Here’s the essential IT management tool kit for small and medium-sized businesses

How can SMBs with tight budgets and small teams keep up with the challenging and ever-changing IT landscape, and cut down on the time and effort poured into their IT management? These tools can help.

IT management is a strategy that enterprises inevitably adopt to help business functions, like human resources and finance, run smoothly. 

Every organisation's IT management strategies will vary, depending on the business' specific requirements. While large enterprises are typically able to manage their IT with a well-staffed department of trained IT professionals, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often can only afford one or two IT professionals, who are expected to manage all network operations on their own. 

Given the complexity of IT networks, a small-staffed IT team is often under great pressure to deliver top-quality network performance.

So, how can SMBs with tighter budgets and smaller teams keep up with the challenging and ever-changing IT landscape, and cut down on the time and effort poured into their IT management? Finding the right set of tools is a good place to start. Here are some different types of IT management tools that can help you execute an effective IT management strategy.

1. Network performance monitoring and diagnostic tools that provide a bird's eye view of the network

Network performance impacts your SMB's operations, so it is crucial to optimize it. While the network of IT components grows, maintaining manual records of software and hardware becomes taxing. Your IT staff might grow so overwhelmed, they'll want to quit maintaining these records. 

Additionally, when it comes to detecting security breaches and troubleshooting issues, your IT staff might not know where to look for entry points of a virus or where to search for device and network faults without a proper network map and log data. 

Network performance monitoring and diagnostic (NPMD) tools provide a detailed analysis of every IT element within the network. Further, some solutions offer logs and user data on dashboards and charts, so if your team can benefit from rich visuals, finding a solution that offers these could be a huge advantage.

Considering the tighter budget of SMBs, choosing a vendor that provides a wide feature set will help reduce tool sprawl (when organisations invest in more tools than they need) and the chaos that results from it.

2. Securing and patching tools to strengthen your weakest endpoints

The main source of revenue generation is also the source most vulnerable to attacks—your employees and their endpoints. While security training should be a regular part of your employees' work schedule, your SMB should proactively guard and secure all mobile devices, servers, desktops, laptops, and browsers used for business purposes.

Further, with bring your own device (BYOD) policies, enforcing strong configuration standards to avoid loss of corporate data is vital. 

Mobile device management (MDM) is the process of safeguarding endpoints. MDM solutions can efficiently compartmentalise personal and corporate data, prevent data from falling into the wrong hands in case of theft or malware with remote data wipe, and back up and restore data all from a central location. 

An alternative to MDM is remote monitoring and management (RMM), wherein a managed service provider (MSP) remotely controls and secures all endpoints of a client's IT infrastructure. So whether it's done internally using MDM or outsourced using RMM, make sure your SMB is securing all its endpoints.

3. IT analytics tools to track the performance metrics of your IT infrastructure

Although it's important to analyse how well your IT network performs, pie charts and bar graphs on network performance show static metrics that only help on a basic level. As data grows more complex, these often become too simple to offer the necessary insights. This is where IT analytics come into play. IT analytics tools provide visualisations of captured data to highlight patterns and anomalies that are useful for business operations. 

Many IT analytics tools offer dashboards showcasing key metrics describing your IT’s performance for a quick real-time overview. Auto-analyses and reports of other IT performance parameters and assets help add an analytics’ perspective to help with making intelligent decisions as these tools can fetch information from contextual integrations with other IT tools.

4. Help desk tools to log and service requests raised by employees

As your SMB grows, so will requests and complaints from your end users. There is also the possibility of experiencing both recurring and new issues. It's the service desk’s responsibility to ensure end user requests are resolved quickly and efficiently.

By collecting ready-made responses for common end user requests, you can speed through redundant ones, and allocate more time on responding to new, more challenging requests. This will not only demonstrate a commitment of service to your end users, it will also help you understand them better. 

Service desk request histories can be logged and documented for future reference. Additionally, if service-level agreements (SLAs) that detail the process for resolving incidents are well defined, your end users will know what to expect and will be less likely to feel impatient. Should your service desk needs expand, you can choose to contract with a managed service provider (MSP). Whether it's in-house or outsourced to an MSP, make sure your SMB has service management covered.

5. Identity management tools to regulate and govern the entire life cycle of identities

Your SMB's employee network and its web of access to resources only gets more complicated as your SMB grows. To adhere to various compliance mandates, such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, etc., employees without verified privileges should not be allowed to access all IT resources. Roles must be defined, and role-based access controls should be assigned. 

A boundary between normal and privileged users must be maintained. By using identity and access management (IAM) tools, your enterprise can simplify user provisioning, and allocate the right levels of privileged access. This can also help eliminate privilege creep — the accumulation of unnecessary privileges by a user. 

Identity management processes can include incorporating single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and ultimately deploying a privileged access management (PAM) solution. It's never too late to start managing your employee database.

6. IT security tools to proactively and reactively audit your IT infrastructure

With an increasing number of cyberattacks targeting SMBs, it's high time that your SMB's IT security strategy stepped up to the challenge. Without proper compliance and auditing standards, it's much more likely your SMB will fall victim to a cyberattack. 

Start by ensuring that your sensitive information access policies are stringent. You should also enforce strong passwords, restrict access to files based on the roles of the employees, install firewalls, and analyse the traffic flow in the network to respond to breaches. Managing employees' activities, logs, device configurations, patches, applications, browsers, and more are additional safety measures your SMB can take. You know what they say: prevention is always better than a cure.  

Establishing an effective IT management strategy can seem like a daunting task for SMBs, especially when considering the risks every IT infrastructure is prone - like hacking, phishing, ransomware attacks, identity theft, password theft, and breaches. But with the right IT management tool kit, you can effectively secure your IT infrastructure, cut costs, and save time.

Monisha Ravi is a Product Consultant at ManageEngine, which provides enterprise IT management software.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)