IT Documentation - The Blog

What’s in a good IT documentation?

May 28, 2014

In many forums, users keep asking about the contents of a (good) IT documentation. Which information should the documentation contain, and what should be its extent? Another exciting question is whether somebody has a Word template (again, a good one, of course) at hand. And all this at no cost and without taking much time. They want to put the entire IT documentation into a single Word document? A fascinating idea. I wonder what result they expect.

But what would be the structure of a (good) IT documentation?

Try a different approach by asking which goals you would like to achieve with it. Leave alone all the legal requirements that have to be complied with.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines documentation as the “accumulation, classification, and dissemination of information”. The same applies to our IT documentation: Our goal will be to accumulate, classify, and disseminate information. By evaluating data and creating relations between them, you turn data into information. So let’s collect the data first.

Three steps to IT documentation

The first step will be to collect corresponding data in your network. We need qualified input in order to create a well-founded data basis. To do so, we will act like Internet providers, government agencies, or secret services. We want to collect a huge amount of data. If some of it is useless, we can delete it later anyway. But, that’s just how it is: You can only evaluate the data you collected before. Luckily enough, we will not collect personal data here, but the inventory data of our network. Data collection for this purpose is for a reason.

“We must know and understand the things we are documenting.”

Once the data basis is available, the next step will be to define functional interrelations and create evaluations in order to turn it into information. If we want to have up-to-date information, we consequently need up-to-date data from our network. This can be achieved by using the Docusnap documentation suite where you can schedule inventory jobs. In the third step, you can create IT documents to reflect the actual IT concepts. These documents will be stored in a central location and made available to all authorised persons.

What's in a (good) IT documentation?

1. Collecting inventory data for the input
You see that creating IT documentation consists of multiple steps. We first collect a pool of input such as inventory data, commercial documents entered manually, and organisational data. Following ITIL, we label this pool Configuration Management Database (CMDB). If the database cannot hold all the data, this is no problem. Simply use multiple databases. ITIL calls this system a Configuration Management System (CMS). It might be a good idea to also collect the log files of your IT systems. Here, syslog can be of help. But we will not focus on log files now. A lot of data will have to be added, most of them manually, such as software licenses, passwords, information on purchasing, the actual purposes, and hardware and software availability requirements. Collect as much data as possible.

2. The data you collected will be processed into information
Now, we create topical and functional relations between the inventory data. This will primarily be a task for technical staff. Only the experts who once introduced the hardware systems and installed the software or care for them now, will be able to document their knowledge with respect to interrelations and dependencies. This means that we need to process our inventory data in such a way that the interrelations are documented. The result of this step is known as IT relation; according to ITIL, it is also called “IT Service”. For a (good) IT documentation, document as many dependencies as possible.

3. Accumulated manuals form the output
The collection of IT relations, in turn, can be used to create an IT concept as output. This may be called an IT manual, recovery plan, or IT emergency manual. Depending on the IT concept you have in mind, its contents vary. ITIL refers to it as a service catalogue. A service catalogue contains the internal technical IT documentation of all services. Before you can create a service catalogue, you need to group your IT landscape.

No matter whether you previously defined such arrangements or not, you can now group the data from the big “CMDB” pool to create the desired results, i.e. your IT concepts. References to invoice or delivery note numbers do not matter in the “IT emergency manual” concept. But on the other hand, a datasheet for the respective device should always include this information. If, in turn, you would like to document a recovery plan, this concept requires data on the data backups performed for your IT systems. For quality reasons, the data basis must always be consistent. Since you will always document the same IT system, you will add data consistently to the same inventory databases.

The quality of your IT documentation can only be as good as the quality of your inventory data

Now you will hopefully be able to answer the question asked at the beginning. First, a good IT documentation must be based on a comprehensive and up-to-date data basis. You can then combine the required information to define IT relations and thus create your IT concept. This enables you to build the desired documentation. Depending on the company you work for, the inventory data to be collected and stored in the CMDB as well as the commercial data will vary. Gradually gather as many pieces of information as you can with reasonable effort and expense. This means that the whole project might take several years, but if you can only spend limited time on it, it is not possible to accelerate it significantly.

For the creation of a well-designed IT documentation, the available data basis and its quality are crucial. The resulting manuals are the output that contains the compiled contents.

The higher the quality of the input, the better the output, i.e. the manuals. The Docusnap documentation tool provides optimum support for each individual step. Graphical overview plans should be an integral part of your IT documentation. Let Docusnap help you create them based on various network plan templates that are shipped with the software. Leverage the many features of this modern software tool so that it becomes easier for you to create your IT documentation in a structured way.