Documentation

What is IT Documentation: Types, Challenges & Solutions

This article explores the different aspects of IT documentation and how to leverage it for long-term business success.

Introduction

A 2020 Forrester report commissioned by Adobe discovered that 97 percent of organizations had minimal or no digital document processes, and 72 percent used a mix of paper-based and digital processes. Without comprehensive, streamlined digital document processes, companies lose critical time and resources when team members apply changes to outdated document versions.

There’s no way fast-moving organizations can maintain high productivity levels when using paper document versions.

Today, it’s next to impossible for managed services providers (MSPs) or IT leaders and professionals to remember where everything is as they navigate through various systems and gather information. 

As an IT leader, you understand the importance of keeping your customers satisfied by providing them with efficient, high-quality services. Your success involves relying on your employees for any number of critical tasks, including their direct work with their customers.

However, if your critical information and processes live only inside the heads of your employees, you’re likely wasting time and resources via redundant operations and onboarding.

Not only are you wasting time, but you’re also putting your MSP at risk by not carrying out proper client documentation. For example, if an employee suddenly leaves the organization, they may take client-specific knowledge with them and force you to start the relationship all over again. If that isn't a disaster, I don't know what else is… And a preventable one at that.

Keeping disasters like this from happening is just one of the reasons that consistent, thorough documentation in IT is critical to the long-term success of an MSP.

Sounds familiar? Let’s examine what IT documentation is and how to use Scribe for software documentation.

What is IT documentation?

IT Documentation is the recording and storing of key information for an IT environment.

It is an organized survey of all the information an IT team needs to operate effectively. This technical documentation involves creating written records of all key business information, which can be referred to for onboarding or simply to help technicians run more efficiently.

Effective documentation systems should include everything from details about your customers to how-to guides and step-by-step guides for specific operations. 

Simply, you systematically collect and structurally organize all your mission-critical IT information so your IT team can easily access the right information they need at the right time (when they need it).

What should you document?

The following are examples of information you should document (and not limited to):

  • Administrative credentials and passwords should be stored in a secure, preferably encrypted, location, but accessible in case of an emergency and by other IT staff.
  • Network and system overview gives your IT team a general overview of your IT infrastructure. This may be one or more documents, depending on the size and complexity of your infrastructure.
  • Software and license inventory— Create a detailed list of the software you have, who uses it, and if any spare licenses are available if needed. This will prove invaluable in the event of a licensing audit.
  • Project-related documentation is needed especially for knowledge transfer if multiple individuals successively work on the same project.
  • Information system — Document all the software that supports business processes and how it interacts with each other.
  • Hardware inventory — Create a detailed list of the hardware you have, where it is, who uses it, and if any spare devices are available if needed.
  • IT policies that encompass your IT approach to various aspects of managing the infrastructure. This includes:
    • Internet policy (access to third-party resources like cloud platforms, what content is accessible, what content is blocked).
    • Information policy (privacy, appropriate email use).
    • Hardware management policy (how often hardware is replaced, how old hardware is used, etc).
    • Network and Security policy (what networks and systems exist, for what purpose, who has access, etc).
    • Backup and Recovery (when and how recovery is done).

What makes IT documentation different from other types of documentation?

How critical is your IT infrastructure to your business operations? Chances are, it is essential, and few people have a problem acknowledging that. Many more have trouble admitting the value of IT documentation which, in reality, is nearly just as valuable as the infrastructure itself.

At first glance, the term “IT documentation” seems complex. However, in practice, it is used extremely flexibly. Documentation in IT is more than creating a detailed inventory of descriptions tasks, methods, procedures, and any other essential piece of information used in an IT environment.

Effective IT documentation tells you much more about your IT landscape. It also reflects the tenets of software documentation best practices

IT documentation systems enable your IT team to see exactly what is happening at any time. A software documentation example will include the following:

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

Uniting this information in a central IT documentation software like Scribe enables your IT team to derive real knowledge from previously unstructured data.

Why is IT documentation important?

Every detail, big or small, can have a big impact on the operation of a network. For example, a forgotten password for an AD account that wasn’t recorded could lead to time wasted and a potential security vulnerability whereas if the password was available in a centralized and easy-to-access location the issue could easily be solved.

Some benefits of IT documentation include:

Documentation reduces/eliminates duplicity. When you document how to do something once, there is no need to do it repeatedly.  If someone already knows how to complete a task and documents it, the next person can easily take advantage of this shared knowledge and replicate such tasks.

Reduces time wastage and improves consistency. Without clear, documented systems, many employees are likely wasting time daily. This may not seem like a lot of time in the short run, but it can truly add up across your business in the long run. Choosing one efficient method to document for all your staff to refer to will save time and improve consistency. IT documentation also saves you time and energy when training new hires, since they can learn from clear step-by-step processes instead of needing to rely entirely on an already-busy employee to train them.

Protects the organization. Whether it’s about your customers or about specific processes, having critical information stored exclusively in the mind of a single technician is incredibly risky. Without ensuring this information exists in a documentation software in the organization, you put the future success of your organization in the hands of one technician—which can leave you scrambling to provide support to customers if that specific employee leaves unexpectedly. With consistent documentation, you can keep your MSP business protected against the unexpected.

Easy SOP creation. Recorded information can also provide basic company Standard of Procedures (SOPs) or instructions for the operation of both individual devices and entire networks.

This is important because this information is central to the responsibilities of IT providers. Those who take advantage of IT documentation also benefit from its use because of its simplicity and accessibility.

Types of IT documentation

Device documentation

This involves recording the details of any given device to allow technicians to get a quick look at the components of any device. These details typically include the External IP address, operating system, and the software on the device.

Process documentation

Process documentation is essential to ensuring that SOPs are carried out accurately and efficiently. This type of documentation is also valuable when writing about how to acquire licenses.

Credentials documentation

IT documentation can also be used to store secure information. Credentials such as usernames and passwords as well as MFA information are essential to the operation of IT environments. Therefore, it's important to keep them in a safe but accessible location. 

Environmental documentation

Overseeing many IT environments can be challenging, and it may be difficult to remember how different devices on any given network are connected to each other. This is where environmental documentation comes in.

Environmental documentation includes references such as network maps, with information on how different devices interact and the reliance between them.

Incident response documentation

Cyberattacks are "one of the perks that come with working in the IT space." Incident response documentation provides recorded steps to identify how a breach occurred, what was affected in the breach, and how to respond to a breach. Having an incident response plan can help IT leaders to feel prepared for future cyberattacks.

IT documentation challenges

Document traceability

One of the most common IT documentation challenges is the inability to trace documents throughout their lifecycle.

If there was a good documentation process in place, you should be able to determine the status of the document, what changes have been made, if it has been authorized or not, whether it has been shared with other stakeholders, and so on.

Document traceability is difficult to achieve without IT documentation software — Scribe easily digitizes your documents and implements a system to manage the records lifecycle.

Document security

Most business documents contain sensitive information that needs to be held securely. This is why manual processes have no security cover. It is very easy to break into such systems and retrieve proprietary information that can, in some cases, prove detrimental to a business's functioning. 

Solution: You need an electronic document management software that can easily solve this challenge. Scribe protects your IT documents in many ways so that any person wanting access to them would need to provide proof of permission. Only permitted individuals will be allowed access. This gives you control over how searchable and accessible you want your document to be.

Editing Issues

Paperwork is not open to multiple edits each time an edit is made, as a reprint is needed to record the final version of a document. Not only is this a waste of business time, but also a waste of resources.

Solution: Electronically, all your necessary documents can be easily retrieved and edited when required. Scribe allows you to set permission constraints on certain documents and allow only chosen individuals access to edit these documents. Your employees will waste less time manually editing and printing paper documents, thus utilizing that saved time on more productive aspects of their job.

Lack of accessibility

For example, if a team member is out of town, or on sick leave, and their sign-off is needed on a particular document to proceed further, then a paper-focused document management system poses a big problem. How do you get the paper to the required person? This lack of accessibility can risk the team's performance and drastically reduce productivity.

Solution: Scribe allows your IT team to get their documents signed off or updated no matter where an employee is. As long as there's internet connectivity, they will have access to the documents and will be able to work on them unhindered. 

Collaboration challenges

All modern businesses operate inside an ecosystem of customers, partners, and extensive supply chains.

Without the ability to easily share documents, unnecessary friction and expenses are bound to happen.

Good documentation software must allow employees to exchange documents within the firm or with external stakeholders while tracking each activity performed on the document.

Solution: Select a tool that allows you to easily collaborate with your IT team(s). With Scribe, you can share your process guide with one click, and:

  • Export as PDF document.
  • Embed in existing tools and wikis.
  • Export to Confluence.
  • Send to teammates or clients with a URL link.
  • Copy into a document with HTML or Markdown.

Conclusion

While IT documentation can look difficult to achieve because of the overwhelming amount of information needed to be recorded, conquer that fear by starting small.

Begin to document small repetitive tasks and move to other significant ones. Over time, your IT team will thank you for the relevant customer information at their fingertips — therefore, quickly troubleshooting problems and reducing the number of IT support inquiries by augmenting your IT support center with Scribe.

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Your IT documentation management system is critical to your team’s productivity, and directly impacts the security and privacy of your business, customers and vendors.

For all your work to pay off, it’s critical that you have all that documentation clearly organized and accessible.

While it’s possible to perform documentation manually, using IT documentation software maximizes your efforts and makes the process that much easier.

Documentation software not only saves you time, but it also provides tried-and-true frameworks to guide your work. 

Learn more about how Scribe empowers IT teams to succeed and create your next process documentation for free today!