience for the customer. The request portal should tie into an organization’s existing ID management system, so that each employee sees only the services available based on his or her role, location, and department.   Then within each service, the questions should be dynamic and intuitive.  Questions and fields displayed automatically change based on the answers to previous questions, with some fields becoming required based on previous answers.  For example, if an employee is ordering an iPhone, logical follow-up questions would include amount of memory, color, and case options.

A Range of Benefits

This approach simplifies request management, eliminating the situation described above where each department utilizes unique forms, systems and procedures which employees must navigate. As the EDUCAUSE authors note:

“A unified IT service catalog is a single place to go to see all available services, regardless of who provides them. Behind the scenes, a request is routed to the team responsible for providing the service. The requestor doesn’t need to know who offers the service or how to contact them. The unified IT service catalog is a one-stop place to shop for IT services.”

With an ERM strategy, the enterprise service catalog provides “a one-stop place to shop” for any type of services (PTO requests, equipment repairs), resources (conference room reservations, company vehicle use), or products (office furniture, tablet computers), from any department. The portal also enables employees to easily check on the current status of pending requests, at any time from any device.

ERM also benefits the organization, by reducing errors, accelerating fulfillment, and reducing service delivery costs—all while improving productivity and employee satisfaction.

Agility and Empowerment Are Keys to Implementation

Taking an incremental approach to implementing ERM is vital to project success. As the authors note, “Creating an IT service catalog involves a significant effort for any organization… Service definition, design, provisioning, and support remain as challenges in terms of identifying all of the institution’s IT (or other departmental) services, identifying people accountable for each service… and establishing an easy way for customers to get what they need…(and) collecting service information is perhaps the most dynamic and time-consuming component of implementing a service catalog.”

To effectively build out an enterprise service catalog, first, take an agile approach: start small, with one or a few common service requests. Test the interface and back-end process automation workflow, and make adjustments as needed. Gradually add more services. Focus on “quick wins” to generate support and momentum rather than a “big bang.”

Second, empower business process owners with the tools to easily create their own service items and task workflows, with minimal IT assistance. No one knows HR processes, for example, better than the people who work in HR. Enabling process owners to develop their own items for the request portal expands the sense of ownership of the enterprise service catalog across functional groups; accelerates the addition of new services to the catalog; and allows IT to focus on building out their own service offerings, and addressing strategic business priorities, rather than having to create all items for every functional group.

The Bottom Line: Happier Employees

Improving the user experience for employees is now the top goal of HR managers in making new technology investments. Taking an ERM approach to creating a unified enterprise service catalog will help accomplish that—if employees use it.  Like any new product, the service catalog needs to be promoted. However, the ease of use compared to typical, disjointed service request processes is a big “selling point.” Encouraging users to provide feedback and suggest new service items will further increase the sense of ownership, advocacy, and use.

As the authors of the EDUCAUSE article conclude, “we need to move away from focusing on technology to focusing on customers and the services we provide. If you want to provide your community with a single portal to all the IT services delivered across the institution, you need a unified IT service catalog. Your customers will love it.”

That’s certainly been our experience with ERM implementations.

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