Service is becoming a critical part of IT's role. Now, a range of vendors are taking a tip from Amazon.com, providing online catalogs from which IT customers can order standardized services, and IT organizations can establish workable service levels and track the status of service requests without getting the help desk involved.
In the long run, this approach can simplify IT operations and lower costs. Defined services can help keep IT focused on important tasks and let the tech group devote more time to critical operations. Standard deliverables mean no one has to reinvent similar wheels for different customers.
IT service catalogs set common expectations for both the IT organization and users. They also help define service-level agreements based on different customers and services, and define operational-level agreements between internal and external providers. The catalog approach can make IT support groups more responsive, because the support crew must meet the agreed-on time frames defined in the catalog. Finally, an effective IT service catalog can drive the definition of configuration items for a configuration management database (CMDB) project.
But there are risks as well. Anyone who's ever had an online order lost or delayed with no explanation will think twice about using that vendor again. The same goes for IT services. Each service offered must be described in detail in the service catalog, and specific performance indicators and other metrics have to be applied.
A catalog approach can be extremely difficult to implement if your organization has multiple engineering teams supporting services that are unique for specific customers. Few such teams follow a standard process to document or track nonstandard services, and they tend to fall off the operational radar screen. Changes to these nonstandard services can break them and cause performance outages, SLA violations, and other performance issues.
In larger organizations, just tracking down custom-built services can be a major battle--especially if the engineers responsible for them are no longer around.
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