Service Catalog: Your Very Own IT Vending Machine

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I had a friend ask me the other day how many meals I make at dinner time. One, I replied. But, you have kids, she stated incredulously. Yes, but I don’t run a restaurant. And neither does IT. However, IT has been treated like a restaurant for decades, with different people and departments placing their orders for specific technologies, with a dash of speedy service on the side.

Restaurants have a leg-up on IT in this analogy as restaurants over the years created something terrific to help the overwhelmed chef: a menu. Instead of patrons coming in and ordering whatever they feel like at that moment, chefs have found a creative way to funnel the requests that come into the kitchen while still giving diners a choice.

Innovation hasn’t stopped there. Taking the idea of a menu one step further and offering it in a self-service format is the vending machine. While you may not always find what you need at the vending machine, it is designed to meet the most common needs on-demand. And this is exactly the model that IT is moving to with Service Catalog.

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IT Vending Machine
If you don’t have a menu, the sky is the limit. People can come in and ask you for anything at any moment. Never knowing what request could come next, this approach frequently puts IT on its heels and in the position of having to say no. By making the most frequent and common requests available via Service Catalog enables users to help themselves without ever entering the IT shop.

Users simply push an easy button and the product they want is delivered to them without lengthy processes, IT intervention or other delay. If a user or department needs something more than what is offered in the Service Catalog, they can always walk into the IT ‘restaurant’ and ask for something more.

This solution can be built using AWS Service Catalog, coding common IT solutions using AWS CloudFormation. CloudFormation allows us to specify provisioning of AWS services, software to be provisioned, configurations to be setup, and even allows for relevant resources outside of AWS to be created. Once a product has been codified as a CloudFormation template, it can be approved by IT and InfoSec. And, once a solution has been approved, it can be put on the IT vending machine shelf.

Developers then login to the AWS console where they will see the available solution. They can provision any one of them readily within minutes. Furthermore, they will have the confidence that what they have a provisioned is compliant with IT policies. AWS and cloud at large makes this possible in a way it has never been possible before.

Culture Shift
What the vending machine approach does is create a culture shift where IT is no longer juggling plates and hoping to serve as many people as possible as quickly as possible, but rather spend quality time servicing requests that are outside of the Service Catalog. This turns IT into a business enabler and positions them as solving problems rather than being seen as a gatekeeper.

Instead of talking people out of what they think they want, IT is able to give people what they want on demand. Specifically:

  • IT benefits as the most common, frequent requests are removed from its pipeline giving it critical resources to focus on strategic initiatives. IT gains a reputation for supporting the business rather than slowing it down. Moreover, if IT is focused on supporting say ten vending machine items, they can get really good at it. Whereas if all IT does is follow orders, it’s much more difficult to become good at it, making it that much harder to get ahead of the curve, and in turn much more difficult to gain a leadership position. By supporting the same few items, IT can scale faster because they are much more proficient while removing snowflakes from the environment that can cause time consuming problems.

  • This approach is also great for solution vendors whose products can be offered in the vending machine as well. Let’s take software vendors as an example. Rather than dealing with many IT departments, they can get a shelf in the vending machine which helps them achieve scale.  
  • The IT vending machine model motivates internal customers to choose something off the shelf as it saves them time and gets them back to work faster. With the ability to push a button and have their resources immediately available, users will opt for the pre-done vending machine product because it allows them to focus on producing results rather than waiting for IT to approve and process a request. If something more or different is really needed, they can always approach IT for it, knowing that the Service Catalog approach gives IT more ability to say yes to these requests.

Service Catalog is a culture shift for organizations with IT able to serve more people faster without them ever stepping foot into the kitchen. Internal customer satisfaction grows as users are able to self-serve their own IT needs, getting the resources they need when they need them, all while keeping their work moving forward. And IT is able to stop juggling plates and get ahead of the curve which provides an opportunity for strategic leadership. If you are interested in exchanging your apron to focus on more strategic work facilitated by Service Catalog, please contact us. Our award-winning assessment can help you identify what to put in your vending machine today for improved business results tomorrow.

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August 30, 2016 / DevOps, Service Catalog, Automation

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Flux7 Labs
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