Why Cloud is the Service Catalog’s New Best Friend

cloud service catalogThe service catalog hasn’t exactly been one of the sexier topics in enterprise IT.  Introduced as a IT service management best practice with ITIL v3, the general idea is that service catalogs should provide a central list of services, SLAs, and prices along with service request processes. Users go to the service catalog, pick what they like, and submit a service request. Not very exciting stuff.

The emergence of cloud and IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) models is changing all that.

With users and developers taking budget to public cloud service providers, many CIOs are quickly realizing they now need to become service providers themselves. They’re recognizing the need to migrate to an ITaaS provider model which is focused on offering and orchestrating internal and external IT services, instead of organizing around traditional technology silos. Where possible, services are provided on a self-serve, auto-provisioned model, as users increasingly expect.  In this world of ITaaS, the service catalog now takes on newfound importance.

In traditional IT environments the ticketing system or project request process sits at the center of the universe, connecting users and IT service delivery.  Services and projects are requested and fulfilled in a process that could take days, weeks, months or years depending on what was being asked.  In shared services models in particular, IT services are organized around technology silos, like network or infrastructure.

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In ITaaS operating models, the service catalog is now at the center of a new “services storefront”.  It provides not just the list of internal and 3rd party cloud services available, but also becomes the central point for provisioning delivery and chargeback for IT services.  App stores and public cloud services have conditioned users to a new type of experience, one they now are expecting with internal IT.

While ITaaS may offer the opportunity for service catalog products to “come back from the dead” and serve as the hub of ITaaS operating models, they will need to come back in a different form.

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Service catalogs and application marketplaces are provided by a wide variety of vendors, from traditional enterprise IT mainstays like BMC, CA, Cisco and IBM to cloud-based service desk vendors like ServiceNow, and cloud service brokers like ServiceMesh, Gravitant, Jamcracker and Appcara.

Not surprisingly most service catalogs were architected around the ITIL framework, and as a result weren’t exactly designed with user self service in mind. The idea of wide scale, self serve provisioning of VMs or SaaS applications in the enterprise wasn’t exactly envisioned back in 2007 when ITIL v3 was released.  In addition to service provisioning, disciplines like IT financial management and vendor management require new, different approaches that depart from the ITIL model. As a result making robust ITaaS models work with existing enterprise service catalogs and service desk solutions can be challenging to say the least.  Some are relying on managed service providers to fill in the gap.

On the flipside, most cloud-centric service storefronts and marketplaces also fail to provide what’s needed for ITaaS. The concept of ITaaS services needs include not just cloud services, but also those based on virtualized or dedicated environments that will be still be prevalent for the foreseeable future. ITaaS is about more than cloud, and also needs to encompass legacy services that can still be integrated into a services-centric model.

Both traditional and cloud-centric offerings have another common weakness.  They view services as purely transactional – user selects service, provisions and is done.  Next generation service catalogs will also need to provide users visibility across the service lifecycle.  They’ll need to provide visibility and alerts around usage levels – for example reminding a user that a VM they spun up has been idle for too long.  They’ll also need to provide ongoing, continuous insight into billing and chargeback so there’s no “sticker shock” at the end of the month or quarter.

While the high level concept of a service catalog takes on new importance in ITaaS operating models, it needs to be updated and rethought (and probably renamed). More on that topic to come.


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