The Dangers of Tribal Knowledge to a Data Center Upgrade

Posted by Dustin Smith, Chief Technologist
February 24, 2016

Our last blog post – Four Lessons Learned on the Road to Data Center Modernization – touched on several areas that need consideration as you map and plan your data center upgrade. We mentioned one in particular, tribal knowledge, which is something that’s often overlooked and something that most data center management personal have experienced.

Tribal knowledge is the highly-specialized, unwritten, and unshared knowledge that employees collect throughout their employment. It can be an inherent risk to IT departments because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to discover using automated discovery tools or to capture manually through formal processes. The existence of tribal knowledge is especially apparent 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 they never documented.

One of the reasons capturing this tribal knowledge is so difficult is that it’s usually spread throughout an organization and the 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.

People also 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. Plus, the workforce is aging at an increasing rate. Baby boomers are poised for retirement, and when they leave the workforce, their tribal knowledge leaves with them.

And finally, there will always be a few people who find tribal knowledge empowering. In worse case scenarios, these rogue employees will use tribal knowledge to their advantage and to the detriment of the organization—by leveraging their knowledge to secure a raise or worse, hijacking systems and technologies as they leave the organization, for example.

Ultimately, these risks add to the overall fear that data center modernization will be fraught with excessive downtime and lead to data center modernization projects that never get off the ground or are never fully realized. This tribal knowledge can lead to unknown application architectures that are easy to damage, difficult to troubleshoot, and thoroughly frustrating for the unfortunate employees tasked with supporting them.

Application mapping, or AppMap as we call it, is an ASG Consulting Services engagement that identifies, documents, and analyzes critical business services and applications—as well as their infrastructure dependencies—and then systemically evaluates them against your business requirements. This methodical documentation process is a vital first step to capturing and combatting tribal knowledge – a key requirement to any successful data center modernization initiative.

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: Application Mapping

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