Get Started Documenting Your Own Environment

IT documentation - what is it and how do you get started?

In IT documentation, the relevant data of all important components of the IT in use are recorded centrally in a structured manner. Still, the question remains: What is relevant data? And what are the “important components”?

It depends on the perspective. More precisely: on the user group. Each group of users in the company has a different focus. As an IT administrator, you need flexible technical documentation. First and foremost, you want to know what devices are available. You are interested in what software is installed on them and whether the patch level is up to date. You value flexibility and the level of detail required to store a version or model designation. And you’ll see right away that this is not the only angle on IT documentation.

At first glance, the term "IT documentation" seems unambiguous. In practice, however, it is used extremely flexibly. You will often read the term in connection with a monitoring or discovery solution.

IT documentation should enable you at any time to see 

  • Where a device is located
  • Which parts of the network it is accessing
  • Which software is installed on it
  • How this software is licensed
  • Which services the device provides or requires
  • Who is responsible for the operation of the device
  • Who uses the device
  • Which maintenance contracts have been concluded
  • When and by whom which changes were made to the device in question

Why should you document (your IT)?

First and foremost, you create and maintain IT documentation to ensure you have an up-to-date overview of your IT landscape. The only way to plan future investments wisely is to know what you already have. However, there are very tangible reasons why IT documentation is indispensable.

Retain organizational knowledge

If your best employee moves to another company or retires, their professional experience will be lost, leaving a gaping hole in your workflow. Because of this, it’s important for companies to document the experience and technical expertise of senior employees so that the company’s knowledge isn’t lost when the employee leaves.

IT system failures

With IT documentation, you know immediately who is responsible for the faulty system in the event of a malfunction. You also know what needs to be done to rectify the fault as quickly as possible. In addition, you can immediately see which other processes and systems are affected. You are thus in a position to bridge failed systems at short notice in order to keep your infrastructure operational. In such a case, this is also referred to as emergency documentation.

This emergency documentation also includes the storage of restart plans. In these plans, you will find exact information about the steps required to bring defective systems back into operation.

Save time and effort

Not having proper IT documentation means employees will complete the task in different ways. Whilst some may be able to complete the task quickly, others will likely waste time and effort trying to figure everything out from scratch.

Costs

IT documentation gives you an overview of maintenance and license contracts, as well as the status of each individual device. Imagine the cost of still paying license and maintenance fees for retired equipment. Link contracts and licenses directly to each asset. When decommissioning, you have all the information you need to holistically remove devices from your infrastructure.

Changes

IT is subject to change throughout your lifecycle to remain efficient or align with business goals. When you make changes, visibility is essential. What other systems or departments are affected?

The smallest careless changes can have far-reaching consequences for processes, systems and services. If you don’t have an overview, expensive failures are inevitable.

This is how you start your IT documentation

"How should I get started? What do I even need to document?"

These questions are always in the air at the beginning of the project. The answer is, “Determine what you need and reduce your documentation to those requirements.” In theory, this sounds simple. In practice, numerous obstacles get in the way. Let’s embark on the journey to your IT documentation together.

Different users, different requirements

First and foremost, you will be documenting for your own area of responsibility: IT. IT professionals have a penchant for detailed technical data collections. However, keep in mind that far more people and departments in the company will have an interest in IT documentation. And not all users need the same level of detail.

 

The ladies and gentlemen from accounting will have little interest in technical data. Here, things like maintenance contracts, purchase orders and invoices become important. If you ask in customer support, you will get different information again. Here, instructions and manuals are high on the agenda. And if you ask your IT manager, he will ignore many of the details that are important to you. He needs a quick overview of the big picture for his daily work.

Our tip: Get representatives from all departments around the table at the start of IT documentation. Involve all future users of the data in the project.

Prioritize the right things

Documentation awakens the hunter-gatherer. This inevitably leads to you documenting too much or the wrong thing. In the end, you have included things in the documentation that you will never need again. To not run into this problem talk to the people involved. Ask the right questions. Gather all the requirements before you start the project. Then you’ll be on your way to IT documentation that offers everyone real added value.

Top down or bottom up?

When you start with your IT documentation, you have several possible approaches. If you first start with the basic infrastructure and work your way up, we talk about the bottom-up approach. You look at your IT landscape from the bottom up. Start with the assets on which everything is built: sites, buildings and rooms.

Another approach looks at IT from the top. You start with the vital IT services. Then you document their components. You work your way down until you get to the physical infrastructure. In this case, you document according to the top-down principle.

Both methods have their justification. To achieve quick results and document all important parts of the IT landscape, the top-down method is recommended. To build up your IT documentation comprehensively, we recommend the bottom-up method. We look at these here.

IT documentation must be consistent

That is the mantra of documentation. Consistency ensures trust. It’s not just about the trust you yourself have in your own IT documentation. It’s primarily about the trust of other stakeholders.

Define the depth of information
When you capture a specific piece of information for a single asset, you capture it for all other assets in the same class. This means that if you record the IP address of a server in the IT documentation, you do the same for all other servers.

What happens if you don’t?
The documentation is not just for your own work. Everyone you work with benefits from it. People rely on the information and expect it to be complete. If your employees can find the IP address of a server in the IT documentation, they expect the same for every other server. If this is not the case, they lose confidence in the data.

Set small and realistic goals. Try to achieve these goals step by step. It is enough to collect the IP address and hostname of all servers as a first step. But if you do this, do it for all servers

IT documentation must meet your requirements

Avoid being a hunter-gatherer. Find out what your day-to-day business requirements are. Define what questions need to be answered. Determine what information you need. Record the result of these considerations in a configuration management plan as a guideline for your employees and for yourself.

What happens if you document too much?
The mass of data cannot be kept up to date. Another disadvantage of too much data: Relevant things get lost in the mass of incidental things. You will be hard pressed to find the important things.

Plan and organize your IT documentation carefully . Keep two things in mind:

Documentation takes time
Plan the time needed in advance. Make sure your employees and bosses accept this fact. Do not argue about the additional time required.
Include your documentation in your processes and projects.
Is there a guide for setting up new servers? Include the necessary documentation. Are new Exchange servers being set up by outside consultants? Let them know how they will be included in your IT documentation. Let them know your exact requirements.

Result

Nowadays, there are numerous IT documentation software providers in the market, each of them with their own strengths that appeal to different businesses. Among the vendors, some of the qualities that stand out are ease of use, customizability, and accessibility. 

Start your IT documentation fast

XEOX’s Configuration Management Database (CMDB) is an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) database, which enables you to store all your information about hardware, software and user assets in one central location. Advanced search features allow you to use various filters to locate specific assets in the database.

  • Improve overview of IT resources
  • Minimize operating costs
  • Support IT management

IT documentation cannot be ignored if your goal is to increase IT efficiency and productivity. Without documentation, patching plans could be missing, important server configurations could be lost, and new employees will need more time to learn the ropes.

Within today’s modern IT environment, good documentation is the backbone of any organization and is a critical tool for achieving your growth goals. To continue to meet the needs of today’s businesses, specialized IT documentation software has emerged to streamline and automate key parts of the documentation process while making better use of data.

Ready to get started documenting your IT environment?

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