How Important Is Up-To-Date System Documentation?

How Important Is Up-To-Date System Documentation?

Your organization bought an expensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and it came with a comprehensive set of documentation including user manuals, training materials, and technical guides. You utilized the documentation and successfully implemented the system, but how much have you used the documentation since then?

Technology is an investment. You want to maximize the use of the system, including that the system’s operations are consistent and reliable. You regularly update the system for upgrades and patches. It’s crucial to make sure your corresponding documentation is up to date because it enables employees to be knowledgeable about the updated system.

Documentation captures critical information preserving that knowledge and making it available to all appropriate individuals. If only a few specific individuals know how the system works, what happens when they get sick, go on vacation, or resign? The solution is to make sure the information is written down and to document that knowledge.

User-Related Documentation


User documentation supports onboarding and training to ensure employees know how to properly use the system. This allows employees to get familiar with the system so that they can leverage it effectively. User manuals provide end users with guidelines including step-by-step instructions on how to use the system. Security roles identify what the staff can/can’t do versus what requires a supervisor to override. If you’ve added a module, make sure you add the new feature/functionality details so that the documents aren’t incomplete or missing information.

Training materials (e.g., instructor/student manuals, cheat sheets) are used to train both new and existing employees poised for promotions and transfers. Training materials can be used for scheduled training classes or for train-the-trainer scenarios wherein designated trainers (department super users or subject matter experts) train the rest of the organization.

If the documentation isn’t up to date, it can confuse or make it difficult for end users to properly use the system. Allow users to submit feedback (e.g., via a service ticket) regarding documentation such as unclear steps, incorrect screen print, or missing information.

IT-Related Documentation


For the IT staff, documentation serves as a reference for how the system is intended to be used. This includes system setup/configuration, system maintenance, as well as troubleshooting.

Many organizations operate 24/7 so it’s crucial that the IT staff be able to minimize any downtime. Some key documents are:

1. System architecture documents – provide an overview of the system components and interfaces that are interconnected. If you need to migrate your environment from on premises to the cloud, having current architecture documents can minimize the uncertainty of what components you have and how they’re connected.

2. Data-related documents (e.g., data dictionaries and data flow diagrams) – document the data structures. If a table is dropped, do you know which processes including reports will be affected?

3. System maintenance documents – did the upgrade affect the patching process? Does the nightly processing schedule need to be updated? Or any of the backup schedules (daily, monthly, quarterly, etc.)?

4. Troubleshooting documents – guidance on diagnosing and resolving common technical issues. When you upgraded the database version, did you become familiar with the new system messages and codes in advance?

When the system has been changed, make sure the documentation has been updated to reflect those changes. You can use a date stamp in the footer and turn on versioning to identify when the documentation was last updated.

Also, don’t forget to update the disaster recovery and business continuity documents. In the event of a disaster, you want to ensure the organization can minimize any business disruption. It can be chaotic when a disaster occurs, and up-to-date documentation can reduce stress, especially for employees filling in for absent employees.

For more information on the importance of keeping system documentation up to date, follow me on LinkedIn!

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There you are: sitting on the beach, covered in sunscreen, reading your favorite book, drinking your favorite drink under the cool shade of an umbrella. Life doesn't get any better than this. Suddenly, a door slams, a phone rings, a printer turns on. You jolt back into consciousness. You're at work, sitting in your cubicle, without even a hint of sunshine streaming in from outside.

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