Cloud computing is more than simply accessing IT services over the Internet. One of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects of cloud computing is the idea that IT services should be well-defined in business terms, enabling users to select what they need from a service catalog. The catalog provides a menu of available services with descriptions of standard business functions, service level guarantees, and costs. The concept of a standardized IT service catalog is key to the business value of cloud computing.
Across all business functions, we continuously strive to simplify and accelerate selection, acquisition and fulfillment of business solutions. When solutions are well-defined in terms of capabilities, performance, size and cost, consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. When the right one is delivered, it’s delightful to get exactly what you ordered. So why isn’t it this way with IT?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful for users to simply order IT capabilities from an online catalog as easily as ordering a consumer product from an e-commerce website? Catalogs contain a number of standard items with clear descriptions of what those items are.
Imagine a catalog of IT services with this description: “Database – Class:Gold, Size:Medium – a database service for applications that run all day every day (24×7) with high availability. The service provides 2 virtual CPUs, 8GB of memory and 25GB of storage. The charge for this service is $8.75 per hour.” Like choosing a t-shirt from a clothing catalog, you can pick from several colors and sizes.
Such a catalog, combined with a self-service user interface, would give customers rapid access to standard, well-defined services. The catalog would also allow the consumer to compare other services from within the enterprise and in public clouds on the basis of functionality, quality, size, cost, time-to-value, and other selection factors. Could there possibly be a faster way to acquire IT services? How much more satisfying could this kind of IT shopping experience be over traditional methods?
The idea of a catalog of standard IT services is a win-win. Not only do consumers win by getting faster access and choice of services, but IT providers are no longer forced to respond to each user request with a custom, unique solution. Instead, they can offer a small number of standard services that can handle the majority of user requests. The IT provider must think like a product manager by defining the standard services that many customers will want instead of custom solutions for each user request.
By standardizing service offerings and reducing the variety of unique architectures, configurations, and versions, IT can dramatically reduce cost and complexity; increase agility and responsiveness to the business; and lower security and compliance risk.
Investing In Standardization
Today, IT teams typically invest in standardization, but not always standardized services provided to the IT consumer. In a March 2014 ZDNET survey, 73 percent of companies did not have a published service catalog, yet 77 percent thought they should have one. IT priorities tend to gravitate towards standardization from an operations point of view, such as simplifying high frequency maintenance or automating highly complex tasks. These lower cost and prevent business disruption, but do not necessarily facilitate business agility.
Establishing a catalog of standard services also offers economic benefits by reducing custom solution development and management of complex, heterogeneous environments. Understanding the opportunity for standardized services requires IT providers and business users to come together. The practical approach for IT investment is to follow business requirements and funding. In today’s world, business priorities are eager for business innovation, and it is important to leverage those budgets to build your next generation services.
So how does having an IT service catalog support business innovation and growth? The secret is IT alignment with business strategy. During this strategic collaboration between IT and the business, IT service owners should identify popular services, workload demand, skills, capabilities, economics, and the fastest path to delivery. From this vantage point, IT can identify the next generation of shared services for the service catalog, such as infrastructure, databases, application platforms, integration, security, mobility, analytics, and collaboration. By counting, sizing, and aggregating these requirements, organizations can establish the growth and utilization plan for standardized and shared computing resources.
Business Services Catalog Emerges
The business services catalog can contain a wide variety of services described in business terms for the user to understand. The essential elements of a business service description are setting clear expectations of service functionality, performance and non-performance, planned maintenance windows, unplanned downtime recovery times, base costs, and cost of variants. One of the desirable outcomes from a business catalog is service level transparency.
According McKinsey & Company, the catalog should include five to 10 services in each service area, “covering 80 to 90 percent of infrastructure requests and costs.” McKinsey notes it’s important for IT to interact with business partners “in a more commercial way—including roles for product managers who can define standard offerings and solutions and architects who can help developers combine the right mixture of them to meet a business need.”
Today’s consumers shop online for everything and want to do the same at work for IT services. The time is now for IT departments to offer a catalog of standard IT services to their users; this is essential to deliver agility and efficiency to the business.
Everywhere you turn, new business and technical services are offering innovation through an easy self-service, catalog shopping experience. But, the responsibility for defining the services catalog rests with the IT organization, whether it is the creator or operator of the service or a broker of services provided by others. Ask your enterprise architects and IT product managers to develop a business service catalog. Happy shopping!