For the record

When an integral member of the IT team leaves for pastures new, they take a vast repository of information with them. Without these key people, many IT departments run the risk of grinding to a halt. Despite this, few have done anything to guard against the brain drain. Now, after taking a lead from the financial services sector, corporations are realising that by carefully documenting internal processes they can not only prevent meltdown but can also refine procedures and add efficiency.

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By  Patrick Phelvin Published  April 1, 2004

|~|doc_M.jpg|~|Documenting internal processes can increase efficiency as well as provide a safety net in case of surprise departures from the company.|~|Whether it be a collection of Word documents compiled in house or a full scale project involving months of work, external consultants, accreditation and specialist software, an increasing number of Middle East organisations are documenting their IT department’s internal processes. Taking the time and effort to complete what might seem to be a non-core exercise can result in several benefits. As internal practices are reviewed, they can be re-engineered to improve efficiency. Also, the documentation of key procedures decreases the company’s reliability on specific team members, should they choose to leave the company. In addition, ISO9000 accreditation by the British Standards Institute (BSI) or recognition from the Information Technology Process Institute (ITPI) can be worn as a badge of pride, reassuring investors and customers that a corporation has its house in order and will not grind to a halt should a few core members of staff decide to move on. In the Middle East, the proper documentation of these processes has generally been confined to big business. Banking, pushed by international risk assessment standards like Basel, and the oil & gas sector have led the way and account for most of the consultancy business in the region. “We have a lot of interest from the big IT set ups, the financial services, oil & gas and energy services. These companies have specific requirements to implement these kinds of standards,” explains Vineet Chhatwal, senior manager, global risk management services of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Chhatwaal says the long-term outlook of large enterprises means they understand the cost benefits of implementing a proper documentation scheme and are prepared to invest heavily in getting it right. “A big organisation like a bank will take a couple of people from our side, who are on secondment to them for as long as two years. They will assist in building documentation and in hands-on training of the client’s staff. Many clients are very comfortable with that,” he adds. Proof of this desire to guard against the risk of important technical personnel leaving the company can be found across the Middle East’s larger companies. Qatar Airways documented all its IT department’s processes and procedures as it sought to re-position its IT department from a support role to that of a business unit which would become integral to the future success of the airline as it moved its operations online. The documentation process was essential as knowledge sharing enabled the department’s 24/7 operation. “Sharing responsibilities within a team is a must. There will always be situations where team members are either on vacation, sick or absent for other reasons. Each team member must have sufficient process know-how to enable uninterrupted service,” explains Dieter Armgardt, IT manager, Qatar Airways. As the department’s service levels within Qatar Airways are so integral to the overall business, the IT process documentation project was extensive. All routine IT processes such as back up procedures, application recovery procedures, configuration files, data storage safety and release management were clearly identified and stored on paper. Every member of the airline’s IT team has been given access to the information. The documentation procedure goes hand in hand with the airline’s policy of information sharing within the IT department. As such, no one member of staff carries total responsibility for a process or procedure. Instead, the department is split into teams to deal with routine internal processes. “Each team member knows and executes a part of the job. Even if the entire process knowledge was kept by a few key individuals, and was not documented, there is a good chance that operations would continue to function until the processes are documented and the key staff members are replaced,” explains Armgardt. ||**||Outsourcing risk|~|yehya_M.jpg|~|Government guidlines would help companies document processes says ADCO’s Yehya Al-Marzouqi.|~|The documentation of its key procedures is especially useful as Qatar Airways’ IT department pursues a policy of outsourcing wherever possible in an attempt to keep up with the company’s rapid expansion and to distribute risk. “Documentation is vitally important if an in-house developed application is going to be outsourced. In such a situation, it has to be assured that the outsourcing partner is fully informed about the outsourced application,” Armgardt says. Deciding what level of complexity should be involved in the documentation process, and how regularly the documentation should be reviewed, is one of the key decisions to make when conducting a documentation procedure. The financial services sector is guided by international standards likes of Basel, which sets down stringent guidelines for risk management within an organisation. In less regulated sectors there are no such guidelines. “The absence of clear laws is creating some problems for ADCO [in its attempt] to take an effective decision on document retention,” explains Yehya Al-Marzouqi, head of corporate development & training at the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), which has implemented a large-scale project to document its IT department’s processes. In the absence of such guidelines, ADCO decided to document all its technical procedures, which it has made available to its entire IT team on an internal network. Another option for companies with money to spend in this area is to buy in outside help when undergoing a documentation procedure and aim for accreditation. PwC consultants tailor review procedures for such documentation if and when any changes are made to the technical infrastructure, such as with the implementation of new software or hardware. “We do provide a change management process to the client which has specific triggers, so, for example, if a person has corrected an error that appeared for the first time, we outline how will that be documented and stored,” says Chhatwal. Aside from changes to the documentation triggered by alterations to solutions. Chhaatwal recommends that IT departments should re-visit the documentation twice a year, to see if improvements can be made. “Some generic processes, such as procurement, don’t change much once you have implemented enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. “We typically recommend that every six months to one year users should look for some best practices and do some benchmarking at a high level, just so they do not significantly deviate from whatever the best practice is,” he says. The benefits of employing consultants are especially transparent if an organisation is seeking accreditation from the likes of BSI. Without specialist help in this area, an IT department may be able to document the procedures that they go through on a daily basis, but the formats they use are unlikely to be consistent with these standards. Also, once consultants from PwC have completed a documentation project, they enable corporations to access the information using software from the likes of Casewise, or by building a Sharepoint portal site. The consultants record specialist customisations on video. But for many companies in the Middle East, the documentation of IT processes is done purely for reasons of internal efficiency and there is little need for external consultants to become involved or specialist software to be utilised. ||**||Consistent operation|~|yehya_M.jpg|~|Government guidlines would help companies document processes says ADCO’s Yehya Al-Marzouqi.|~|The number of small to medium-sized companies from the region who are willing to instruct their IT departments to take the time out of their regular work to document procedures is increasing. With money pouring into IT infrastructures, many of these firms are keen to ensure the consistent operation of that technology through systems upgrades and personnel changes. Documentation is key to this. “If you look at the smaller set ups, their requirements are not that extensive but if the owners see big dollars being spent on IT they become interested in having policies and procedures in place so they are not too reliant on any single individual,” says Chhatwal. Typically in these instances, consultancies might be involved in the initial stages of the project, but the main work will be done in-house to save money. For example, Bahrain’s Seef Properties has just completed a three-month documentation project and completed all the work in house. “Outside consultants would have helped in organising and driving [the project] and if you have a huge company I can see that happening, but in the end all they can do is try to extract information from you because nobody knows your business like you. They can’t tell you what your processes are, they can just help you document them,” says Seef’s IT manager, German Calvos. Getting such projects off the ground can be difficult in smaller companies when IT staff have many other more pressing duties which take priority. Documentation of processes can be viewed by IT departments as a non-core task which is easily delayed. More than six months after its inception, Seef’s project had still not got off the ground and the company’s CEO made documenting processes throughout the company a priority. With Calvos taking the lead, the IT department met several times and identified nearly 100 processes they needed to document. Each member of staff was then charged with documenting the processes, which they had taken responsibility for. During the project, more than 30 of the defined processes were totally re-engineered as they were found to be inefficient or overly complex. Also, members of the team realised they had been taking responsibility for routine operations that could have been delegated to other members of staff lower down the chain of command, thereby freeing up valuable managerial time. “We had three reasons for wanting to document these processes,” says Calvos. “First, we wanted to streamline our operations and make sure we were not dependant on one critical individual who, if they were to leave, would take a lot of knowledge with them. But also optimising the processes was a big factor. Just by identifying the processes and documenting them, people realised there were some huge bottlenecks where other departments were involved,” he adds. When committing the procedures to record, the department wanted to ensure that any technically qualified employee would be able to follow the procedure easily but unnecessary detail was left out so if any minor interface changes were made to software, misleading details would not confuse the process. All software versions, operating systems and service packs utilised were noted. The process documentation was completed on word files, which are held on the company’s exchange and can be accessed by any member of the IT department. Because of rapid change within the organisation, the documentation is frequently re-visited and staff members hold regular meetings to discuss ways the processes can be improved. Since the re-engineered processes were implemented, Calvos says he spends more time on future technical developments and routine jobs are kept to a minimum. “With respect to delegation it has helped quite a bit. Personally I noticed how many things I was doing that I could easily get one of my staff to do, and they have realised the same thing. Someone in engineering-level realised they could get the helpdesk to do some of their jobs and I don’t get calls to unlock a user account any more,” he says. Since the operation was a success, and Seef Properties is expanding quickly, the company is looking to accredit its documentation. “It does not come cheap, but we are starting to get to a level where we want to get that kind of recognition,” Calvos adds. ||**||

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