Common mistakes when building your ServiceNow Catalog

Table of Contents

Reading time: 4-5 minutes
Audience: ServiceNow Administrators; Catalog developers; Platform owners
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ServiceNow provides very powerful functionality around Service and Product Catalog management. Indeed, this is one of the most used platform capabilities, and what is more important, one of the most widely visible in an organisation.

A well defined and optimised catalog, built following Catalog Best Practices, can contribute to a seamless user experience, in which users can intuitively find and request the required product and services, and see their requests fulfilled within the expected timelines.

On the other hand, the open nature and high degree of flexibility and customisability which the ServiceNow platform provides to define and manage Catalogs can also result in a less than optimal user experience. Managing and governing the variety of items, variables and variable sets, categories, etc which can be created in the Catalog can also become a challenge, especially for organisations with hundreds or thousands of items in the catalog.

Some of the most common violations to Catalog Best Practices are:

Code and Variable duplication

Often times you will need to include similar but distinct items in your Service Catalog. This means that the business logic associated with them is also likely to be similar to a certain degree. Lacking a proper analysis and design, it is all too easy to copy and paste whole scripts, making only some minor modifications (or, in a worst case scenario, none at all!), and associate each script to a different catalog item. This means that, should a bug arise in the shared section of the code, it will need to be fixed “n” times. Of course this will increase the development effort and the likelihood that some cases will be missed. Have a look to our post about code duplication in ServiceNow to learn more.

In the same way, it is easy to create single variables which represent the same concept for each of the related Catalog Items. This means that variable names and descriptions can become inconsistent, and while this in itself will not introduce bugs, it can contribute to a confusing user experience.

How to fix: Consider using UI Scripts to encapsulate the common code across related Catalog Items, leaving only the item-specific functionality in the Catalog Client Script. For variables, use a variable set so that the variable names and descriptions are consistent across all items.

Complex Categories and Workflows

Given the highly flexible nature of the Service Catalog component, it is possible to create complex structures which result in a sub-optimal user experience. A case in point is the existence of deeply nested Catalog Hierarchies, which force users to navigate through large and complex categories tree before finding the item they need. Similarly, the addition over time of different and more specialised requirements can mean that the workflows associated with Catalog Items become overly complex, sometimes with hundreds of activities. This can quickly become a maintenance nightmare, and result in provisioning SLAs being missed.

How to fix: limit the depth of your category tree to three or four levels at most. Use smaller, modular workflows. Avoid the use of Timer activities unless absolutely required.

Untagged items

Adding meta-tags to Catalog Items makes it possible to retrieve them from the standard ServiceNow search function by using keywords or phrases not included in their name or description. However, this functionality is often under-used, or not used at all. This diminishes the ability of user to quickly find the items they need, and can generate frustration in the user community.

How to fix: Populate the meta-tag attribute on the Catalog Items. Note that the field may be not visible on the default form layout, so you will need to added it in the form configuration.

Under-utilisation of Item Designer

Even though the Service Catalog Item Designer has been available since the Eureka release, may organisations have continued to use the full features of the Service Catalog to create and manage their Catalog Items. Although this ensures maximum flexibility, it may not always be the most efficient option, as it typically requires involvement of IT resources and a more complex release management process from sub-Production to Production environments.

How to fix: Consider delegating the administration of simpler Catalog Items to non-IT users, who can become quite productive with some training on the Item Designer features.

What can Quality Clouds do to alleviate some of these Pain Points?

Quality Clouds provides a holistic view of your Catalog configuration through our Catalog-centric dashboards. By running Quality Clouds scans on a regular basis, you can easily gain visibility on the following key metrics, which will help you track whether you are deviating from Catalog Best Practices:

  • Active and inactive Catalogs, categories and Items.
  • Depth of Catalog categories – So you can avoid forcing your users to click through a long list of fine grained categories until they find the item they need.
  • Highlight how many items are using the Meta tag attributes, which makes them available through searches on the platform.
  • Are you using item designer to streamline Catalog Item definition?
  • How many duplicate Variable Names are there on my Catalog? Do I have many closely related variables (such as “iPhone 7 Capacity”, “iPhone 8 Capacity”,  etc? A high number of duplicates or near duplicates indicates the need for re-factoring using Variable Sets.
  • What has changed on my Catalog definition since the last time I looked?
  • Am I duplicating code in my Catalog Code Elements (Catalog Client Scripts, UI Actions or Record Producers)?
  • How complex are my custom workflows? Are my ServiceNow workflows making an excessive use of Timer activities? (which could cause fulfilment SLAs to be missed)

Catalog Overview screenshot

Quality Clouds Catalog Dashboard for ServiceNow


In addition to all the above, with Quality Clouds Enterprise Edition you can configure your own custom rules, including specific naming conventions for Catalog Variables, Variable Sets, or any code elements.

You can get a FREE full assessment of your ServiceNow Catalog within minutes. Connect your instance now and find out the adherence to best practices.

You can get more insights about development in our ServiceNow development white paper report, available here.

Contact us to know more! Book a demo or start your trial (no credit card required)

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