Documenting While on Patrol

By Mary Clouse, Senior Member

When I was hired in the 1990’s as atechnical writer by the New York State Senate, I never imagined the job would involve security. But it did, and now I manage the Security and Documentation Unit for the Senate Technology Services (STS) department. Although the word “security” appears inmy unit’s title and may conjure up images of Dragnet, we don’t flash badges and you won’t find us riding around the New York State Capitol building in a patrol car. (If you’re not familiar with the 1960’s television show Dragnet, think CSI: New York.) Nevertheless, my unit performs an important role in the Senate’s computer security area.

Just the Facts

Made up of two pencil-toting technical writers and one sharp-eyed security administrator, the Security and Documentation Unit is responsible for documenting and auditing the computer policies and procedures established by STS. Outlined in a six-volume guide set, these policies and procedures are updated quarterly and detail the following:

  • how financial computer applications are created and maintained by STS for Senate administrative offices, such as Payroll and Personnel;
  • how financial accounts, passwords, and programs are issued to Senate administrative office users and audited on a regular basis;
  • how the computer systems and databases that house the online financial data are configured and secured; and
  • STS’s Disaster Recovery Plan for restoring financial computer programs and equipment in the event of an online or environmental disaster.

Walking the Beat

In addition to “patrolling” STS’s computer security measures, my unit’s technical writers create online help for the Senate Financial Management System (SFMS). SFMS is a group of computer applications that are created in-house by STS’s programming staff to specifically meet the unique business needs of the Senate’s administrative offices. Technical writers work closely with programmers to generate new online help for emerging SFMS programs or modify existing online help for programs that are changing. Occasionally, technical writers are tapped to perform quality assurance testing on new programs under development, since they are familiar with SFMS standards and conventions and are experts at relaying test findings.

The Right to Remain

Informed Part of our job involves keeping STS’s end users informed. The Security and Documentation Unit works alongside STS’s support staff to produce an IT newsletter which is distributed in paper and electronic form to all Senate computer users who work in either legislative or administrative offices. This monthly publication highlights upcoming IT events, advertises available training classes, and includes step-by-step instructions on various computer and telecommunication topics. It also promotes best practices for computer security and directs users on how they can obtain additional written documentation or personalized computer support.

Undercover Assignments

Communicator, graphics designer, webmaster, educator—we have manydisguises. Like many documentation specialists, we’re often called in to assist with a variety of research and writing assignments that may not be part of our primary job function. For instance, my unit has researched IT issues facing other state legislatures across the United States and documented these results in a quick reference chart. We’ve produced pamphlets and brochures for various IT projects involving Senate-wide PC equipment upgrades and the distribution of new software. And we’ve also had the opportunity to design Web pages and write educational content for the Senate’s public Web site (

Just Doing Our Job

On any given day, you can find the Security and Documentation Unit hard at work in their Senate cubicles writing or updating technical documentation and/or enforcing the IT security procedures we’ve helped to develop and document. Of course, it’s not as glamorous as writing and passing legislation—which is what comes to mind when you think of the New York State Senate. But it is important work, and it’s gratifying to know that our unit is doing its part to help the Senate use its automated systems to conduct its daily business smoothly, efficiently, and securely.

Mary Clouse has worked for the New York State Senate for more than seventeen years and is the manager of the STS Security and Documentation Unit. During her years at theSenate, she has also managed a computer help desk and developed computer training courses. She has a master’s degree in English education from State University at Albany. Mary is a senior member of the Tech ValleyChapter STC and can be reached at