The IT industry is still young, and it has seen some dramatic changes in the last two decades. And while many of today’s applications may look quite modern, the equipment behind it often has quite a history. Anybody with a PC knows that simply upgrading to a later model can present a lot of challenges. And while Internet forums will help you with some of the problems you have (because others have had them as well, and were kind enough to post about it somewhere), you also often have to rely on family, friends or the IT savvy neighbor. This works, because you do not run many mission critical applications from your home PC…
But your business relies on IT and, from a business perspective, you are not willing to wait a day for some problem to get fixed – especially when it brings your mission critical processes to a halt! And when you know that your IT infrastructure is hardly ever as standardized as a new PC with Windows 7 on it, you will understand that fixing problems in this environment can be a bit more difficult. For the average IT person, the knowledge he/she acquires during his/her career is very valuable. It helps them to quickly identify a problem, pinpoint the cause and come up with a fix.
And it is a known fact that the more you know, the easier it is to “connect the dots” – in other words, the more knowledge you have, the easier it is to solve new problems, simply because of the background you already have. Knowledge is expensive, because both the company and the individual have invested in it, but both reap the benefits. The company benefits because you have less IT issues, and WHEN you have them they are solved faster, resulting in a more efficient operation. The individual gains knowledge with which they can further their personal ambitions.
In the past years, however, due to the economic problems we have experienced (and are still experiencing), the amount of IT people has either stayed the same or has decreased, while the IT Infrastructure is more complex than ever. We have added Cloud services, support for mobile devices, we are in the process of implementing a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy and many companies are investigating the benefits of Big Data. All of this simply means that the overall amount of knowledge is either the same or has decreased, while the complexity of the IT Infrastructure has increased dramatically. From my own observations, I have seen that this has caused a change in the role of many IT people. There are fewer experts and more people are now a “Jack of all trades, and a master of none”. And this causes a big problem. How do we capture and transfer enough knowledge to our staff so we can enable them to continue to do a good job?
Knowledge capture and transfer is something that IT people have not really done in the past few years. Many companies have tried, but in the past IT staff were simply too busy trying to get the job done, instead of documenting, storing and making their knowledge available to others. And where it has been tried, knowledge is often still not captured in one single place, but is instead scattered throughout the organization. Some of it will be in the Helpdesk, some documented either electronically or on paper, somewhere. But most of the knowledge, unfortunately, resides only in the heads of those doing their day to day job.
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And this is simply costing your company money. A lot of money and a lot of frustration. The same problem is solved multiple times, simply because the knowledge to do it quicker is not available or people are not able to find the person who has dealt with it before. It also costs a lot of money because it takes longer for new people to understand the problems that are specific to your company. And even IF the knowledge is available, it depends on the person who wrote it down, whether it is clear enough for others to work with…
This is starting to cause companies headaches, especially on the mainframe. Many people who now operate and manage mainframes started working in IT 25+ years ago. This means that they are not only close to retirement, since the platform they work ON has not been “en vogue” for a number of years, but they are often not able to pass on their knowledge, as we have not seen many youngsters joining the mainframe workforce recently. In an attempt to solve the problem of knowledge simply disappearing, CA Technologies has developed technology to capture, store and make knowledge available automatically while people are performing their day-to-day tasks.
The first time I saw it, I could not help thinking I had had a paperclip experience. The one where you think: “Why has nobody thought of this before..?” When we analyzed the way people do their day-to-day tasks, we noticed that they spend an awful lot of time searching. Searching for information in manuals and on support sites from software vendors, looking for the right colleague who could have done this before, etc. And especially on mainframes, where people use up to 20 different products, this can take up a lot of time. So we decided to constantly track everything a person does and give that person the opportunity to save that “workflow” (called “paths”) and make it available to others. These paths (a series of “breadcrumbs” that someone managing the mainframe leaves behind with every action that he/she does, including a screen capture) can be given a sensible name and notes can be attached to every action. So when someone has a task to perform, such as “DB2 performance problem with application XYZ”, or “Access violation of user X on system ABC”, he/she can simply search the system with some keywords and the paths will come up. And he/she will then be able to “play” them, almost like watching a running Powerpoint presentation.
But it gets even better. The documentation facility in Chorus (as this platform is called) also allows users to store product manuals from vendors, their own documents and even PDF documents (which are automatically indexed) and both internal and external websites (which are also indexed). And what this means is that when someone searches for information, not only will they see the results from all the sources I mentioned above, they will also see the paths that were created by his/her peers that contain the knowledge that they collected (and stored) in the past.
Knowledge management is hard, and we know by now that we cannot rely on people alone. By automating the collection of knowledge (by simply recording tasks done by our IT staff ) not only do we save ourselves a lot of time in the future, but we also save massive amounts of time right now. And by combining all of the information people may need to solve a problem, the job of managing a complex IT environment suddenly looks a whole lot easier.