IT Knowledge Management, The Key to Effective IT Support Operations

IT Knowledge Management, The Key to Effective IT Support Operations

by Mohamed Aly
June 6, 2017

Today’s business solutions have become increasingly powered by sophisticated IT services, in a way that makes it impossible to think that there can be any IT operation failure, big or small, that cannot dent the business bottom-line. The successful delivery of IT operations services relies on the availability of quick, reliable and ready-to-consume information enabling the IT service provider to take the right actions. These actions often need to be based on the intimate knowledge of the technology, environment, processes, and business context of the IT solutions supported. A typical enterprise IT operations support involves multiple teams where more than one professional collaborate to provide the support that spans multiple tiers of the IT technology stack.

Even within the same team, Individual professionals vary on how they acquire and maintain their knowledge. If the organization does not employ effective knowledge sharing and management techniques, they can be vulnerable to operations consistency issues, and risk having the few go-to experts and knowledge pockets that leave them vulnerable when not there.

The following chart highlights how the seamless flow of knowledge across the organization can address many of these issues.

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IT operations organizations can tackle these challenges by establishing processes for knowledge retention, and fostering the culture for knowledge sharing across the enterprise. Maintaining the availability of relevant, current, validated and reliable knowledge will support all operations activities, and empowers decision making by ensuring knowledge availability for the right people at the right time.

Why is IT operations knowledge maintenance so unique?
The information technology industry evolves at a much faster pace than any other industry, the amount of knowledge that comes available, gets used, then gets outdated every year is huge. IT Knowledge encompasses a variety of technical documentation, operational manuals, business requirements, architecture blueprints and design artifacts, and IT service delivery process documentations.

According to PayScale’s recent employee turnover research, the employee turnover rate in the IT industry is one of highest among all professional industries surveyed. That poses a challenge to organizations, of how much skills and knowledge investments are leaking out their doors. Thus maintaining knowledge in IT operations proves to be more critical than maintaining the knowledge in other industries.

Another challenge in the IT operations world is the amount of knowledge and documentation produced by IT projects during their term spans, and how much of this knowledge is lost as the IT deliverables make their way to the operational part of their lifecycle. Maintaining the knowledge during the project course is far less demanding than during the ongoing IT operation services, where the knowledge is expected to be maintained and shared indefinitely, continually evolves, and needs to survive staff turnover, or service provider transitions.

Scope and requirements of IT knowledge management
IT operations teams need to access many types of knowledge artifacts to perform their support and maintenance work. To list some of these artifacts; there is procedural knowledge for different ITSM (IT Service Management) activities, the technical knowledge about the platform operations and solutions, the business context knowledge, and multitude of maintenance records and support tickets. Organizations need to have clarity of all these aspects of knowledge that need to be maintained, the scope and depth of knowledge required, to ensure that the knowledge management process and any related procedures can meet these set objectives.

The scope of service Knowledge Management encompasses the successful management of data, information and knowledge to satisfy the requirement for retained and up-to-date knowledge that is available as needed, in conformance to the organization’s information policies.

The effective management of knowledge will enable the agility of IT operations by guaranteeing that knowledge is accessible, trustable, and well organized.
Regular reviews and validation of knowledge artifacts, along with the policies that govern maintenance of the knowledge is critical for these knowledge artifacts staying relevant. These policies should not only include the authoring, review and circulation and archival of these knowledge artifacts, but also the processes to dispose of them at the end of their lifecycle.

IT operation knowledge is not limited to the typical design, build and maintain documentation, but can also include team experiences, ideas, insights, and judgments, as these are more dynamic knowledge artifacts that are very effective in sharing and spreading the cognizance across the team.

Examples of IT operations knowledge artifacts
The complexity of IT operations knowledge is inherited from the wide variety of knowledge sources and artifacts, that the operation team need to tune in to. Some of the information required to deliver IT support operations are:

  • Inventory of IT assets and services, and their lineage to business services and underlying infrastructure mapping
  • Code repositories that are integral part of code maintenance, versioning and releasing
  • Data level documentation for enterprise data models, schemas, data flows and data lineage
  • Process and procedure level documentation of all service areas such as incident and problem management, access management, release management and monitoring
  • Change Information records that typically include scope and timeline for the change, plan and implementation steps; as well as validation and approval information
  • IT operations service activity records including information about incidents, changes, releases and deployments, and related IT requests
  • IT operation risks and mitigation plans including back up & recovery, disaster recovery and IT service continuity documentation
  • Operational manuals for IT infrastructure assets, enterprise solution support documentation
  • Team onboarding manuals with clearly defined roles and responsibilities alongside interfacing processes with other teams
  • IT solution business context documentation, including requirements or use case documentation, business criticality and underlying data models
  • IT service coverage, expectations and related SLAs and KPIs, service performance reports, service assessment reports
  • IT service governance or steering committee directives and decision making records
  • IT skills accounting and skill mapping to service requirements, including training and job shadowing plans

Disciplined approach for IT operations knowledge management
While many would consider knowledge management and sharing an organic activity that teams will come to do well without much structure, there are many practices for both the execution and governance of knowledge management that, if in place, will reinforce the high-maturity of the IT operations.
Here are the key questions and activities that need to be addressed in any organization with a mature IT knowledge management practices:

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1. Where do I get IT knowledge from?
By identifying the sources of knowledge in the organization, and where to look for each type of knowledge contents, faster access to creditable knowledge would be enabled. Organizations need to pay attention to maintaining the intellectual property rights and copyright requirements for these knowledge sources.

2. What are my organization’s IT knowledge requirements?
Policies need to be well defined for information protection, privacy, security and ownership. Validation criteria for knowledge also need to be in place for the understandability, relevance, importance, integrity, accuracy, confidentiality and reliability of information collected.
IT operations knowledge will also need to address operational or procedural knowledge, tactical and process-level knowledge, and strategic or policy-level knowledge requirements

3. Classify, contextualize and organize knowledge
Without the right activities to put information into the proper context, this information becomes merely disparate documents, data or siloed pockets of knowledge. The information needs to be organized in a model that facilitates the contribution, use, and sharing of this information.

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IT organization-wide schemas need to be adopted to collect, organize and disseminate both structured knowledge and unstructured, or so called, expert knowledge.

4. Institutionalization of knowledge maintenance practices
Information, documentation, and knowledge artifacts need a clear well-defined ownership model and procedures to maintain current. Governance structures should be in-place to enforce the information policies set by the organization. These policies should also cover the security and recovery of the knowledge repositories.

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5. On-going transfer of knowledge
Transfer of knowledge is a key part of doing business in IT operations teams. Knowledge needs to be transferred not only within a team, but also across teams within the same IT organization. In addition to the need-basis transfer of knowledge, less formal forms of knowledge transfer can be employed. Some of these techniques can leverage pals and role mentors to transfer knowledge between experts and learners, coordinate scripted interview-based sessions, or foster gathering for community of practitioners.

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6. The full-lifecycle of knowledge artifacts
Having outdated or irrelevant knowledge can hinder the organization’s efforts for effective management of knowledge. No one wants to see decisions made based on an old document that does not reflect the reality.
Periodical evaluation of knowledge artifacts is required to apply the appropriate knowledge retirement of obsolete knowledge artifacts. The rule of thumb is that every document in the organization should be reviewed at least once a year, to validate and update as needed.

7. Organizational culture of knowledge sharing
The successful operations of IT assets hinges on the effectiveness of knowledge the operations team have. The IT leadership can instill and foster a culture of knowledge sharing by
communicating the value of knowledge management, supplying the environment, and tools. In addition, knowledge management practices should be embedded in all other operational processes, so practitioners can review and update impacted knowledge artifacts.

It pays to invest in managing IT operations knowledge
When IT teams, whether in the project or service realms, invest into building a successful knowledge management practice, the fruits of having such mature practices are many. The relationship between business and IT can significantly be improved when business has the confidence that IT knowledge sharing will result in consistent access to skills and service. The turn-around time in investigation, troubleshooting and technical decision making gets much shorter, as access to knowledge is far more effective, which in turn means less down time for business solutions. And finally, the continuity and stability of IT operation delivery can be improved, with less reliance on individual team member’s knowledge and skills, and compartmentalized knowledge, and more streamlines access to well-spread IT operations information.

The journey toward achieving effective knowledge management in the IT operations world can be long and daunting. Organizations do not have to walk that road alone. Seeking a partner specialized in IT service consulting, will help organizations leverage the cumulative experience and methodologies from the industry, apply best practices, and avoid many traps along the way.