Documentation, or thoughts on IT’s biggest nemesis

In a previous professional role I had the opportunity to meet and advise businesses of all sizes on their IT operations. I noticed something common to almost all organizations was a lack of adequate documentation.

And by adequate I’m not talking about beautiful 4-color large format Visio logical and functional schematic diagrams, although those are clearly part of a well-documented IT Shop. I frequently consulted with companies with over 500 employees and large IT staffs that had no readily available list of fixed network IP addresses – readily available means being able to be produce the information within 15-30 minutes. Simple things like a list of all equipment, serial #, purchase date, warranty coverage and expiration were rarely captured. 

Not sure why this phenomenon is so common. There are of course the usual excuses: we’re too busy; we already know them all; it’s not fun, etc. At a time when more and more businesses would cease to exist if their IT operations failed I found, and still find, this to be a major failing of IT staffs and also by the C-level executives who manage them and let this continue. I can’t even understand how budgeting and planning is accomplished when there is no way to plan for support costs, equipment obsolescence, and power utilization.

Thankfully remedying this problem is fairly easy and can resolved in a matter of minutes while you go out to lunch. There are a large number of  tools to quickly scan and automatically document your network , most if not all of them have free trials so you can see what is produced before you spend scarce IT dollars. Here are two of the most common tools – and you can find many others with a few mouse clicks using your search engine of choice.

Some are even free period and so the excuse of not having budget dollars isn’t applicable. Spiceworks has an interesting model in that it uses ads targeted to IT staffs as their revenue generator instead of a subscription or purchase model.

Of course just mapping your network and listing your IP addresses just scratches the surface of what’s needed for useful documentation but it is a start. After all a journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.

Ultimately what matters is understanding your business and IT is a part of your business. If your IT staff can’t accomplish something as simple as documenting what they already have – how can they be expected to provide solutions to today’s challenging business problems? What are your thoughts on documentation? What tools do you find essential in managing your network? -t

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