Workplace Services. A Brief Personal History of the Service Catalog and Its Evolution
When Cisco acquired netwScale (my company), in addition to our cloud portal, it also brought in the Cisco Workplace Portal (formerly RequestCenter).
There was a lot of curiosity as to what Cisco would do with an ITIL style service catalog and what the future of such product would be within Cisco. Well, it’s 18 months later and it is doing quite well, with an exciting roadmap and some new things already shipped and some in the wing.
In this post, I want to discuss what are workplace services, how they have evolved, how they are evolving and what it means to the service catalog.
Workplace services are those services that employees need in order to do their jobs. They include computers, phones, offices, new employee set up, terminations, access to applications and anything else you can imagine. I have seen tens of thousands of service definitions both common and unusual.
Common ones are the desktop computer variety, but even these sometimes have an unusual bent. For example, banks have different workstations for tellers than admin staff. Other have engineering workstations that are different salespeople. Role definition becomes a pretty important aspect of a service catalog implementation.
Unusual ones were “Report chemical fire”, “Order Executive Sedan”, “Inter-factory mail”, and “File patent idea”. Patent as a service, if you will
If it was something that could be requested, it went in the catalog. Today some customers have 1,500+ service definitions in their catalogs with user bases in the 350,000 employees.
But over the years, the workplace has not stayed the same. There have been many changes in the emphasis and priority of service definitions customers prioritized or cared about. The why they decided to use a service catalog has changed through the years and continues to evolve.
A brief history of the service catalog
From 2001-2004, the customer focus on why implement a service catalog was driven solely by cost reduction. Using self-service to eliminate calls to help desk (order, status, close, delays, problems, escalations generated many calls per service request). So my team spent a lot of time doing ROI calculators in those days. There wasn’t much integration required as few had automated processes and Cisco Workplace Portal has a powerful web based work manager that was better for process management than the the fat client help desks of the time. ITSM vendors took a long time to recognize the need for self-service because they kept talking to help desk managers rather than the consumer of the service itself. This is a pattern that we are also seeing with cloud services.
2004-3007. Sarbannes-Oxley (SOX) compliance became critical. The service catalog became a crucial component for documenting services, executing standard processes for account access and employee on-boarding and off-boarding a.k.a. hiring and firing. The burning issue was that many people had more levels of access to applications that regulations permitted, and accounts would remain active after they left their jobs. This created a potential risk for the company.
So two new uses cases arose: application access and the automated provisioning of identities from our service catalog, and the use of the catalog to control outsourced service delivery. The first led to connecting the catalog to tools like IBM Tivoli identity manager and Sun’s too. The latter sometime necessitated B2B interconnections between client and provider. This may not seem like a lot but there were hundreds of apps, very complicated rules on what roles could do what. It’s a very complex problems. So the service catalog brought down the cost of provisioning and improved performance from days to seconds, while maintaining controls.
This tension between providing self-service and maintaining control is also a pattern with cloud services.
Also, by 2006-2008, the focus had shifted to employee satisfaction with IT. ROI were not required. Most customers did enjoy cost savings; I remember one case where the legacy tool was costing $24,000 per service definition. Also, a lot of people woke up ITIL and ITIL mandated the use of a service catalog to do Service Level Management.
2007 – 2009 saw three things happen. The great recession, the birth of cloud computing and the maturation of ITIL change processes. The great recession changed IT operations in many ways: more desire to use SaaS, moving non-mission critical workloads to virtualized infrastructures. My favorite quotes from that time: “We are forklifting anything we can out of our datacenter”, “we are consolidating down two datacenters from 30”, and the winner “Those resources (Websphere admins) are gone and they are never coming back”.
Also, by then change management processes and tools were in place so integration with the ITSM stack became a must have requirement. But also integration with virtualized infrastructures like Vmware vCenter or Citrix XenServer.
And every customer had punch list of integrations required: CMDB’s, software distribution, single sign-on, procurement and many other tools became part of the majority of service catalog projects.
The service catalog was at the center of a vast web of tools, unifying the user experience that a bunch of processes and tools stitch together. Same pattern exists today with cloud services: lots of infrastructure and software abstracted up the catalog to deliver a unified experience.
2009-2012 saw the advent of the self-service and automated datacenter era and its cousin, the cloud. The new requirements are to provide complete control of resources in a self-service manner. Out goes the help desk as the primary integration point and in comes integration with cloud API’s such Amazon and automated orchestration of all activities instead of manual activities. This in a way is a sequelae of the Great Recession: one way to do more with less is to provide it via automated self-service.
The outcome of these new requirements for cloud based services meant that now lifecycle management, subscription management, and orchestration would become core to the Workplace portal.
Which is what we have been busily doing for all our customers
- We added a complete portlet system so now customers can extend the portal with new pages and new portlets. True to its flexible nature, the new Portal includes a Portal Designer and a Portlet Designer. And it’s Java JSR 168 compliant so you can bring those types of portlets into the portal. For newScale customer, this capability is now part of the standard license.
- We added a basic license to the Cisco Process Orchestrator in order to leverage its superior integration and extensive number of adapters.
- User experience is very important so we have some new widgets, called Grid Controls, that enable much more dynamic forms. Whether you need the ability to on-board a number of new employees, or specify an indeterminate number of IP addresses, the Grid Control vastly simplify the user experience.
- We also have made significant changes to the rules system. Now you can select whether rules execute in the client or on the server. This helps improve performance and security which results in a better user experience.
- New for our workplace portal customers are “Directory tasks” which enable easy manipulation and updating of directory information from workflows – a very common pattern in workplace services.
- And cloud services require API’s so brand new REST based API’s that enforce policies are available.
But that’s the past. The future looks even better.
The Future of Workplace Services – Back to the Future?
A funny thing about the future is that one can often see the what, but not the when. So take this with a grain of salt for the when.
Workplace services are fundamentally being altered by three phenomena:
- Rapid adoption of SaaS services
- Bring your own device (BYOD) and VDI/VXI
- The rise of social collaboration outside the enterprise
Saas will require the evolution of the service catalog into a “service broker” role focused on provisioning of ID’s, roles, and vendor management. In my view, the 2004 use cases with emphasis on goverance will make a comeback. And the use cases for outsourcing will also be relevant in this space. The new wrinkle will be the emphasis on automation, agility and subscription management.
Also, I believe that while the category of software called “Cloud Service Brokers” (CSBs) will be relevant, the very hard use cases that underpin Enterprise class applications will be be served by a traditional service catalog better than by the CSB’s. It is one thing to provision Google Apps for an employee, quite something else to provision access to “Time card system in the role of regional manager supply chain.”
BYOD moves provisioning beyond the physical device to the virtual desktop, applications access and communications capabilities to employees. This requires excellent orchestration as VDI/VXI as a service requires a rather large number of systems to be activated in close coordination. So just like in 2001, desktop provisioning was the main service and integration with help desk and procurement were needed, now integration with a variety of virtualization, communication and network services are required.
Finally, the rise of the social web and cross-company collaboration will bring in new requirements for defining the control boundary for data. Wikis, shared space, instant messaging, activity streams are all very cool new capabilities. But if that’s tracking a potential contract, who should see the amount of the contract? That will require a service catalog of access management which deals with new ways of communication and collaborating beyond the walls of the enterprise.