Thursday, June 23, 2011

Knowledge and information management

Knowledge and information management is one of the building blocks in an effective Operations department. It is really important to get a content management system in place before starting to build a production system. If you DO NOT do this, you and your team will suffer from the following:
  • equipment inventory details will be stored only in your Purchase Orders, most likely kept in your mailbox
  • low level design details can be found only in emails asking to perform cable wiring, or will be lost at all
  • many versions of systems design documents will be managed in emails or in locally stored documents, making it almost impossible to trace down and identify the latest versions
  • the documentation for managed systems will simply not exist since there is no place to store it
  • and many other problems related to the lack of a central place to store and manage all required information about the system

There are many ways to build a content management system, and an open source Wiki platform is probably the best choice.

Theoretically, any popular Wiki engine should work for you - check this page for a list and comparison table of available Wiki software. From open source versions try to use TWiki. From commercial versions try Confluence - I have a very good experience using this software.

It is important to deploy your Wiki service outside of your remote production environment (for example, put it in your office datacenter or separate remote site designated for corporate IT), so in case if the production site go down, you still have an access to important information required to get the site back online.

If the Wiki service will be used by your whole company, create in it separate "partitions" (or "webs" or "spaces" - different Wiki systems use different names for separate Wiki content sections) for different departments: Operations, R&D, QA, Marketing, Sales, General, etc. Create individual user groups for each department, and set user/group permissions accordingly.

Use the Wiki service to prepare and store all information required to properly operate your production environment:
  • technical requirements for new services
  • high- and low-level design documents
  • personnel contact list
  • vendors contact list
  • systems description
  • operations procedures (runbook)
  • troubleshooting procedures
  • change requests
  • equipment inventory database

Once you have a CMS in place you should define for your team a strong procedure of how to manage the information for your team:
  • No system (project) is complete while it is not documented
  • No documentation is complete until it has not been reviewed by someone else in the team, and if it is a technical procedure, the procedure has not been verified by someone else
  • Everyone making a change in the production environment is responsible for updating the Wiki with introduced changes in timely manner.

Should you have better ideas how to manage your information you are welcome to leave your comments for the post.

Thank you for reading this.

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