IT Service Catalog Design for Higher Education

Like any Service Catalog Workshop worth its salt, ours includes a series of focus groups with each user demographic. Focus groups are a fantastic way to gather information, as the group setting tends to open up dialogue and (hopefully) healthy debate. We highly recommend them.

One crucial demographic to include in these focus groups when designing for schools is of course, students. We’ve conducted a number of student focus groups at major universities throughout the US over the past several years, and as a result have learned some fascinating things about their priorities and preferences. We’ve found ourselves surprised more than once. Let’s see if you are, too. Here’s a look at a few things we’ve picked up.

What do students need from IT?

This should be one of the first questions you ask in a focus group, as it helps illuminate the top reasons students interact with IT. Here’s what we’ve learned from this one. Students typically contact IT when they need/have:

  • Password issues
  • Internet access issues or questions
  • Assistance with Antivirus software
  • Advice on purchasing a new computer
  • Access to applications or software updates
  • Training or general How-To information

Why is this important? It gives you a better understanding of what students look for in a Service Catalog – what is important to them – and of course, what isn’t.

How do we get the word out?

This, to my surprise, is often one of the biggest concerns students have. Most students agree having an IT Service Catalog is a great idea, but they have concerns about distribution of the information. Doing all the hard work to create, develop, and publish your Service Catalog will go unnoticed if you don’t tell anyone about it. The most successful educational institutions have well executed marketing and awareness campaigns, so their customers know the Service Catalog exists and where to find it. The following ideas for spreading the word come directly from university students:

  • Email campaigns
  • Feature on the university website
  • Heavy focus at Freshman Orientation
  • Resident Assistant outreach

Without spreading the word, all of your efforts will be wasted! That’s not fun for anyone.

How do we make it usable for students?

Students care a lot about style. If your Service Catalog comes out unsightly or difficult to use, we can guarantee that students will not use it. Your students are coming from a wide range of backgrounds, and they are not all Computer Science majors. They want things in easy-to-understand, plain language. They also want it to look nice and neat, without a lot of clutter. Surprisingly, the students we spoke with asked for a clean look, even if it took more clicks to get to what they needed.

One MUST HAVE: Students want to know when they should expect a response to their request. Anticipated response times should be clearly listed. The last thing they want is to submit a service request through the service catalog only to have it disappear into a black hole, requiring them to call to the service desk for a status update. Students expect frequent and clear communication – both of which are key components of any service catalog.

Now for some miscellaneous feedback we’ve gathered from students:


  • Students really love being able to submit requests after hours, versus having to wait for the Service Desk to open.
  • The consistency of information provided by the Service Catalog is a huge pro for students and IT departments alike. Specifically, IT departments love having a single resource to which they can send students for information. An extension of this idea is the One Stop, which are (rightly) growing more popular on campuses, as they provide one central place to go for assistance.
  • A Service Catalog can take out the guess work; we found out that students often call the wrong place for assistance and end up wasting time.


  • Some students who were unhappy with the current level of support provided by IT saw the Service Catalog as another opportunity for IT to disappoint them. If you have an unhappy customer base, a Service Catalog can definitely improve customer satisfaction. However, it’s important to find the root cause of the dissatisfaction. You may find opportunities for improvement.
  • Students were adamant about not wanting to see services they don’t need. Items relevant for Faculty or Administrative Support shouldn’t be listed in the Student Service Catalog, for instance. Role-based permissions for viewing are key to mitigating this.

As you can see, a lot of work goes into creating, maintaining, and enhancing a Service Catalog students will actually use. If you need assistance getting started, or assistance making improvements, our Service Catalog Workshop and coaching can help create one (or many) catalogs customers will get excited about!



Originally published December 12 2016, updated December 12 2019