The Service Catalog versus an IT Request System on Steroids


During my travels meeting and speaking on the delivery of IT Service Management (ITSM) solutions, I’ve seen increased interest in the Service Catalog. I asked several practitioners what is prompting this attention and here are the results of my straw poll, in no particular order:


  • Self-service available through the Service Catalog is a more attractive alternative than waiting in a lengthy queue to speak to a service desk operator.

  • We have reached a turning point where more people have confidence in automated IT processes (selections in a Service Catalog) than in dealing with humans.

  • Generation Y, online since birth, makes an easy jump from selecting tunes online to selecting services online.


It seems that the growing maturity and familiarity with the use of online requesting services in every day life are driving acceptance of an online Service Catalog for requesting IT-driven business services, 


IT-driven business services are the target of the Service Catalog in ITIL® V3.  However, most of the implementations I have seen are more like IT request systems on steroids. 


An IT request system enables orders for basic IT consumables and services such as password reset or laptop requests. IT request systems on steroids may additionally measure IT services levels and attach a token cost (typically an estimate) to services.  


A Service Catalog as described in ITIL V3 offers services that the business consumes, described in business, not IT, terms. These services come with business service levels and realistic business costs-which are typically charged back to the business consumer.  


From an IT perspective, business services are more complicated to define than IT services so an IT request system on steroids may be a comfortable place to stay. However, I encourage making the leap to a full-fledged Service Catalog.


To help, I recommend the following article, which will assist IT professionals in driving through a process to develop business services to be offered through the Service Catalog.  The article, entitled “The Eight Essential Elements of an IT Service Lifecycle: Defining Services to Run IT as a Business,” was written by my CA colleague Eric Feldman and published on In this piece, Eric discusses how the IT service lifecycle “can serve as a framework to help define, publish, and improve service offerings by redefining an IT service in the context of a dynamic business environment.” He identifies the 8 steps you can go through to start changing your thinking and deliver IT-driven business services.


These steps include:

  1. Definition of the Service

  2. Publication of services

  3. The Request Model

  4. Provisioning of Services,

  5. Measurement

  6. Cost Recovery Process

  7. Assessment

  8. Ongoing Process


So wean yourself off steroids and offer IT-driven business services through a true Service Catalog.  And while you are doing this, remember that you need to balance demand with cost, especially in these economic times!



ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark, and a Registered Community Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce, and is Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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Robert Stroud

Vice President Strategy & Innovation IT Business Management at CA Technologies
Robert Stroud is vice president of innovation and strategy for IT Business Management at CA Technologies. Rob is dedicated to the development of industry trends, strategy and communication of industry best practices. Rob is a strong advocate for the governance, security, risk and assurance communities working closely with the community to author, develop and communicate standards and best practices. Rob also advises organizations on their implementations to ensure they drive maximum business value from their investments in IT-enabled business governance. Following a four-year term as an ISACA International vice president, Rob served on the ISACA Strategic Advisory Council, and is currently serving as ISACA ISO Liaison sub-committee. Earlier, Rob served on the itSMF International Board as Treasurer and Director Audit, Standards and Compliance, the itSMF ISO liaisons to multiple working groups and spent multiple years on the board of the itSMF USA. An accomplished author and blogger, Rob is widely recognized for perspectives on industry trends. He also has contributed to multiple standards publications including COBIT 4.0, 4.1 and COBIT 5, Guidance for Basel II and several ISO standards. Rob served as an active member of the ITIL Update Project Board for ITIL 2011 and in various roles in the development of ITIL v3 including the Advisory Group, mentor and reviewer. Prior to joining CA Technologies, Rob spent more than 15 years in the finance industry successfully managing multiple initiatives in both IT and retail banking sectors related to security, service management and process governance. Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobertEStroud

This article has 8 comments

  1. This blog entry, and the embedded article, hit the nail on the head. It is imperative that IT become business focused. Business services are abstract, containing one to many IT services. This represents a change in paradigm that IT executives need to embrace to be able to demonstrate the high value that they deliver to their business. Hats off to Rob abd Eric.

  2. These are all great points Rob. It is my experience that automation of Request, Demand and Subscription Management of defined business Services represents a shift in maturity and adoption of IT Service Management principals. This is in large part due to both ITIL recognizing the need for a Catalog of Services and IT being required to communicate to the business in a consistent and timely manner.

    As Services become better defined, automation of many manual processes become easier and more accepted as you have pointed out. Key success criteria are understanding which business processes or Services can and cannot be automated, having a flexible Catalog that can be used as a Single Point of the Truth to manage automation and Services definition while also providing tracking/auditing and reporting mechanisms so both IT and the business understand the status of their requests in real time.

    Services such as Self Service, Password reset and Hardware/Software requests are the foundation to almost all Service Catalogs but as maturity grows and Services and Processes are better documented then all manner of Services can be defined at varying levels of complexity across Lines of Business.

    What this means is that both the Business and IT become partners in the definition, design and deployment of a Service Catalog in their company which drives higher satisfaction and adoption at all levels of the company.

  3. In my company, IT services are offered and delivered to users through the service desk via self-service. Users select the IT service they desire and they are automically notified when the IT service has been delivered. Do I still need a service catalog?

  4. Bob,

    The Service Catalog itself can be configured and utilized in multiple manners. The first is the traditional Service Catalog where the user subscribes to a service,–a little like a shopping catalog that you may be used to. The second is as a catalog that defines the services offered and then aggregates usage and costing information and then reports back to management. The usual situation is a combination of both where many services based on role and responsibility are allocated and then some additional are selected and subscribed to independently. Hope that helps.


  5. Bob,
    Most companies have done this as well and some have been quite creative and successful. As I stated previously, this is a great step towards defining a mature Catalog of Services but in order to fully answer that question, you need to assess your companies processes and services, determine how they plan to grow and maintain these Service definitions, how they need to present and report on those services and what benefits a mature Service Catalog or Service Management suite can bring to the business as your Services and processes are maturing beyond a self-service model.

    A Service Catalog does not replace the self-service of a Service Desk, it augments and enhances it by providing key capabilities around automation, approval processes with robust workflows, tracking and notification via email and portals, aligning costs for chargeback and/or budgeting to feed your Accounting systems, provide role based security, provide structure for modeling your business hierarchy and even enabling SLA’s to the business to be defined and reported on.

    Many Service Desk customers have been asking for these capabilities and a Service Catalog or Service management suite can usually provide that and be a front-end to the work and effort you’ve already expended in many instances.

  6. Rob I agree with everything that you say a business focus is the only way forward it is just surprising that it has taken so long for this to become the accepted approach. ITIL v1 and ITIL v2 also championed a business focused approach. As more IT departments are expected to provide Front of the Front Office support to customers and clients, e.g. self check-in, the need for customer focused IT Service becomes mandatory rather than optional.
    Exposing IT direct to the customer base can be risky for example on the BBC web site on the 19th of June the news page carried an article that stated that “Sainsbury’s has suspended its online grocery service, meaning thousands of customers will not receive their orders on Wednesday and Thursday.” The statement then went on to say “a computer fault was spotted on Tuesday and it has been ringing people who booked a delivery to offer them £10 in compensation”. That’s thousands of lost orders, thousands of £10s and thousands of unhappy customers! Some Risk. It is unfair to single out Sainsbury’s here because many other organizations have suffered from an IT glitch remember RIM and the recent Blackberry email outage but it does highlight the risk. A Service Catalog will not change the risk but it will highlight the risk clearly to both IT and the Business and especially Change Management.
    Change Management is a good way to explain the relationship between a Service Catalog and an IT Request System. A Request should not be fulfilled unless the Service Catalog is checked to identify which Services will be affected by fulfilling the Request and determining the risks raised by fulfilling that Request. Of course we need an IT request system, how else can we order new workstations, but it is the Service Catalog that provides the basis for IT Planning and Support.

  7. To further the discussion, I would like to offer the IT Service Catalog Maturity Framework, a macro view of the IT Service Lifecycle.

    A company will often begin their Service Catalog and ITIL journey using a help desk tool for service request functions. This maturity stage takes an IT focus toward service definition and fulfillment.

    As they become more proactive in definition of their service offerings, a Service Catalog is deployed. Sometimes, the Service Catalog is more conceptual, as the IT request system on steroids, as Rob mentions. Better yet, IT deploys a “real” catalog used to offer fully developed business services.

    Coinciding with the deployment of a Service Catalog, the concept of response time is often communicated. This is the typical timeframe for service fulfillment which IT communicates to the end user. It differs from an SLA in that there is no contractual relationship between IT and the business community.

    As the capability of the IT organization grows further, companies will introduce a rate or cost component into the Catalog. This is often used to provide transparency into the cost of delivering the service, and not necessarily for cost recovery purposes. Cost transparency enables the business community to make better decisions regarding IT usage and can help IT illustrate the value they provide to the business community. The challenge for many companies is the ability to calculate their direct and indirect cost models.

    Finally, IT will tie in measureable service level agreements. This is different from merely communicating a response time, as now IT is contractually bound to deliver or maintain the service within specific operating parameters.

    Some companies incorporate their SLAs as a result of a cost recovery mechanism used to fund projects and moderate demand. These two capabilities, tied into a fully develop business focused Service Catalog, enable the IT organization to become a true strategic partner to the business community.

  8. Eric,

    I am seeing cost becoming a key concern again, especially with the current economic climate in North America. More organizations are attempting to understand the cost basis of the services they deliver. I believe this is being driven by the desire to drive green dollar savings, which is a product of lowering demand especially in environments where there are consumption-based outsourcing contracts. One organization I visited recently saved in excess of a million dollars with a program that educates its business community on the money saved by not running reports. This was facilitated by the catalog, which included the cost of each report.

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