IT Glossary: What Are We Actually Talking About?

Last updated: January 10, 2020

Talking past one another happens quite often, and the world of information technology is no exception to this. Many terms that are used mean different things to different people. There are no standardized designations for documents and this makes IT documentation a bit cloudy. A good example of this is the term “IT security concept.” Browsing the Internet for the term “security concept” yields an enormous number of entries. But the meaning of what this term conveys is not the same in each case. While some mean by it an existing strategic paper issued by corporate management, others understand it as a rather vague description of an overall policy. It is not much better if you search for “contingency plan”. Sometimes, it refers to a written emergency procedures document, while it should actually consist of a backup operations plan and a post-disaster recovery plan.

IT glossary to set standards

As the examples above show, standardized document designations are mere wishful thinking in the IT sector. You might regret it, but that’s the way it is. But to establish a common understanding of terms within your own company, you really can do something: First, define how to use document designations and clearly differentiate them from each other. It is further necessary to communicate the mandatory use of these terms and make sure that each person creating documents uses them correctly. For the reasons stated before, creating a glossary (including a list of abbreviations) is always one of the first things to do when addressing the IT documentation topic. It goes without saying that these lists should not be limited to terms of the documentation area, but cover the entire IT sector.

The efforts for an IT glossary pay off

The advantages of such a glossary are obvious: Terminology is standardized and all people know what they are talking about. In addition, a consistent terminology reduces the effort required to create documents. It is usually sufficient to reference the central glossary and/or the list of abbreviations. Only for documents that are accessible from outside, an additional, document-specific glossary is necessary. Of course, building and maintaining central glossaries requires some preliminary considerations: Who will be responsible for the glossary and maintain it? Who will be allowed to make, modify, or delete glossary entries? Who will define the terms? Who will be responsible for deploying the glossary? If the glossary is maintained exclusively on a central basis, it is necessary to predefine how to add new entries to the glossary or how to handle user suggestions. Compared to its great benefits, the efforts for such a glossary pay off in any case.