Documentation – Your IT “Canary in a Coal Mine”



I consistently hear the same technology concerns from business owners and executives: they don’t know what they don’t know. Do they have the right IT team in place (internal or outsourced)? Do they have the optimal technology solutions for their business? How, they ask me, will I know if my technology is on the right path or headed for disaster?

I call this the “canary in the coal mine” question. Miners’ caged canary would die if there were dangerous gases in the mine, warning the miners to get out while they still could. And guess what? We have an IT canary — ask your IT department (or vendor) for documentation, and see how long it takes to get it. This question will tell you whether your IT people are on top of things and working for you. If they cannot give you the documentation in close to real-time, they do not have it and I can guarantee you there will be something that doesn’t smell right about your support and systems.

What is documentation? Your IT vendor or in-house team should continually document everything from the mundane management of passwords to the more sophisticated troubleshooting of key business systems. They should also have checklists for regular tasks, like processing new hires/terminations, doing backups, installing programs, etc. Without these procedures documented, something will always get missed. You have a right to ask your IT team to document everything and have checklists for almost every repeatable task. Documenting the everyday tasks helps to free them up to use their brains for troubleshooting new issues, developing strategy, and being generally helpful guys or gals.

Here’s something else I know. Most IT people are certain that they are smart and above the tedium of documenting because they can figure anything out “on the fly.” This neglect of process never works long term. Eventually someone quits, taking all your hard-won knowledge with them and leaving you holding the bag (and a little chaos to boot). Often the new person needs to reengineer the system, which can be costly in terms of both time and money. So if your IT team gives you documentation that’s a single page with a list of passwords, consider yourself underserved. Your little canary is feet up.

Documentation is the cornerstone of everything your technology department is doing for you. If it’s not rock solid then you have a weak technical foundation, which should undermine your confidence in everything else they are doing for you. Check the health of your IT solutions and ask for your documentation today. If your canary is looking puny, give us a call for a technical assessment — and a little peace of mind.







John Ahlberg
CEO, Waident

CIO in the corporate world and now for Waident clients. John injects order and technology into business process to keep employees productive, enterprises running, and data safe.

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