The Need for Network Documentation in SMEs

Many Small and Medium Enterprises within the Caribbean view their IT assets as a nebulous mass only to be comprehended by their IT support staff. For many of us, this support staff constitutes a cut rate individual brought in as a fire fighter for our IT challenges. The issue with this approach is that, in the emergency of the firefight, we rarely get an opportunity to maintain a rational overview of how the IT assets are inter relating or delivering effectively on their overall cost to the organisation. In order to be in that space we need to be constantly documenting and analysing the network. For many, just the mention of documentation leaves us quaking in our boots. How can we document what we can barely understand?

Though many seek an elaborate overarching policy panacea for their documentation strategy. The best solutions really are very simplistic and agile in their approach. Especially as it relates to SMEs, the following rules of thumb are best:

– Keep it simple
– Keep it close
– Keep it constant

It doesn’t have to be elaborate
I have seen better documented networks that reside in little hard covered notebooks than on any other medium. That includes those documentation experts who rely on wikis, document sharing portals and a myriad of other function specific tools that have evolved specifically with that in mind. This is not to say that these mediums do nothing for you, but the key to good documentation rests more in getting started than it does on the viability of any tool. What this means for many system administrators is that good documentation is all about grabbing the first available tool which in most cases is a trusty hard covered notebook and a pen. It’s also pretty easy to capture diagrams, summaries, and key concepts fluidly in this medium making it a powerful and agile strategy for documentation. It also lends itself as a great aggregation point that steps into some of the more powerful documentation tools such as wikis and other portals.

You must be able to find it
One key tenet of documentation is assimilation of all the key bits of information in one location. If you are using the book strategy, make sure you can find the book! If you are using a portal, don’t aggregate some of the information here and then move on to another wiki to add other bits of information, or scribble other critical pieces of information on bits of paper. Disjointed information is tantamount to no information at all. The habit of consistency is aided if you can quickly and easily find the information you are looking for.

Make it a habit
If there is but one thing that makes it into your documentation policy let it be this, everything must be documented. Issues on the network, service requests, changes, problem management, implementations, expansions must all make their way into your preferred method of information capture. All occurences must be duly dated and conclusively captured. In between the firefighting, remember to capture the firefighting steps if only in some kind of cursory notation. You never know when that cursory notation is going to come back to be you single saving grace in the future.

Consistent data capture will make manifest many benefits. Apart from building insight into problem management, it also allows you to start seeing and understanding trends. You will be able to also isolate the hardware/software that works for you or hinders you. It also allows you to establish key policy adjustments that need to be made. Finally it will provide you with a footprint on which to assess the true cost and benefit of your IT assets.



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