Service Catalog and CMDB: separate, but equal

As I was contemplating all the IT Service Management topics I’d like to write about in this blog, one subject stood out. The question that I am asked most often nowadays is: What is the relationship between the CMDB and the Service Catalog?

With advent of ITIL version 3 approaching our doorsteps, there is much speculation around how the Service Level Management process (namely the Service Catalog) will become much more of a core competency within the framework.

My hope is that it will become what the CMDB has been for more than a decade, which is the pedestal upon which all other ITIL processes depend. You see, to me it seems obvious: Service Management is about ‘managing services’… so without having defined your services, how can one pronounce to be mature in their delivery and support processes? Which means that you need a system of record for the services you are managing and delivering. Service Catalog is that system of record.

It would be pure Service Management blasphemy to wish the focus upon the CMDB realm to go away and to instead focus strictly on Service Catalogs; however, it is critical to understand how these two artifacts, together, are critical factors in the success of any ITSM endeavor.

Your CMDB is the repository for records of all things IT; in its simplest form, it maintains information about all of your infrastructure assets and their relationships to one another. This information is, by nature, very technical, and I submit it should be kept in the “back-office” operations of IT. Now, as I mentioned earlier, because Service Management is about managing services, then preferably, your CMDB’s relationship information will also include how your assets are related to the services you provide.

This does not make your CMDB a service catalog. While on one hand, it is important to have records in your CMDB which represent the services you provide, your CMDB is in no way shape or form ‘in customer friendly terms’ and it was never intended to be published to the business customers and users. It is, however, an invaluable tool when you begin to enhance your Service Portfolio.

Service Portfolios take your service catalog past requestable definitions of services to an actionable level. By having the CMDB’s pool of information at your fingertips, you are readily able to reach into its depths and find very useful information that can help you perform financial management activities, such as setting pricing based on actual service cost, and perform demand and capacity planning of services based on actual consumption information from your CMDB.

The top priorities for IT organizations today are to improve service delivery levels, better align with the needs of the business, and control overall IT spend. So you see, while the CMDB is critical for managing the back-office of IT, the Service Catalog is critical to the front-office as the method for presenting information back to the business.

I invite you to share your thoughts on how you view the relationship between Service Catalogs and the CMDB within your organization. I am sure this important topic will get a lot of airtime (and blogosphere bandwidth!), especially as ITIL v3 hits the street in the next few months.