It’s no secret that baby boomers in the enterprise computing industry are approaching retirement. When they retire, their knowledge could leave with them. At the SAS Institute, and throughout the industry, transferring the knowledge of experienced systems programmers to the next generation is a challenge.  

At the SAS Institute, we launched a project to improve our site-specific documentation so it would be more usable, timely, accurate, and easier to audit. To improve usability, we wanted a solution that provides comprehensive, flexible search capabilities while remaining easily navigable. For our other objectives, we needed a solution any systems programmer could readily use to modify documentation in their daily work, and one that would alleviate the need for a specialized documentation group. We recognized that a documentation system with these characteristics would preserve knowledge. A wiki-based documentation site was the most satisfactory fit for our needs.

A wiki can help preserve the knowledge of experienced systems programmers and help bridge the gap between experienced and inexperienced systems programmers. Wikis in most organizations originated from the need to improve and centralize reference documentation so it can be easily searched and updated. Wikis allow content to be structured according to a user’s needs, while alleviating the need for external documentation specialists. Documentation on a wiki can aid in training while providing a location to update or create reference documentation. The conversion of existing documentation to a wiki lets newly hired systems programmers increase their knowledge by reviewing existing documentation. A wiki’s usability means it can be useful to various users. It provides a simple, yet powerful, tool that can enhance reference documentation for any organization or group.

For a historical perspective, consider the evolution of IBM documentation and the corresponding evolution of site-specific documentation.

IBM Documentation Evolution

IBM documentation technology has evolved from printed manuals, to the IBM BookManager, and, most recently, the IBM Information Center. Each change has enabled a more modern, usable source of documentation that alleviated the drawbacks of its predecessor.

When IBM provided volumes of printed operating system manuals to systems programmers, it was sometimes difficult to locate information. Updates took the form of a technical newsletter that was time-consuming to merge into the manuals. Later, the manuals were provided in PDF format on IBM Websites, which allowed users to scan the IBM repository for z/OS-specific documentation. Although the free online IBM z/OS manuals in PDF format were a positive step, these manuals still lacked tutorials and examples essential to inexperienced systems programmers.

IBM BookManager was the next step. A family of products that lets a user create and use online books at terminals or workstations, it organizes and groups books onto bookshelves by subject or frequency of use. IBM used BookManager to organize documentation into bookshelves. Searches with BookManager required a user to have prior bookshelf navigational experience for best results. As technology progressed, IBM developed a single Website, called the Information Center that provided simple access to previous forms of documentation.

Information Center, the most current method for delivering IBM product documentation, provides more powerful search capabilities than the previous documentation methods. Information Center content is identical to content contained in previous methods, but is organized in a more intuitive tree with understandable names at each level.

Site-Specific Documentation Evolution

Now let’s look at the tools sites have been using for their own documentation. The first method was paper-based documentation, which presented many disadvantages, including non-centralized locations, updating difficulties, inefficient searching, and no backup or recovery capability just to name a few. The next approach for organizing documentation was to use Partitioned Data Sets (PDS) members. This method provided resources that would be easily located when a problem occurred, but proved problematic when only the user who created the PDS member could identify the needed member. Moreover, there was no standard structure for organizing the PDS libraries or its members. The use of PDS as documentation repositories provided simple editing and updating, but lacked flexibility to quickly locate needed information.

To address these drawbacks, users began to develop Websites that contained site-specific documentation. These sites provide Web pages that contain links to all internal documentation. For example, the mainframe support MSD page at SAS is a host Web page for all reference material for site-specific z/OS tasks. It also serves as a homepage with helpful reference links to internal and external sites. z/OS documentation Websites made important documentation navigable, searchable, and secure via password protection. One drawback of this method is that the documentation of these Websites may become outdated or contain broken Web links.

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