As a small business IT team, you’re faced with myriad challenges and expectations. You have to deliver and support what your business is trying to accomplish with technology. You wear multiple hats within IT—perhaps one minute you’re installing software on a laptop, and the next minute, you’re troubleshooting a network issue. You protect one of your company’s most valuable assets—its data—from threats and loss.
Just because you’re working within an SMB doesn’t mean the expectations or requirements are any fewer than in other organizations. Users expect good consumer service and pleasant experience. And they want their technology to work.
But it’s more than providing support. As the IT experts within the SMB, you have to keep up with emerging technologies and understand how they might benefit your company. You need to spend time with decision-makers to guide them to the right investments in technology. Especially with an SMB, poor technology investment can be lethal. But if you’re spending all your time putting out fires and dealing with end-user requests (both of which are important!) you won’t be able to help decision-makers with informed choices regarding technology investments.
On top of all this, you likely have a limited budget. But this doesn’t mean you have to settle on just any tool. You have to make the right investments in the right tools to not only meet the needs of your organization but to enable your IT team to do more with less human effort. To do this, you need these five essential IT tools:
- Help desk
- Remote control and administration
- Patch management
- Monitoring and alerting
- Syslog management
Let’s look at how these essential tools are applied within the SMB IT organization.
1. Help Desk
A help desk tool is the fundamental support building block of any IT organization. But it’s more than just a way to capture and track user requests and issues.
A good small business help desk tool helps the IT organization understand how it’s perceived from the user perspective. If things aren’t working well, or if there are recurring issues and requests, the help desk tool captures and provides valuable data to help IT make good decisions. A good help desk tool also helps IT understand the demand for IT. We know how busy we are by the number of tickets we’re dealing with…but a good help desk tool answers the question, “Busy doing what?”
The help desk tool also facilitates communication and workflow task management within IT. By providing a single system of record regarding IT activities and workflow, every IT team member can be informed about activities and effort within IT.
2. Remote Control and Administration
There never will be a one-to-one ratio between IT technicians and the people who depend on them. IT technicians simply cannot be everywhere.
Having a remote administration and support tool is essential. This tool lets IT technicians provide assistance from anywhere, at any time.
Let’s say a user has an issue with her laptop but is having difficulty articulating the issue. By using a remote-control tool, a technician can simply remote into the user’s laptop, see what’s happening, and take corrective action. This saves time for both the user and the technician. But there’s a further benefit. Via the remote-control session, the user can also see what the technician is doing, which gives the user confidence her issue is understood and is being addressed. A further benefit is the user can learn by watching, and for a smaller issue, they may be able to resolve it themselves should it recur in the future.
3. Patch Management
Performing regular, periodic patching within the IT environment is one of the most proactive and preventative activities an SMB IT organization can do for itself and its business. Patches for operating systems as well as third-party software are seemingly released daily, as bugs and vulnerabilities are identified and fixed.
While patches certainly can be installed manually, a patch management tool automates this task and provides valuable reporting to assure the SMB IT team their environment is up-to-date. A disciplined approach to keeping software and operating systems up-to-date reduces the risk of non-compliance, security exploits, and unplanned downtime.
4. Monitoring and Alerting
SMBs are becoming fully dependent on the use of technology, so it must be reliable. An interruption in technology means someone in IT has to drop whatever they’re doing and respond. But it also means someone within the business is unable to do their job.
To avoid such a situation, a monitoring and alerting tool is a “must-have” for the SMB IT.
Monitoring saves time and money by alerting IT technicians to intervene before an outage occurs. For example, performance or utilization thresholds can be defined, so when a threshold is reached, IT can take action, such as adding space to a filesystem, at a time when users won’t be affected. Having this capability helps IT eliminate the unexpected downtime that would have resulted had no action taken place.
But when things do go wrong, monitoring still provides a huge benefit.
First, an effective monitoring solution helps IT quickly pinpoint what’s causing the outage. Secondly, IT can assign the right resources for an issue. For example, network technicians can be appropriately assigned to issues involving a network device. Server administrators can be appropriately assigned to server performance issues. While it sounds trivial, getting the right resource on the right issue at the right time saves time and money, and optimizes the use of IT technicians.
5. Syslog Management
One can think of syslog as the “flight data recorders” of your computing environment. Syslog records messages when everything is working well…and when things aren’t going so well. Syslog does its job quietly, and without someone monitoring or reviewing those messages, no one may know the difference. In this regard, syslog is often “out of sight, out of mind.”
But when things go wrong, syslog is one of your best forensic tools, making a syslog management tool a “must-have” in the SMB IT toolbox. A syslog management tool can be used to quick scan and identify those error messages and provide clues into what when wrong.
How to Choose the Best Small Business Network Monitoring Software
Depending on your specific circumstances, other tools may make sense to consider as well. But these five essential tools help IT technicians deal with the most pressing challenge of the SMB IT organization—how to maximize the capabilities of the technician, while at the same time, optimize the time technicians spend resolving issues and fulfilling requests. These essential tools help the SMB IT team (or team of one) keep its technology under control and team members productive, effective, and efficient.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to do it all alone. Small businesses can get help from managed service providers that handle network monitoring and other key technical tasks. This means you can focus on running your business and avoid hiring full-time IT staff.
There are tools designed specifically for these managed service businesses, which they can use to take care of their clients’ entire networks. Remote Monitoring & Management (RMM) is one example of an all-in-one solution that provides monitoring functionality, patch management, managed antivirus software, and more. N-central is a similar and even more robust option that is highly scalable and enables managed service providers to automate network monitoring and other tasks for thousands of clients.
And when the daily operation of IT is under control, it gives the SMB IT team they need to innovate, create, and design the technologies SMBs want.