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Forging an IT service catalog management plan to drive business goals

An IT service catalog management strategy that drives business results requires CIOs to look beyond the provisioning of IT services -- and users to grasp the value of service automation.

CIOs are starting to redefine IT service catalog management as a discipline that extends well beyond traditional IT support. This new service-catalog approach allows CIOs to standardize the resolution of more types of business requests and automate more of the business. The result is an IT department -- and business departments, for that matter -- that can focus resources on driving business transformation rather than just fixing technology problems.

"With the evolution and adoption of cloud and DevOps, enterprises have seen a number of new opportunities to expand the use of service catalogs," said Milind Wagle, CIO of Equinix Inc., the data center giant. "Traditionally, a service catalog was limited to simple types of requests such as access requests, password resets and new end-user technology hardware purchases."

Now, with the advent of new IaaS cloud platforms, service catalogs have expanded to allow IT and software engineering teams to request, for example:

  • new virtual machines with automated provisioning
  • items to manage those virtual machines and to configure load balancers
  • domain name system configurations
  • firewall configurations

Indeed, through service catalogs and automation capabilities, the need for a centralized infrastructure for nonproduction environments is diminishing.

Milind WagleMilind Wagle

"We are continually looking for opportunities on developing and deploying new catalog items with a big focus on automation," Wagle said. "And we are continually seeing a huge decrease in requests that require IT to touch requests in order for them to be fulfilled, and a huge increase in both man-hours saved from IT support staff and wait time saved from our requestors."

Expand service catalogs beyond IT

The traditional discipline of IT service catalog management involved resolving IT issues and fulfilling requests using an on-premises ticketing solution.

In recent years, CIOs have begun to recognize that older solutions like Remedy, Peregrine and HP Service Management were not scalable and flexible enough to support wider types of business requests, like authorizing Automated Clearing House (ACH) requests for a bank, onboarding or transferring employees, initiating a contract review process, or accessing IaaS platforms like AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform.

Like many other CIOs, Wagle has started moving this IT service management (ITSM) infrastructure to SaaS-based solutions such as ServiceNow. In concert with this transition, he has shifted Equinix's support motto from "serve the business" to "partner with the business."

This has involved bringing in ServiceNow's IT Business Management model to work side-by-side with the vendor's IT Service Management model. The combined models have made it easier to adopt automation tools to fulfill a much larger set of basic tasks across the business, in large part by enabling users to resolve more problems on their own through self-service portals. This allows Equinix to fulfill its high-priority strategy to convert its ITSM support model from reactive to proactive.

"At Equinix, we have developed an entire program around optimization through automation in an effort to provide the same level of quality support within our growing organization while staying flat on the number of resources required to provide that support," Wagle said.

A good starting point, he said, is for CIOs to work with other department managers to evaluate common types of requests. This can make it easier to identify opportunities for automation for those requests -- and serve as the foundation for structuring and building various service catalogs.

Identify common requests

Service catalogs can only streamline the business to the extent that they are used by employees. Wagle said IT support teams should consider a two-pronged approach to spur catalog adoption: Educate users on how to make requests through the catalog and actually prevent the fulfillment of user requests that are not made through a service catalog.

The efficiency of a soundly constructed service catalog makes it an easy sell, according to Wagle. Equinix's service catalog management strategy involved rolling out catalog items that allowed users to request access to the most frequently used enterprise applications and then included integration with those applications to automatically provision access once the request was approved. For example, when new employees are hired, IT automatically sends a notification to the hiring manager with instructions on using Equinix's IT service catalog to request access for their new hire. This level of automation has improved the experience for both hiring managers and new employees because access is provisioned immediately upon approval and new hires consistently have their necessary access permissions from day one.

Use AI to automate requests

Nayaki NayyarNayaki Nayyar

One of the challenges with traditional service catalogs was that they placed a burden on the employee making a request, thus limiting adoption. "Previously, service catalogs were clunky and portal-based. The customer had to log in, file a request and wait for the request to be fulfilled," said Nayaki Nayyar, president of digital services management at BMC Software Inc.

CIOs can reduce this burden using conversational bots to automate requests. Employees simply chat with the bot, tell it what they need and the bot uses AI to learn employees' preferences along the way.

One large telco using BMC's tools was going through a massive transformation around employee and customer service experience. The company pursued a strategy of using bots across multiple chat channels including Slack, SMS and Skype to access a service catalog. Any industry that is affected by the accuracy, speed and cost of customer service can use this technology to automate their service desk function, Nayyar said.

"We are seeing a lot of momentum around telcos that are facing increasing pressure to move faster, and financial institutions like banks are moving toward cognitive service catalogs," she said.

Communication is important

Matt CoxMatt Cox

CIOs are starting to move beyond the low-hanging fruit of employee onboarding/offboarding, new equipment requests and application access requests accessed via service catalogs. "We're seeing much more specific services offered in the service catalog, specific to how an organization runs its business, which streamlines the path employees have to navigate to get their work done," said Matt Cox, senior manager of solutions consulting at Samanage Ltd., an ITSM tools provider.

CIOs should focus on improving communications with other departments with an eye to continuously re-evaluating IT processes and the way they are managed by service catalogs. Good questions to ask other departments include:

  • What processes fall through the cracks?
  • What is manual?
  • Where can we help you create efficiencies?
  • What frustrates your teams as they do their work? For example, do they have trouble finding the information or applications they need?

The adoption of service catalogs can be daunting initially, but it gets easier over time, Cox said. A good practice is to train other departments to create their own workflow templates that can be rolled into IT service catalog management. After they have learned the basics, they can start generating new ideas for implementing new offerings in a department's service catalog portfolio. Combining this with helpful employee training and process implementation creates an environment where an organization can automate more of their processes via ITSM tools.

Enterprise service management arrives

One of the side benefits of well-managed ITSM processes is that they can serve as a model for other departments outside of IT, said Kumaravel Ramakrishnan, product manager at ManageEngine, an IT operations and service management provider under the Zoho Corp. umbrella.

"While IT has traditionally had best practice frameworks like ITIL governing processes, other service departments in the enterprise like HR, administration and travel don't have any formal frameworks of their own to govern their processes," he said.

Enterprise service management (ESM) is about taking IT best practices and applying them to other service departments in the enterprise. Aside from streamlining business processes outside of IT, ESM has also given enterprises better ROI on their IT spending for tools and process automations.

For example, after one credit union streamlined IT operations using ManageEngine tools, managers in other departments saw the opportunity to streamline other enterprise processes in the general office, payments, consumer lending and HR.

By extending the company's service desk tool beyond IT and configuring relevant templates and automations for other departments, the credit union is now 90% paperless and it has automated its ACH process. This has also made it easier for department managers to track compliance with service-level agreements and identify bottlenecks.

An IT service catalog management plan includes facilities

Ricardo AlvarezRicardo Alvarez

Some enterprises are also extending IT service catalog management into facilities management, said Ricardo Alvarez, an independent IT support specialist based in Switzerland. He has seen facilities services such as moving desks and installing new or additional electric material like lamps and power supplies proposed as service requests within a service catalog at a variety of companies he's worked with. The IT support team would handle the request and forward it to a facility team to fulfill the request; then the IT support team would perform all follow-up tasks for the customer, as the request had been logged through IT.

Alvarez has seen mixed results depending on the communication between both teams. When collaboration was high, everything went smoothly. The best setup he's seen was when the IT support team and the facility teams were colocated in the same office. Each team used its own tools but would have weekly meetings with rotating representatives to discuss the shared activities. "Collaboration and communication between both teams were the highest I've experienced in 15 years," Alvarez said.

Branding is part of IT service catalog management

Oded MosheOded Moshe

It's important for CIOs to focus on employee experience to help improve the use of IT's different service catalog offerings. "Getting better adoption of the IT service catalog requires constant monitoring of the services your IT department provides, good classification of your requests into categories, and making sure you identify the most consumed and popular items," said Oded Moshe, vice president of products at SysAid Technologies Ltd, an ITSM provider.

This can be complemented with internal marketing of the self-service options via all channels. Internal branding of the IT self-service portal can be an important part of making the users feel at home and want to come back, Moshe said.

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