First a short view back in time.
A few years back Gartner said that until 2013, 80% of IT organizations will have developed a IT Service Catalog prior to their IT Service Portfolio. Now it is 2013 and i don't know whether it is 80% that have actually developed an IT service Catalog. Regardless, I would still assume that out of the ones that have, a majority probably didn't do service catalog at all. What they did was a request catalog for their users to order things from IT. They probably did it without establishing a IT Service Portfolio or service catalog. Considering that the IT Service Portfolio should be the foundation for the IT Service Catalog, which in turn is the basis for a request catalog. what are all these Request Catalogs based on? In this article i use the term Request Catalog for the actual request interface that a consumer (requestor) uses to trigger/do a request.
So how do one develop a Request Catalog without the necessary foundation? My experience, when looking around, is that it has been common to confuse the Request Catalog with a normal Web Shop and therefore the concept of a Web Shop has been the template and guide. A lot of things are actually similar, even close to identical. This is one of the reasons that i think this confusion occurs in the first place. There are fundamental differences, but if you are not looking, they can be hard to identify. If my observations are true, it means that there are a lot of Request Catalogs out there which are designed to work as a Web shop.
Who cares? It is working fine.
Even if the Request Catalog is designed as a Web Shop, the IT organization would probably claim that it has helped them. That it might have improved request handling etc. I can not argue with that. I would even assume that they are right. Its not hard to figure out that everything that used to be ordered manually from a Service Desk in an unstructured way, now is easier to handle from a Request Catalog in a structured way. Win win, or? I'm sorry to say but the whole idea with a Request Catalog is to help the Customer. Did the Customer benefit from the Request Catalog? Well if it is designed as a Web shop, thats exactly what the Customer got. A web page where they can search and order the stuff the IT department think is important to order this way. And the stuff, is probably very similar to what was ordered manually by the Customer from the Service Desk before. All in all, the Customer didn't benefit that much at all. Quicker delivery maybe, better follow-up and some statistics. Nothing to brag about so you should care. This was not it's purpose and the customer benefits and experience should be much better.
So even if we admit that the Request Catalog should have been preceded by a IT service catalog and an IT Service Portfolio we can not change the fact that this, most likely, is not the case. So what do we do? If i would give the suggestion now to start a IT Service Portfolio initiative you would probably quit reading about here :) so i will not, but if you can, I suggest you do. But without it, how do we continue? Lets face it, no IT Service Portfolio is a weak start for a IT Service Catalog or a request catalog.
Can we turn this thing around?
Sure, of course, easy? maybe not. There are a couple of small things that can be done to gain short term benefits. And this time I'm talking about the benefits the Customer would experience. This will rub off on IT as well but that is a side affect, not the purpose. What we get from changing the focus a bit is a Request Catalog that is easier to manage and easier for the Customer to use.
What should we do then?
I will go deeper into each bullet but here are som principles.
1. Stop treating The Request Catalog as a Web Shop
2. Think Customer Scenario
3. Standardize and reuse everything
1. Stop treating The Request Catalog as a Web Shop.
So what are the fundamental differences between a Request Catalog and a Web Shop? As i mentioned earlier they can be hard to identify but that is not due to complexity, it is more due to that they are small and seems so obvious that we don't manage them properly.
In a Web Shop you enter everything you got. If what you sell is not available in the Web Shop, you can not sell it. You try to create interesting and dynamic content that is frequently renewed/replaced and to top it off you offer a shopping cart and promise a good shopping experience. Everything a Web Shop should be. Throw in a couple of weekly offers and "right now" bargains you are on the right track for a good Web Shop.
Is this applicable for a Request Catalog? Let break it down.
- Everything you got
- Dynamic that is frequently renewed/replaced
- shopping cart
From the list above there is only one thing that I think is applicable for a Request Catalog. That is good shopping experience. Why? Well briefly explore each one.
"Every thing you got" is a very poor strategy. The content in the Request Catalog should not be what IT "got"or want to offer, it should be what the Customer needs. That means that even if we have 5 different laptops models available, we should NOT put 5 different laptops models to choose from in the Request Catalog.
"Dynamic that is frequently renewed/replaced" is lack of standardization. In a Request Catalog we want the opposite. The On-bonding service that the Customer finally learned to find and order should be consistent over time. It should be called the same thing, found the same way and in the same place. Actually, the more boring it is, the better experience for the Customer from recognition and repeatability perspective.
The "Shopping Cart" is an old dinosaur. It is basically always there but the more it is used, the more it confirms that we do not help the Customer in the right way. We should offer more "single click" and "bundled service" that is fit for purpose. The cart is basic functionality in a Request Catalog and your design should consider it as a last resort option for the Customer, not the normal way.
2. Think Customer Scenario
To design content for an Request Catalog requires some thought. We had the example earlier of the 5 different laptop models. I know a laptop may not represent the best of "Services" but the example works anyway and the principles are the same in other context as well. The scenario is that a customer wants "a laptop", not "that laptop". So why would we offer 5 different laptops models and force the customer to chose one? We cannot assume that the Customer can chose the most appropriate one based on models. What we should offer is "a laptop" with relevant descriptions, maybe a few flavors like "light sales laptop" or "big screed laptop" or "powerful designer laptop" etc. Now you might say that -"Hey, then we will end up with 5 different laptops anyway! we did not earn anything with this design". And part of it is true. The number of options for the Customer might not decrease. But there is important differences.
One difference is that the items reflect the Customer needs (scenario). If I'm ordering a laptop for a sales person it is much easier to understand and chose the correct one if it is called "light sales laptop" compared to a Supplier named Hardware model.
Another reason is that the "light sales laptop" will be in the Request Catalog all the time even when the IT department changes the laptop model for another/newer one. The Customer will order the same thing year after year but the model and equipment that is delivered changes according IT cycles. Of course we can link information about the actual model that will be delivered when ordered, there is nothing wrong with that.
3. Standardize and reuse everything
To design the content this way means that we need to keep the focus on the customer and try to standardize based on customer scenario. It should be standardized with Customer focus. What does the Customer need included when requesting lets say staff On-boarding. We decide to include a laptop in the On-boarding service. Whenever someone orders the On-boarding service we will include the delivery of a laptop. Seems reasonable. When doing this we want to minimize the administration of this request. The laptop models we already have ("light sales laptop" or "big screed laptop" or "powerful designer laptop|) we want to reuse fully. If we standardize them correctly and want to "bundle" them into the On-boarding service we can reuse them exactly like they are. Once the On-boarding is triggered and the appropriate laptop is chosen by the Customer (could even be automatically selected if on-boarding is triggered on role) Every thing should be inherited and reused. Due to that the laptop does not change over time, there is no affect on the other services and recognition and repeatability from a Customer perspective is very high. The IT organization get a common way to deliver a laptop and can constantly improve the way this is actually performed even if it is requested separately or included in a bundle.
What is the gain of all this.
If you apply the above, you will still not have a request catalog content based on a IT Service Catalog. But what you will get is a Request Catalog with a customer focus. The more you are able to standardize and reuse, the more "rub of" the IT organization will get. The more recognition and repeatability the Customer get, the better the shopping experience will be. If the Customer have requested a service before, they want it to be easy enough so they can do it again, with a blindfold. If the content is called something today it should be called the same tomorrow. We do not want changes made to content that forces the customer to search or read through the content again. Keep the changes of the "front" to an absolute minimum in a request catalog. Content that is added, phased out and replaced will of course occur. A few years ago there where no tablets, now there are. Now they are called iPad, Xoom, Tab, Nook, Nexus etc. Who knows what they will be called in the future? If we would design the content based on supplier models we would have a continuous need to change it as soon as we provide a newer or different brand or model. If we would design standardized content with customer focus we would probably have tablet names corresponding to the use it was targeted for. The need to change them would be very limited, even with linked information about the current model that is delivered.
Am i in the green zone now?
This does not in any way change the need for a IT Service Portfolio and a service catalog. What it does is that it gives you a working Request Catalog instead of a miss aimed Web Shop.