IT documentation costs money to create, but most companies immediately lose their documentation as soon as it is bought or created. The most common method of managing documentation is to print it off and put in binders on rows of ignored shelves. There is a better way.
Making those IT documents useful requires three elements:
- Digitize documentation
- Standardize formats
- Index document content to make them searchable.
Here for the tools and no time to read the whole post? Here’s our list of the five best IT documentation tools:
- SolarWinds Passportal A team password protector system that also operates a cloud-based document store.
- ITGlue An online document management platform that integrates with many project management and collaboration systems.
- ITBoost A web-based documentation system that is owned by ConnectWise, an infrastructure management system.
- Confluence An enterprise collaboration, communication and documentation system that is widely used in the IT industry.
- DokuWiki A free Wiki creator that can be used to construct an in-house knowledge base.
Keeping IT documentation in digital format is the first step to getting corporate documentation into a useable state. It is a typical reaction to print off documents and put them in a bookcase. That is an especially useful strategy for the person or company that created the documentation because it provides physical, visual proof of their hard work. However, most people agree these days that excessive use of paper should be avoided. Printed documents take up space, they require an investment in storage cabinets, and they require a lot of trees to be cut down.
The second step is to standardize the storage format used for those documents. If the IT documents originated in digital format, then there is a high probability that they will be in a small number of document types. Microsoft Word and PDF formats are very common and can be converted to other formats.
The final stage is to index the contents of the documents. This is a laborious task when performed manually, but can be completed by automated processes very quickly.
Turning ignored IT documents into frequently accessed information sources just requires an efficient document management tool. One step better is to create all of your company’s IT documents in a file format that is set up for interpretation into accessible web-based systems, such as the Wiki format.
There are many document management systems available on the market. However, it is a category of software that few people know about and not many people know what to look for in order to correctly assess all options.
We have investigated the market. We listed the necessary attributes of an IT document tool and then looked at all of the products on the market to see which matched this list of requirements.
The best IT documentation tools
Each of these IT documentation systems is a little bit different. Each has different strengths and will appeal to different organizations. Some create document display formats that look like web pages and some are better suited to the importation of existing documents than others. Some are documentation systems in which your system documentation should be written. Others are system discovery tools that will generate your IT documentation automatically.
You can read more about these options in the following sections.
1. SolarWinds Passportal
Passportal was acquired by SolarWinds, the leading producer of IT infrastructure management tools, in April 2019. Through a series of purchases, SolarWinds has created a powerful division that aims to provide support software for managed service providers. Passportal is now part of that division, called SolarWinds MSP.
Passportal offers a mix of services for MSPs. One is a password management system and another is a document manager. Although that service is called SolarWinds Document Manager, it is part of the Passportal suite and came to SolarWinds with its recent acquisition.
The Passportal password manager and SolarWinds Document Manager form the core of the Passportal Suite. It is impossible to subscribe to the document system without also taking on the password manager.
Passportal is a Cloud service and it is aimed at MSPs. It is expected that MSPs will use the documentation system internally and also deploy it to provide information stores for client companies and their employees. For example, an MSP can cut down on the number of client employees calling the help desk by constructing a self-help knowledge base that explains how to resolve problems on the client’s network.
The logic behind merging the provision of password managers and document stores is that these two areas support the bulk of calls that client employees will make to the MSP-provided Help Desk.
The document system is both a store of information, an editing suite, and a presentation formatting system. The system starts by guiding the MSP in what information to extract from the technicians working for a client company when the MSP first bids for a contract.
Knowledge about the client’s system is essential in order to write an accurate service contract. Once the working relationship starts, the client’s technicians need to be encouraged to impart their knowledge of the system that they run.
This information can be distilled into SOPs stored in the document manager. Step by step, the MSP can build up a definition of the system, how to operate it, and how employees use it. Some of that information will become guidance for MSP technicians and some will become troubleshooting guides to enable the users of the clients’ systems to fix their own problems.
ITGlue is the main rival to SolarWinds Passportal. This is the documentation system, owned by Kaseya, a major supplier of MSP software. ITGlue also combines password and document management in the same service.
Despite being owned by a producer of PSA and RMM suites, ITGlue does not limit its interoperability to its sister products. Certainly, there are integrations for ITGlue with Kaseya’s PSA and RMM systems, called Kaseya BMS and Kaseya VSA. The documentation system also integrates with rival MSP software produced by the likes of Pulseway, ConnectWise, and SolarWinds.
ITGlue is a cloud-based service that is charged for by subscription. The service is available in three editions: Basic, Select, and Enterprise. These are all prices per user per month with a minimum headcount of five – although the Enterprise edition is available for one to four users at a much higher monthly price than the five-user plan. There isn’t an on-premises option. All plans include the documentation platform. The service provides a knowledge base/wiki-style editor, which also provides an information storage structure.
ITGlue offers a system discovery utility as an add-on feature, not included in the standard editions. This autodiscovery system will automatically explore the hardware and software inventories of a network and document all of them.
The ITGlue system creates a framework for documentation, provides templates for writing, and structures the recorded information for presentation. It also provides storage space for the document base and interfaces for creators and consumers of the document stores. All communications with the ITGlue service are protected by encryption, as is data stored on the ITGlue server.
ITGlue produces an alternative package, called MyGlue. The MyGlue system is a self-service platform that end-clients sign up for directly, whereas ITGlue is meant to be used by MSPs to make information available to client company employees. MyGlue includes password reset and knowledge base creation facilities.
ITBoost is owned by ConnectWise, which is another major producer of infrastructure management systems. It is also a leading supplier of software to MSPs. So ITBoost, ITGlue, and Passportal are in very close competition.
Like its main rivals, ITBoost is a cloud service aimed at MSPs and it also includes password management services and password vault. The documents created by ITBoost can present information to internal users or external users. Documents for external users include a feedback form format that lets your customers’ employee give the MSP’s services ratings.
The ITBoost system has the capability to import documents and it also includes an editor. Another interesting feature is the ability to glean information from support tickets. The data-gathering facilities, presentation structure, and document templates combine to support the creation of SOPs for MSP staff and a knowledge base for supported users.
ITBoost has a raft of functions that rely on the co-existence of ConnectWise on the site – ConnectWise Control, ConnectWise Automate, and ConnectWise Manage. It also includes the recording of device configurations, helping to document the systems that the MSP manages.
Communications across the internet and data storage at the ITBoost servers are all encrypted for security.
Despite being a property of ConnectWise, ITBoost can integrate with rival PSA systems provided by, among others, Kaseya, and Pulseway. It also integrates with RMM packages produced by the likes of Atera, SolarWinds, and Kaseya. It also integrates with ITGlue, Slack, and a range of VoIP phone systems. ITBoost is available on a 14-day free trial.
Confluence is a product of the Australian software house, Atlassian. This is a very successful documentation, collaboration, and knowledge management system. Atlassian also owns Jira, the project management tool, and both systems integrate to create a project support suite.
The combination of Jira for project planning and management with Confluence for documentation and communication is very popular among agile development teams. Confluence has been described as a private social media platform for businesses. The tool has been available since 2004 and has changed radically since then. At first, it was very similar to the typical Wiki format. However, both the operational method of the system and the interface style have both changed since then.
The appearance and purpose of pages created in Confluence are very adaptable and are driven by templates. The resulting documentation system looks more like a website. Different types of pages enable the creation of announcements, searchable knowledge bases, and group comment pages.
The tool includes a guided editor, which eases the creation of pages through templates. Pre-written documents can be imported into a Confluence-created document system. However, the purpose of Confluence is to support the creation of documents created within the environment rather than to act as a document store, although storage space is included with the online access plans of the tool.
Confluence is available as a cloud-based subscription service or as on-premises software. Buyers have five options when considering this software. There are three editions for the cloud-based service and two purchase options for the on-premises software.
The three editions of Cloud Confluence are Free, Standard, and Premium. A small business could do fine with the free version. While the Standard and Premium versions allow up to 5,000 users per account, the free version is limited to 10. The most important extra feature with the two paid versions is audit logging. The Premium edition has many extras over the Standard version but the most important one is the inclusion of an analytics module. Storage space is another differentiator with a Free account getting 2 GB, the Standard account having 250 GB, and an unlimited storage allowance for the Premium edition.
The on-premises version, called Server, can be had for a one-time fee, but you have to decide on the number of users that will have access to the software because that is the sole factor that influences the price. The higher on-premises edition is called Data Center. This is priced per year and it includes cloud backup for data.
If you want to create a traditional Wiki format for your IT documentation, then you have many editor and document management options. Most of them are free. Probably, the best of all of the Wiki editors is DokuWiki.
A big advantage of DokuWiki is its simplicity. This makes the editor and document management software easy to maintain. The system does not need an associated database for indexing or document storage. Instead, the DokuWiki content delivery system operates with text files as a source of data.
This document content management system was first released in 2004. So, the package has been around for a long time, making it a well-established and stable piece of software.
This is a cross-platform program, so you don’t have to worry that you have the right type of server to host the code. As it is a free piece of software, there is no cloud-based version of DokuWiki. However, it could be installed on an AWS virtual server if you don’t want to maintain an on-premises host.
The simple, free document management system has some great features that include version control, with each version retained, access control, templates, and a plug-in system to extend the functionality of the tool.
The tool isn’t limited to just displaying Western texts. It is also capable of showing non-European character sets, such as Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew. The CMS has an integrated indexing system and the finished Wiki screen includes a fully-functioning search facility.
If you don’t mind hosting the software on-premises and you don’t want to pay for a document manager, then this tool could be the answer that you are looking for.
Choosing an IT documentation tool
This review just presents a small number of options. The main decision you will have to make is whether you want a hosted documentation manager or if you want to maintain the software on your own premises.
There are many advantages to both the online and the inhouse strategies. Some IT managers just don’t feel confident hosting their business intelligence outside their own companies’ secure premises. If that describes you, then you have two options on this list in the form of DokuWiki and Confluence. There are four hosted services on this list because that configuration is becoming more and more accessible as more companies move into the market.
The paid tools on this list can prove quite expensive. However, if you are a small company or a startup with very little to spend, then you have two free options on this list from which to choose: DokuWiki and the Free edition of Confluence.
Writing your IT documentation in the editors of these document management tools is a better idea than just scanning your existing paper-based documentation libraries. Specially formatted content management systems are better at providing IT documentation than traditional full-page documents because they can make short descriptions and quick tips available as well as full user guides and procedural manuals.
Do you use any of the tools on our list? What aspects of your current IT document management system made you choose it? Leave a message in the Comments section below to share your opinions with the community.