Traditional IT service catalogs contain all sorts of technical and detailed information which is rarely read. And if it is read, the information is frequently debated or just simply ignored by readers, who assume that they will eventually get the services they want, regardless of what’s in the catalog.
If your traditional IT service catalog is working for you and your audience, and you think it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, congratulations – you did a great job. But if it’s not working satisfactorily, or you want to move to a catalog which reflects the era of cloud services and consumerization of IT a bit better, you might want to read on for some tips.
Let’s first quickly dismiss any paper service catalog. When was the last time you, as a consumer, bought something from a paper catalog? As with any other current catalog for consumers, your catalog needs to be online – on the Internet or an intranet – and available from any location at any time. That’s a no-brainer these days.
Next, consider that consumerization and cloud services (in the context of this blog) connect two elements. The first element is what any typical consumer surfing web sites wants to know before buying stuff, and the second element is your offering, say IaaS or PaaS. When you connect these two, the absolutely critical dealmaker or breaker is to provide your customer with just enough information on your IaaS or PaaS services – whatever he or she wants to know – to make him or her willing to push the “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” button. If there’s anything missing that makes your customer reluctant to push that button, the rest is like chewing gum – useless. Your offering, whatever it is, is worthless for this customer, and you are left empty handed.
Several things can be a reason for your customer not pushing this button. Maybe you supplied too little information, resulting in doubts; or you supplied too much or wrong information, causing confusion. Or perhaps your customer doesn’t need the service at all, or at least not badly enough to be willing to pay the price.
So what information does a typical customer need before he or she might be willing to push this pivotal “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” button for your cloud services? It’s basically the same information that’s needed before he or she buys any type of product, whether it’s a refrigerator or a laptop:
1. Features, functions and value statement. Of course, if it doesn’t do what your customer needs it to do, the rest is useless. Nobody presses the “Buy” button for a saw when they need to hammer a nail into a wall. And nobody presses the “Buy” button for an IaaS service if it delivers an operating system that an application cannot run on. There needs to be a match on features and functions.
The value statement describes all the benefits and values for your customer when ordering the product or service. This can be about saving time, ease of ordering and use, paying only for what you use, and similar types of benefits.
2. Details of the service. Where the value statement tries to convince your customers in general terms of the benefits they will get by ordering, they still need to know some details, such as:
a. Feeds and speeds. Your customer needs to figure out if the service has the right specifications to support the intended usage or workload. These details can cover the configurations, what’s included in the service, the versions of the software, the number and types of cores, memory, etc. Whereas the value statement tries to give your customer the warm blanket of assurance that this is the best value for him or her, the feeds and speeds are just the plain, cold facts of the service.
b. Quality. This is about the robustness and resilience of the services you sell. Is it a standard retail, DIY kind of saw your customer is looking for, or an industrial diamond-grade one? They both functionally do the same job, but have different qualities. For cloud services, is this about a basic, simple service, or one that’s hardened and protected against all sorts of failures, disasters and security threats? If your customer needs a service for sandbox-type stuff, he or she will press the “Buy” button of the simple, likely cheaper, service. For a production-grade service, your customer might want to look for other, more expensive, qualities. In IT terms this is also the place for specifying the (frequently hollow) 99-point-something percent availability and/or security qualifications.
3. Delivery time. This one is frequently forgotten in traditional service catalogs. Would anyone press a “Buy” button when it’s unknown when the service will be delivered? Or when he or she knows it will be late? Sometimes 10 days delivery time is very acceptable, sometimes 10 minutes it too long. The point is, it needs to be specified in your catalog.
4. Return policy. Very important in cloud environments are the policies for returning services once your customer doesn’t need them anymore. If it turns out that your customer only needs a service for a couple of days, but you charge for a full month, will they press the “Buy” button? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.
5. Warranty and support. It’s good to tell your customers what type of warranty and support you provide once they press the “Buy” button. Suppose the service breaks, will you try to fix it or simply replace it with a brand new one? And what are the expected resolution times when things go wrong? If the service will be used for an extended amount of time, will you do some maintenance or apply security patches?
6. Price. If this is not mentioned at all (as sometimes is the case for traditional internal service catalogs), nobody will press the “Buy” button. Unless, that is, all your services are free – but then people will order services limitlessly, and you’ll soon find that things are out of control.
Bottom line: The “Buy” or “Add to Cart” button is pivotal for drafting your service catalog for Cloud services. For every bit of information you put in your catalog, ask yourself whether it will confuse the potential buyer. Ask yourself if there’s any information missing that would make him or her more willing to push that button. Look at any typical web shop for consumer products or services for inspiration.
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If you’re interested in the line of thinking I’ve sketched here for IT services, you can read about using knowledge of supply chains and the Supply Chain Operations Reference (SCOR) model in my book “The IT Factory – Supply Chain Management for IT Infrastructure Services: Using the SCOR model” - Hans van Aken - ISBN 9789087536862 (or 9789087539368 for the eBook).