Documentation Will Keep You Sane

It's 30 minutes before the time to head home for the weekend and the calls start coming to your desk. "E-mail is down", says one caller. "I can't get online to check my flight status!", says another caller. "The accounting backups don't seem to be working.", comes from yet another caller. You're the only IT guy onsite and there goes your evening plans. Have you been there? I have. Any one of these issues can cause you instant stress, but what happens if you get multiple issues simultaneously? Worse, what happens when this happens while you are gone on that much needed Carribbean cruise and a consultant has to be called in to cover? There is one thing that is absolutely necessary in the troubleshooting effort, whether it be on your own, in tandem with another technician, or by an outside consultant coming in. Documentation. There are many times where I have gone to a client's plant and found little to none, or even worse, outdated documentation.
It's easy to overlook documentation. It takes time to compile and organize, especially if it is done after the fact. Deciding what should be documented and how is the next challenge. Do you use paper notebooks, spreadsheets, or a wiki? Do you start at a specific time and document anything new or done since that point, or do you go back, inventory and catalog everything? Do you maintain a history on each piece of equipment? All of this takes time, and when you are a one or two man shop, it is more than daunting, and people outside of your department rarely see the benefit, though you will the first time you need it and it is there. You also have to look at the size of your plant and decide what is important to document and what is not.
Whether to use electronic documentation or not depends on your use. If you are a one man shop that only needs access to the documentation in one place, paper notebooks can work. You can also keep electronic documentation on your laptop or in a cloud drive. However, keep in mind if you are a one man shop, someone else may need access if you are unavailable. There are many wiki platforms that can be secured and used. Cloud drives with documented access are also a good solution. Keep in mind, you don't want your documenation in a place that can be down by a network or system problem.
For instance, you may be a school that has a dozen or so different servers and a few dozen specific workstations followed up by 300 desktops or laptops that are all of a similar make and model with the same software loadout. Do you document every single PC? I wouldn't, other than location, make & model, install date, and repair log. The other servers and specialty workstations should have more documentation. Make, model, install date, location, and repair log are musts for everything, but for these you should also log a hardware configuration, all installed software with versions and install date. The same holds true for all network connected hardware (i.e. network switches, access points, printers, routers, etc.). For all hardware devices a copy of the running configuration should also be kept.
How could all of this documentation have helped us with the opening scenario? We look into our documentation and see that a new device that was preconfigured was placed on the network this afternoon. Our documentation tells us that it is in a particular classroom and to be plugged into a particular network switch. We walk over there and see that the teacher has plugged it in to the network, but instead of plugging in the LAN port, they plugged the console port into the network switch and locked up the network with garbage traffic. You move the patch cord and everything is back up and running. You look like the genius hero, and the teacher is very thankful. Most of all you make it home for dinner with your spouse on time. That is priceless!
Documentation saved the day!

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