Putting one foot in front of the other (part 5)

In a previous post, I suggested some of the fundamental, structural changes I think IT will have to undergo in the next 10-15 years. And to me, these changes are not optional: organizations will have to make them; the only question is who will risk the difficulties and step up to lead them (and reap the substantial rewards)?

With that done, I’ve come back to Earth a bit to kick off a series of more modest posts that look at some of the baby steps IT needs to take to evolve into a truly strategic capability.

To me, once an IT leader adopts the correct orientation of her department as a strategic asset primarily focused on delivering business value (rather than IT capabilities), she has  a number of very tactical areas to address:

  1. Demand pipeline
  2. Structured requirements
  3. Developer-heavy staffing
  4. Agile methods/approaches
  5. Service catalog
  6. Portfolio management (including rationalization)

In this post, we’ll take a look at the fifth, service catalog.

In many ways, a service catalog is like a menu: it’s a list of all the services that an IT shop offers to its customers in the business. And like a menu, it provides benefits both to the customer and the server.

Picture a restaurant without a menu where diners could come in and order anything they like cooked in any way possible. How would this restaurant know what food to stock every week? How would it manage kitchen operations to get meals made and delivered to diners in a timely fashion when each meal was a custom order? How would it know how to price each meal to cover its costs and make a profit?

And on the diners’ side: they would need to know the best combination of entrees and sides, of seasonings and preparation techniques to get a delicious meal; they’d have to wait a really long time to get their meal, given the difficulty in managing the flow of “one off” dinners being prepared in the kitchen; and they’d pay a lot more for each meal, given that the restaurant must stock a little of everything rather than purchasing items in bulk to support a limited menu of dishes. And so on.

Of course, a restaurant couldn’t function without a menu, yet most IT shops do just that by not having a service catalog in place.

Rodrigo Flores makes the case for a service catalog succinctly in a recent article, The Competitive Threat of Public Clouds:

The value of defining standard services includes:

  • Better capacity planning. The factory can get better forecasts if all the components are similar.
  • Faster provisioning due to ability to inventory, have vendor on-premise equipment, or just plain move lower priority workloads off.
  • Lower costs. Knowing what you need enables better buying.

Service definitions also help communicate the added value that IT operations provides. For example, Amazon does not do virus removal; their help desk is limited and costs extra.

When services are defined as discrete components in a catalog, the conversation with the CFO becomes simpler. Rather than arguing about a cost, it becomes a conversation about the trade-offs between quality, agility, risk, cost, capability and security.

So much for how a service catalog helps an IT shop operate better day-to-day. In the next post, we’ll take a look at how portfolio management takes the basic mechanics of a service catalog and replicates them at the enterprise planning level.

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