What is Systems Management, and Why Should You Care?

(Originally published March 23, 2011 in Small Business Computing)

What is Systems Management?

Systems management is an umbrella term that refers to the centralized management of a company’s information technology assets, and it’s one that encompasses many different tasks required to monitor and manage IT systems and resolve IT problems. Systems management solutions can help small business owners address many requirements including (but not limited to) the following:

• Monitoring and management of network, server, storage, printers and client devices (desktop, laptop and mobile devices), including notification of impending or actual failures, capacity issues and other systems and network events

• Hardware asset inventory and configuration management, including firmware, operating systems and related license management

• Application software usage and management

• Software asset inventory, versioning and patching, and license management

• Security management, including anti-virus and malware management tools, including virus definition updates.

• Automated backup and restore, to back up systems data in a central data repository

• Service desk problem management, which provides an automated process to generate and track trouble tickets and resolve problems

Systems Management: Why Should You Care?

As businesses grow, so do IT requirements. In many companies, it’s tough to find a facet of the business that doesn’t depend on IT. As dependence on IT to run the business grows, it becomes vitally important to efficiently manage and safeguard IT and data assets.

System management solutions — such as service desk management, single sign-on authentication and patch management — can help keep systems up and running, and maximize IT and employee productivity. They can also help your IT team efficiently roll out new software solutions, or upgrade existing ones. In a nutshell, effective systems management solutions help IT organizations move beyond fire-drill mode to provide the business with proactive guidance and support.

System management solutions also help companies protect against the fallout from downtime and threats, whether caused by system malfunctions, lost or stolen mobile devices, network sabotage, power outages, security breaches, identity theft, human error and natural and man-made disasters. Should any of these events occur, they can result in lasting financial loss, brand damage, legal liabilities and other extremely unpleasant consequences. Consider these sobering facts:

• In a survey by Kroll Ontrack Inc., 74 percent of respondents experienced a data loss incident in the last two years. And 32 percent of organizations take “several days” to recover from a data loss — another 16 percent never recovered.

Symantec’s 2009 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey indicates that the average SMB has experienced three disruptions to computer or technology resources within the past 12 months; 26 percent reported losing important data. These firms estimate that these outages cost them about $15,000 per day.

Many small businesses fail to perform regular data back-ups, and even if they do, tools and procedures can fail due to malfunctioning hardware and storage media, corrupted data, or because backup software isn’t reset to include new files or applications. Whatever the reason, costs to replace the data and restore employee productivity can be enormous. Businesses also face stiff penalties if they can’t store, retrieve, monitor and transmit data in accordance with regulatory requirements.

Systems Management: What to Consider

Criteria such as company size, number of devices, complexity of IT infrastructure, IT resources and expertise all come into play when considering centralized systems management.  For instance, in a small business with just a handful of PCs, centralized systems management may require more of an investment in time and dollars than it would take to just manage each device individually.

But as companies grow, a lack of centralized system management can become a pain point and true vulnerability. However, the sheer number and assortment of products and approaches available can be confusing, and the cost of traditional enterprise system management solutions can send small businesses into sticker shock. Driven by the need for a quick fix, businesses can end up with several disparate point products that don’t work together. This can create both short-term gaps and integration and scalability problems over time.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution or short-cut to a short-list. But small businesses can avoid these potential pitfalls by taking action on these tips:

• Assess gaps, bottlenecks and vulnerabilities in your IT environment

• Look for vendors and solutions that can address immediate pain points, but also provide incremental capabilities that your company may need over time

• Seek out vendors with solutions designed to meet the needs of SMBs, such as Dell KACE, HP Insight Manager, IBM Service Manager for Smart Business, Kaseya and Spiceworks

• Evaluate managed service provider (MSP) offerings. Major vendors, such as Dell and IBM, as well as many regional and local service providers offer managed infrastructure services that can be a great fit for companies with limited or non-existent IT staff. MSPs can often provide a level technical expertise, trouble-shooting and proactive 24/7 support that surpass the capabilities of most internal SMB IT shops

By investing time upfront to consider business priorities, IT requirements and constraints, and evaluating the pros and cons of different approaches and offerings, small business owners can find a systems management solution or an MSP that will support the business now, and in the future. 

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