The Encyclopedia Britannica isn’t the only trusted hardcopy to go digital. More technical support and best-practices are being relayed to IT professionals through cyber-based documentation, while paper manuals continue to fade.
But as this happens, IT workers are challenged to navigate technical information for troubleshooting and problem resolution.
The problems with cyber-based documentation are not substantially different than they were with standard paper-based documentation. “I find that online resources, especially from vendors whose equipment I work with on a daily basis, are extremely helpful,” said one financial services company network administrator. “I can sign onto a Microsoft help site or a network expert Website for troubleshooting and find all kinds of solutions for a given situation I am trying to resolve. However, I have to know enough about what I am looking for to gain from the information—or it’s not going to help.”
The situation is common. It presents a two-fold challenge: 1) how to build your own “personal experience base” so you can approach cyber-technology research already knowing what you’re looking for; and 2) how to develop your documentation and Website research skills so that you can quickly locate the information that you need.
First, let’s talk about creating the personal experience knowledge base. This is a major issue for beginning and mid-level ITers, who require time on the job to build experience. Nevertheless, they can accelerate the process if they enter their careers with an already-developed conceptual understanding of how everything fits together (networks, systems, software, etc.).
Conceptual overviews are not usually taught onsite by company subject matter experts (SMEs), unless the company has an IT training program (which some large enterprises have). So overviews are usually the task of colleges and universities.
Companies recognize, of course, that schools (and even the Internet) cannot carry the educational load alone. This has prompted many organizations to implement internal knowledge bases that their own technicians can access through either the Intranet or Internet. These knowledge bases document IT problems and resolutions, so that hopefully the next person tasked with a similar problem can cut resolution time through research.
Naturally, there are pitfalls, too.
One problem can be the platform or application for the knowledge base. It may be tough to give this the IT attention it requires, resulting in snags. “We began developing a knowledge base over the past few years, and it was very helpful for me as a new IT employee at the help desk,” said one IT professional at a national research center. “However, the cloud-based system that we implemented for the knowledge base did not work very well. We were always encountering bugs in it. But the knowledge base still did help me in my daily responsibilities of supporting one thousand users.”
The second main problem with online documentation may be a lack of ability on the part of technicians to perform the research required to get the answers they need. There appears to be some evidence that students are no longer arriving at companies with the research skills they had in the past. Some experts believe this reflects a relaxation of grading and study skill standards and colleges and universities.
At least one university takes a different approach. “We believe that research is an essential part of technical learning in our IT curriculum, and we include the effective reading and research of technical documentation as part of the skills that we teach,” said one Chinese university official I spoke with this year.
Here's hoping more teachers follow that path.
— Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data