Tag Archives: service level agreement

The Necessity of a Service Catalog

Thomas Failor, AIM class of 2014.This is a guest post by AIM alum Thomas Failor, 2014, about the benefits and necessity of having an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) service catalog in your IT or operations department.

Sometimes painful lessons are good ones in hindsight. In a previous life I moved from sales management to operations and one of my first tasks was to write a service catalog for my department’s offerings. Let’s just say my early efforts weren’t a hit, but with a little help I pulled it together. Learn from the error of my ways.

So what’s a service catalog? Service catalogs are just that, a catalog of the services your department provides. Formally identified in the 2007 Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) V3 as a suggested best practice, service catalogs have been used in well run organizations since at least the early 2000s. Most were justified in the return on investment of reducing cycle times and improving outcomes. With the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, service catalogs gained importance as a way to document processes for audits.

Everything your group does is likely regarded as a service for someone or some group in the company. Does your work stream have a service level agreement (SLA) you’re required to meet? If so, your group provides a service and you need a service catalog. The main reason service catalogs are so important is that they provide a vehicle for your group to communicate and negotiate SLA agreements with other groups or customers, both internal and external. Without a document to formalize these relationships, your group will be tone deaf to your customers and likely provide poor service.

Service catalogs have some common ingredients, but overall they are a managed document that describes:

  • what you do and what it’s called,
  • who owns your service,
  • when you do it,
  • to whom you provide the service,
  • how to request the service,
  • how service is delivered,
  • what you charge for the service,
  • any SLAs related to your service.

More formally, a service catalog is implemented “in a manner that facilitates the ‘registration, discovery, request, execution, and tracking of desired services for catalog users.’” – Wikipedia.

There are many free templates on the web to get you started writing a service catalog, but it may benefit you to produce a high-level diagram listing suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers of your particular business process to help identify who ALL of your customers are and what teams supply your various processes. You’d be surprised how little agreement there can be about who the customer is. Try it, you may be amazed at what you discover.

An ITIL trade group in the UK provides some detailed Service information on Catalogs on their website.

In essence, a service catalog provides two benefits. It allows you to clarify the services and service levels that you provide and it provides a clear advertisement to your customers as to your offerings. If nothing else, a service catalog is a great exercise in seeing your services from your internal and external customers, and hopefully acting to improve them over time.

Who’s minding the store?

I continue to reflect on the ongoing saga of healthcare.gov and the myriad of problems that plague the site. I would like to address some of the best practices in vendor management that will help any IT manager. According to an article in Tech Republic, there are at least fifty-five different contractors working on this project. With so many contractors working on one project, I ask the question: who’s minding the store, and do they have strong project and vendor management practices in place?

Systems Integration

There are 112 different systems under healthcare.gov that all need to work correctly on their own and in conjunction with each other. It is difficult enough when the same group is developing and managing all of the applications, but when there are multiple contractors involved, the task becomes monumental. It takes a very strong and organized project leader who is well-versed not only in project management, but also in vendor management. Such a person is worth their weight in gold.

Vendor Management

More and more work gets done through other people and those people are often outside of your organization and outside of your supervisory control. Many people have honed their skills around project management but less so around vendor or contract management, and traditionally, we have left these tasks up to the procurement side of the organization. They can indeed manage the initial contract and talent acquisition but someone in the home organization, IT in this example, needs to be well-versed in day-to-day management of the outside resources. Are they living up to expectations? Are they playing well with the other players? Are they adhering to the standards that have been set for a particular project? A big part of vendor management is to set service level agreements.

Service Level Agreements

A very important part of successful project management is establishing clear service level agreements (SLAs) with each partner or vendor. A good SLA sets forth specific expectations for the vendor and also specific penalties, should the vendor not meet those expectations. SLAs must include periodic project milestones so that you don’t get to the end of the project and realize that vendor X is nowhere near complete. In short, the service level agreement is a measuring stick to mark progress and a guideline on how to deal with non-performance or less than adequate performance.


We may all be put in a situation some day where we are managing a large project that includes outside players and we have to juggle all of the balls at once. It is a skill beyond just project management and it is worth the investment to learn how to manage contracts and vendors. We may never have to deal with something as complex as the federal health exchange website, but it is a worthwhile skill to have.

Have you ever had to manage contracts and/or vendors for a project or ongoing service? What worked well for you? Share your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.