How much do you value your current IT infrastructure?
Really, how critical is your IT infrastructure to your business operations? Chances are, it is essential, and few people have a problem acknowledging that. Much more have trouble admitting the value of IT documentation which, in reality, is nearly just as valuable as the infrastructure itself.
Four reasons why IT documentation is important
The all-too-common situation Commit100 sees in small enterprises: one IT consultant, and no documentation exists. True, the infrastructure is simple enough for one person to be able to keep it inside their head. But what happens when that person is suddenly gone? You are left blind in the dark with respect to your IT. You don’t know the infrastructure, systems, and most critically, the special access credentials and passwords. Even if a new IT consultant comes in, getting a clear picture of the IT situation, restoring all passwords and credentials will take time, and in an IT emergency that time is of prime value. Sadly, lack of documentation is what allows many IT consultants to hold their clients “hostage”, because nobody else knows the system. So knowledge transfer, both with respect to static infrastructure and dynamic ongoing projects, is the single most important reason to document your IT.
Medium-sized enterprises with 50 employees and more will likely have more than one IT consultant/employee. This is when documentation begins to serve another role – standardization and coordination, ensuring that the IT infrastructure is operated consistently and coherently, and the actions of one IT tech don’t conflict with others.
The third reason you want to document your IT is time efficiency. Developing an adequate IT approach or procedure takes time. If a step-by step document already exists, it only needs to be followed, with minimum time spent for thinking and figuring out the right approach.
IT documentation also allows IT itself to have a clear picture of what is going on. With tens if not hundreds of different types of programs and systems interacting in the IT environment, keeping a coherent understanding of what is going on is not always possible without supporting documentation; after all, the human attention span is limited.
What should be documented?
Some important things you should document, and the list is by no means exhaustive:
- Network and system overview. This gives any IT-savvy individual a general overview of your IT infrastructure. This may be one or more documents, depending on the size and complexity of your infrastructure.
- Administrative credentials and passwords. Needless to say, they should be stored in a secure, preferably encrypted, location, but accessible in case of an emergency and by other IT staff.
- IT policies, reflecting the IT approach to various aspects of managing the infrastructure. This includes
- Network and Security Policy (what networks and systems exist, for what purpose, who has access, etc),
- Information policy (privacy, appropriate email use),
- Internet policy (access to third-party resources like cloud platforms, what content is accessible, what content is blocked),
- Hardware management policy (how often hardware is replaced, how old hardware is used, etc),
- Backup and Recovery (when and how recovery is done),
- …and many more.
- Information system. All the software that supports business processes and how it interacts between each other.
- Hardware inventory. What hardware you have, where it is, who uses it, and if any spare devices are available if needed.
- Software and license inventory. What software you have, who uses it, and if any spare licenses are available if needed. This will prove invaluable in the case of a licensing audit.
- Project-related documentation. This is especially critical for knowledge transfer if multiple individuals successively work on the same project.
How to keep documentation updated?
First and foremost, work with your IT department or IT consultant to work out an approach to documentation. Make your position in this matter clear, and work out a policy to make sure important documentation exists and is updated, while avoiding excessive time spent on documentation.
It is best to update documentation real-time, as policies and environment change, but that is not always possible. Some documentation should in fact be updated immediately after changes are implemented, like administrative passwords. Commit100 recommends that IT policies and procedures should be revised and updated on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. This will also ensure that outdated and inaccurate documentation does not clutter up document library.