Many people  think of documentation as a necessary evil, but that's not true. Modern tools make it easier than ever to manage IT, telecommunications, and data center infrastructures efficiently; eliminate excessive maintenance effort; and keep information up to date.  

Enabling dynamic documentation  

Today, it’s impossible to capture an entire hybrid infrastructure in an Excel sheet and keep it manually up to date. It’s not only inefficient, it is simply unreliable. Can an Excel sheet show which applications would fail and which customers would be affected if a particular cable was unplugged? The answer is a resounding no. This lack of knowledge can result in service interruptions, downtime, and high operation costs.

A modern, high-performance documentation tool is necessary to document complex and hybrid infrastructures and understand dependencies. In particular, a documentation tool based on a state-of-the-art variant of the configuration management database (CMDB), can provide a centralized representation of all infrastructure components, their dependencies, and configurations via a graphical interface. The more predefined configuration items (CI) a tool provides out of the box — from cables to switches, routers, servers, racks, security components, virtualized local application infrastructure, and elements of cloud infrastructure — the faster and easier it will be to document complex and hybrid infrastructures.

While original CMDB systems were designed to store information on existing infrastructures in a central location, they have evolved into multifunctional tools with a high degree of process and system integration that can simplify the automated management of complex infrastructures. Advanced CMDBs now offer a wide range of functions — from planning to process-supported data management and automation. They also feature a modern look and feel with a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) and nearly unlimited integration options. Additionally, infrastructures and dependencies can be viewed with geographical information systems (GISs) to show the exact location of cable networks on a map. For example, server loads, data centers, or network infrastructures can be visualized through schematic, 3D diagrams to help staff gain a better understanding of dependencies and make more informed decisions.

So, how does data get into such a super tool? A simple Excel import allows existing tabular documentation to be brought together in standardized form and structured using a consistent data model. Other options include incorporating data from existing management systems via out-of-the-box and ready-to-use connectors or easy-to-set-up individual interfaces or automatically capturing active components using auto-discovery. This is especially helpful for recording ongoing changes, synchronizing information in both directions, and gradually creating a single point of truth —one tool that consolidates all views.

Once the information is in the system, keeping it up to date is vital. Bidirectional interfaces to systems for infrastructure operation management can help import data into your documentation and return it after being enriched. Integrated planning functions can also be utilized. Changes can be planned graphically within the documentation tool based on current data and then forwarded to the relevant internal team or external service provider with all of the necessary work steps and information. Once changes are implemented into the system, the planned status will become the actual status with a touch of a button.

This underlying “closed loop principle” means the documentation always reflects reality, and technicians won’t experience any unpleasant surprises. Having the right tool turns documentation into a dynamic, living database that remains constantly up to date with minimal effort. Best of all, a comprehensive documentation tool maps everything centrally and uniformly, compared to working with separate systems and silos.

IT documentation best practices

It may seem like a huge undertaking to accurately record a company’s IT infrastructure and keep the database up to date. The first step is to identify  specific pain points and decide which area of the infrastructure to start with. Professional IT documentation software can help streamline the process beginning with the initial data capture. Below are five best practice tips to follow when taking on this challenge.

  1. Establish exactly which assets and parts of the infrastructure have already been documented and which are most important. Existing data may need to be cleaned up or enriched.
  2. Identify priorities, which will usually be determined by the criticality of infrastructures or services for the company. Business-critical systems obviously need to function reliably.
  3. A road map can be created by classifying each location according to size. Depending on size, you can then specify the level of detail to be captured and documented and which locations to start with. It’s worth investing time in well-considered project management here.
  4. It’s impossible to document everything at once. Luckily, you don’t necessarily need to include your entire IT environment. Utilizing a modular out-of-the-box solution can help the process to be carried out step by step with a focus on concrete use cases. The more key areas you cover, such as cable management, data center management, connectivity management, etc., the closer you will be to achieving holistic IT documentation.  
  5. Cloud-based documentation tools are very popular, especially for decentralized workforces with both internal and external teams, as they are easily accessible via a browser and give teams the flexibility to download information and document changes themselves. Cloud-based documentation tools can also improve fault resolution processes, since an IT professional can access the tool from anywhere, at any time, to locate a defective component and take immediate steps to rectify the situation.

When in-house manpower or expertise simply isn't there, look for a professional provider who can assist through consulting, solution design, project support, training, and managed services. Experienced documentation professionals can quickly identify the changes needed to deliver real success.

Benefits of modern IT documentation

Overall, documentation has many benefits and often pays for itself by making every day IT tasks faster and more reliable. With a uniform data set, IT departments can ensure that critical business processes are properly supported, even in times of constant change.

Enriched data can be utilized to make processes and systems more efficient, such as incident resolution and change implementation originating from ticketing systems as well as remediation procedures. In the event of an outage, a well-documented infrastructure allows you to achieve faster and higher resolution rates, as dependencies can be easily identified and affected components and clients can be established.

Proper documentation between infrastructure elements is also crucial to optimize existing infrastructure and ensure it performs at full capacity. To reclaim lost capacities, increase ROI, and avoid service interruptions, configurations can be streamlined and fault-prone models of devices can be replaced by newer models.

Additionally, proper IT documentation improves planning. In addition to having greater visibility into existing capacities and costs, you can take the life cycle of deployed hardware into account and avoid unnecessary redundancies. Instead of laying a new cable for every new connection, better use can be made of the existing network.