BlogFour Reasons to Capture and Document Tribal Knowledge


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. 

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.

Tribal knowledge needs to be captured for several reasons:

  1. It’s 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 has had 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. Application mapping is an important step conducted early in our data center consulting projects, and its’s one way that we capture tribal knowledge.


About the Author

Dustin Smith

Dustin Smith, Chief Technologist

Throughout his twenty-five year career, Dustin Smith has specialized in designing enterprise architectural solutions. As the Chief Technologist at ASG, Dustin uses his advanced understanding of cloud compute models to help customers develop and align their cloud strategies with their business objectives. His master-level engineering knowledge spans storage, systems, and networking.