Blog

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Google Plus Share to LinkedIn

Maintaining up to date records of your systems, policies, software licencing and everything else IT related simplifies the management and support of your systems and makes collaborating with external parties on the upkeep and running of your IT straightforward and stress free.

Introduction

IT documentation - it’s the overview you need, and the result, of nearly all your endeavours and without up to date documentation you really can’t carry out your responsibilities effectively with regard to managing and supporting your IT. Every aspect of the management of your systems is facilitated and improved by accurate and well-maintained records.

What to document

Document everything. You will need to identify and maintain the details of all the physical and software items on your network, both their key attributes and configuration, and all non-physical items such as disaster recovery plans, policies, contracts, contact details of key suppliers… it all needs to be sorted out, written down and kept current.

documentation pile

This far from exhaustive list gives you a flavour of what you should be recording. Each item could be expanded to many pages’ worth of detail and advice as to what and how to document it – the important thing is to start, and work diligently to grow your documentation store and keep it up to date.

The three main areas of documentation are Practical, Technical and Commercial & Managerial.

Practical documentation:

The documentation trail needs to begin with the basics, addressing the simple practicalities of the organisation. Also, you shouldn’t take for granted that whoever needs to use the information (perhaps in a crisis) is familiar with your organisation at all.

  • If the offices are large enough, a map of the physical locations detailing what is kept where
  • Floor plans details where equipment is located throughout the office - not everything is consolidated in the comms room. Also where users sit, unless your organisation practises hot-desking
  • Information concerning physical security - who are the key holders or security team, who do you need to ask for access to certain areas, what are the restrictions on access to certain locations and rooms - it wold be helpful if these were documented in a ‘Physical Security & Access Policy and Procedure’ document
  • The locations of critical lifesaving equipment and critical life systems, such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire aid kits, defibrillator equipment as well as other pertinent health and safety details such as first aid contacts, emergency escape routes and locations of fire alarms.
  • A log of who has been given access to physical locations when approval has been required, both to individuals internal and external to the organisation
  • A table of areas which are strictly off limits to certain people - this should be clear and unambiguous
  • What access is accorded to external parties (contractors, delivery men, collections etc)
  • Landlord and building security and commissionaire contact information can be useful at times
  • Last but not least, where you can get a decent coffee and sandwich at 4 in the morning, safely. This last point can be worth its weight in gold.

It can be difficult to be exhaustive when listing out all the relevant data you can think of but try brainstorming it with colleagues. Most of this information only has to be written down once and may not have to updated very often.

office layout

Other eventualities that may present themselves:

  • Days when the office is empty or quiet due to training or on-site client commitments
  • Any routine maintenance on the site which would prevent access to systems
  • Any information needed to organise or schedule deliveries, such as contacts in loading bays or in the building management team who is responsible for booking in deliveries and collections.

Technical documentation:

Technical documentation is the area most people assume is what is meant by the term ‘documentation’ though as you can see it is much more than this, covering non-technical practical, commercial and managerial items as well - all the things required for the smooth running of your IT department.

There is no doubt, however, that the area of technical documentation is the one which requires most effort and diligence and one where you will see most activity.

  • Hardware and software items: the basic components that make up your interconnected IT such as hardware and software servers, PCs, laptops and workstations, printers and copiers, phone system and phones - everything. If in doubt, include it in your documentation. Each item should have its own record sheet, updated accordingly when any changes occur.
  • Networking services and configuration: your network layout and design, supported by logical and physical diagrams and key network configuration details, your communications setup including details on your ISP and broadband telephony services as well as configuration details for network services and applications running on the network. 
  • Backup measures, resilience and security: your backup regime and any redundancy or resilience built into your systems. Also key here is security - physical and logical security information needs to be recorded - securely. You need to consider where this information will be stored and who has access to it.
  • Log history: those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Tracking and recording significant events and issues per device, service and user will greatly reduce troubleshooting time and is an invaluable aid to collaboration when working in teams.
  • External services: quite a lot happens these days off the network in the cloud or with 3rd party services such as hosting or software support, though the documentation of this should be treated no differently - it’s all part of your, albeit extended, infrastructure.

network diagram

The key thing is to find the balance - not too much or too little information. The trick is to know what is relevant, and you will need to both learn this over time and work with your IT team to glean what is important.

Commercial & Managerial documentation:

Commercial and managerial documentation covers pretty much everything else. All of the legal, HR financial, accounting files and documentation needed for the efficient management of your IT. If you have an existing IT team or outsourced partner then this will be the area that you will most likely take care of. It will act as the repository of your day to day administrative records.

  • Software Licencing details
  • IT Policies and procedures
  • Plans & budget – you should have your 3-5 year plan and budget centre stage in your documentation
  • Reports – reports ranging from budgetary variance and analysis through to how your IT supplier is performing against their SLA
  • Job descriptions
  • Training materials
  • Support agreements, supplier contacts and contracts – all of the 3rd party support and warranty information should be kept to hand 
  • Passwords – you should store your user and system credentials in a secure repository
  • Asset register – this is the most fundamental item you will maintain, from which most if not all other documentation will be linked

The amount of detailed technical information that could be stored about your infrastructure can be immense, so you probably don’t want to be the sole custodian of all this information. For a lot of what is required there’s little point in attempting to accurately record technical detail that you don’t understand. An appropriately experienced IT professional is the best choice to record and manage the technical stuff, and for to focus on the rest, though as long as at least the key technical details are set down then the job is mostly done.

documentation body image

The key thing is to be aware of the total scope of what needs to be recorded to ensure someone is keeping tabs on all the data, and to ensure that everyone is aware who is responsible for maintaining which pieces of information and what their role is in the documentation process.

IT Documentation policy

A positive step you can take to support the documentation process is to have a documentation policy, clearly setting out what documentation needs updating by who and when.

It should detail where the relevant documentation is stored and what circumstances trigger an update to the documentation, e.g. when a server is replaced or when a support contract is renewed.

It should clearly state who has ultimate responsibility for the upkeep of the documentation, and who is responsible for what areas if more than one person maintains it.

It is also worth stating why it is being kept, so that any newcomers to the process are educated early on as to why good documentation is important.

It’s difficult to maintain a comprehensive set of documentation without either developing a deeper understanding of your systems over time or working with either internal or external IT resources. However you manage your IT, ensuring that the documentation you maintain is comprehensive, accurate and up to date is essential to the efficient upkeep of your systems and your ability to manage your assets.

If you want to remain completely non-technical, one of the most important things you can do to ensure the health of your systems is to ensure all the people, or roles, mentioned in an IT documentation policy hold up their end and keep their commitments. If done properly, all else will flow from this.

Conclusion

We can't state enough how important it is to develop and maintain your IT documentation. Try to encourage good practices and regularity when it comes to maintaining the documentation of your systems - if maintaining documentation becomes too much of a chore for you and your IT team, it will eventually fall into disrepair and not be updated.

There is no point of having technical documentation that is out of date as this is worse than having none at all, as people will relying on this information for troubleshooting purposes, or in a worst-case scenario for disaster recovery purposes when it may be all they have to go on.

There’s something magical about good documentation – making sure you keep good records seems to have a positive knock-on effect on the quality of the work generally.