Four Reasons to Capture and Document Tribal Knowledge

Posted by Dustin Smith, Chief Technologist
November 13, 2014

Most companies have an IT guy who ‘knows everything.’ That’s usually fine, but what happens when he leaves the organization?

Tribal knowledge—the highly-specialized, unwritten, and unshared knowledge that employees collect throughout their employment—can be an inherent risk to IT departments. That’s because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to discover using automated discovery tools or to capture manually through formal processes. 

Tribal knowledge especially rears its ugly head when implementing new data center technologies. As data centers become more complex, it’s not at all unusual for server versions to differ from instance to instance or for certain settings to be changed to improve performance. At any given point throughout your data center, engineers have probably made slight modifications that they never documented. This informal information or tribal knowledge needs to be captured for several reasons:

  1. Tribal knowledge is usually spread throughout an organization and owners of this knowledge aren’t always available when the information is needed. That’s why people with tribal knowledge get called into the office on weekends and at odd hours—because someone is encountering unexpected difficulties while updating or installing new technologies.
  2. People forget what they learn, so the verbal transfer of knowledge is unreliable—especially when the information isn’t needed at the time the verbal transfer occurs.
  3. The workforce is aging at an increasing rate. Baby boomers are poised for retirement, and when these people leave the workforce, their tribal knowledge leaves with them.
  4. Having tribal knowledge is empowering. Most people are team players, but there are always a few rogue employees who will use their tribal knowledge to their advantage and to the detriment of the organization.

When we work with our clients in modernizing their data centers, we spend a great deal of time documenting information. This process often proves invaluable to all parties as technologies are implemented or upgraded. As we blog about application mapping and data center hydraulics, we’ll share how we capture tribal knowledge and why it matters, so stay tuned.

About Dustin Smith Throughout his twenty-year career, Dustin Smith has specialized in designing enterprise architectural solutions. As the Chief Technologist, Dustin is responsible for the strategic direction of aligning the company’s growing consulting services with the client challenges he finds in the field, and he works closely with his regional architects to design new programs to address these issues.

Filed Under: IT

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