Are you working on a service catalog initiative or have been tasked with defining what your IT department does in the context of services?

Are you trying to work out how much your IT services cost – either as a provider or supplier of IT services?

Would you like to be able to charge the business back fairly based on their consumption of IT services?

Read on to find a really useful definition of a service within the service catalog?

Over the last few weeks I have had a number of on-line (forum) and off-line discussions about the service catalog. These are very typical of the main types of questions that are presented. It is unfortunate to find that, overwhelming, people are still ask the same basic question – what is a service and how do we define services in a service catalog? This is most frequently asked by people involved in IT or the provision of IT as a service to an organisation either internally, externally or both.

There is a lot of misunderstanding as to what exactly a service is, and what components make up a service. This confusion is not confined to organizations. Practitioners, consultants and vendors have struggled with defining services, not in definition, but in the context of what is perceived as a service in an organization and how best to represent these services.

In the IT space an area where many people find themselves in disagreement is with regards to the definitions of what constitutes a service, never mind what an (IT) system or an (IT) service might actually be. In one sense it may not matter if we disagree. One may argue that whether we call something an (IT) system or an (IT) service is not as important as actually mapping the service accurately and that this is just an exercise in taxonomy.

Having looked at many definitions of what is a service, I tend to use the following as a quick and easy definition:

A service is any act or performance that one person can offer to another, that is intangible, produced at the moment of delivery and does not result in transfer of ownership. Service value and quality is based on customer perception, where satisfaction is based on outcomes and is subjective.

In the context of this discussion there are three main services are:

  • Customer service: services provided to the organizations external customers.
  • Business service:  support business processes that enable the organization to achieve its desired outcomes.
  • IT service: provides IT capabilities that support and deliver business and customer services.

It is necessary to define and understand what a service is but also it is necessary to decompose services into their various components or layers in order to better understand the service end-to-end. This will help to:

•   Build accurate service maps piece by piece.

•   Price and cost services more accurately.

•   Report on services at different levels.

•   Utilize the different parts of the service catalog effectively.

• Develop a clearer picture of what it is that IT does in support of the business, from the most obvious to the most obscure.

•   Understand how the organization actually relies on IT to do business.

It is essential for organizations to state clearly how they define services within the context of their organization. This includes the definition of the service and the service model i.e. how the different services map together. Failing to correctly define services can lead to a service catalog that is ineffective and provides no real value to any part of the organization. If services are not defined with the relevant audience in mind, they will not be understood so how could they be viewed as being strategically important to the organization or necessary to the user or customer?

In chapter two of my book – The Service Catalog – there are six additional definitions of what is a service taken from leading industry best-practice frameworks, bodies of knowledge and standards.

Mark O'Loughlin

Mark is a global authority in helping organisations achieve the very best from their investments in people, technology and digital services. He has served on the Board of Directors of itSMF Ireland and Cloud Credential Council. Mark is a Fellow of the Irish Computer Society, awarded for his achievements and contribution to the IT profession and industry. His prolific publishing includes two books published in four languages, 100’s of articles, and whitepapers. He developed the world’s first certification for the business management of cloud services accredited by Cloud Credential Council. As a member of the international standards group ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38, Mark contributed to the development of global standards for IT, cloud and digital services.