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The Culprits of a Woeful Service Catalog

How many ServiceNow users say they have a great service catalog? In my 13-year experience, I do not recall a single customer ever saying that. Instead, I hear moans and groans about how the catalog is too complicated, people can’t find what they want, everything is written like an IT person wrote it, and the list goes on. Have you ever asked yourself why? I have. The answer can be traced to three primary culprits. Whether you’re at the mercy of one or all three, each can lead to a cascade of bigger platform woes and inefficiencies.


The Culprits


The first item that comes to mind is balance. I have seen countless catalogs that were bloated with items. They looked like my waistline on Thanksgiving. However, for every bloated catalog, I have seen catalogs look just as empty as the frozen turkey section the day before Thanksgiving. For these clients, it is obvious why no one uses the catalog, as there is nothing in it to consume. Ideally, a good catalog should be well-balanced – i.e. have enough valuable items for employees to use and consume while not overwhelming them with items that they do not understand or need. Ultimately, your unique environment will determine the optimal catalog composition.


Another culprit is complexity, which manifests itself in many ways:

  1. Catalogs that look like messy closets, where items are strewn about. These items are not categorized properly, displayed appropriately, or the categorization structure itself is broken.
  2. Catalog items that use wording that only an engineer would understand or use complicated forms – i.e. there are too many fields to complete. There is nothing worse than finally finding the form that you need only to be asked 100 different questions, none of which you understand.
  3. Workflows are so complex that no one can give a straight answer as to when you will receive your requested items. Navigating the catalog and completing the forms can be draining. The last thing you want to see after submitting your request is an email that says something like “Thanks for your submission. We will address this as soon as we can.” How frustrating to put in all that work only to receive a generic, auto-generated response with no ETA as to when your request is going to be completed.


The last thing that comes to mind is talent. I know this is an edgy topic, but it might be the most important. The obvious thing that comes to mind is that a client’s great resource(s) is poached by someone else. It is a well-documented and discussed the topic of the ServiceNow skills talent shortage. How clients deal with the loss of a talented person is like walking a tight rope, where a small misstep can be detrimental to the catalog.

Keeping your current resource(s) is one thing; setting them up for success is another. I’ve been in the industry a long time and have seen a wide spectrum of profiles/personalities managing catalogs. The challenge isn’t competence, it’s prioritization. Two polar profiles come to mind that aren’t necessarily conducive to a best-practice catalog:

  1. One type of resource is the crowd pleaser. This person can and will build anything. Have a process that is only used once a year? They will build it. Have an overly complicated process? They will build it. The crowd pleaser just turns around everything in the backlog without asking “Is there a better way to do this?”, “What’s the value to the business?”, “Is this a best practice?”
  2. The other type of resource is encumbered. This resource is typically spread too thin. They spend all day in meetings being bombarded with requests. Due to the high volume of requests, many tickets will be rejected or ignored by default. This is where the backlog just gets bigger and bigger with no end in sight. I’ll often hear these clients say something like “all my development team does is work on catalog items” and “they never have time to help with the other strategic initiatives that IT has.” In essence, this situation manifests similarly to a talent shortage.


The Solution

A sub-optimal service catalog doesn’t have to be something you’re stuck with. Whether the crux of your catalog woes is related to balance, complexity, or talent, there is a solution. Thirdera’s Managed Services offers best-fit administrative and advisory support so your developmental resources can shift their focus to bigger, often-neglected strategic objectives without giving up control of the platform. With mundane, time-consuming catalog work removed, your talented resources are challenged, fulfilled, and less likely to consider alternate job opportunities.

The benefits of a best-practice catalog are more expansive once you consider how integral it is to the platform experience. For example, a portal or user experience issue may in fact be due to a poor service catalog – e.g. inadequate catalog content. In short, it’s an unsuspected culprit that deserves a closer look when identifying what’s getting in the way of maximizing the value of your ServiceNow platform.

If you have a service catalog and want to understand how healthy it is and get recommendations on the next steps in your ServiceNow journey, contact us about a service catalog assessment.

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Derek Hodge

Derek has been implementing ServiceNow since 2009. He has engaged with clients of all types ranging from small to enterprise and regional to international. He is now the head of ITSM sales globally for Thirdera.