10 Necessary Tools for a New IT Manager
Landing a gig in IT management carries an amazing sense of gratification. You've been recognized for your hard work, dedication, and leadership qualities. Somebody was actually paying attention.
However, once the honeymoon is over, you may feel like you've gotten in over your head. You're now expected to manage a team, coordinate projects, meet with clients, create reports for the C-suite, and build out infrastructure. All while keeping your company's data systems secure, addressing change requests and handling bug reports. Is it time to kiss your weekends goodbye?
Of course, all management roles are not created equal. In larger shops, you may only be managing people. But within other companies, manager might be your title, but doesn't mean you're not a senior technician, right? Whatever scope you're expected to fill, it's important to recognize that you're not alone. Solutions have materialized that allow today's IT managers to work smarter than ever, freeing up more time to focus on the important stuff.
Project Management Software
Learning to manage projects and the teams working on them can be one of the most difficult aspects of IT management. But you're not the first manager to feel the pressure, and several software vendors can come to the rescue. Project management software should provide a clean visual interface to develop milestones, follow a timeline, and keep track of project resources.
The best tools will also include collaboration, file organization, versioning, and management level functions such as budgeting, department allocation, and customer billing. If your organization already has well-established systems to handle some of these tasks, integration with legacy systems can keep you from reinventing the wheel.
The long-time standard software for project management has been Microsoft Project. Decades of development have yielded a package that is hard to beat in terms of functionality and organization. As can be expected, it fully integrates with other Microsoft technologies, making it the no-brainer choice for Microsoft shops. The only real negatives are that some find the learning curve to be overwhelming, and collaboration is not particularly well integrated. It can also be pricey for large teams.
Compared to Project, Asana is a relative newcomer to the project management arena. As such, Asana takes a fresh approach to collaboration. Many IT managers prefer Asana's open-ended layout compared to Project, but some find the overall lack of structure to be confusing. Whereas, Project tells you exactly how to set up your tasks, Asana lets you come up with your own rules as you go. Of which, depending on your take, could be a good or bad thing. Asana scores major points for its free tier, which offers enough capability to handle the needs of a good-sized department.
A third option is the web-based collaboration site Trello, which focuses on simplicity. Trello is the fastest tool of the three to get up and running, and it's base functionality is easier to learn. Then, once you have the basic package up and running, you can add "power-ups" to extend functionality. Trello is optimized for Agile teams and includes a power-up for Scrum. Price is another important factor. When costs are critical, Trello's free tier far exceeds Asana's in functionality.
Large organizations benefit from automation of common tasks such as adding server capacity, software updates, backups, infrastructure buildouts, and workstation configuration. A good automation tool goes far beyond scripting — by allowing IT managers to coordinate network, server, and workstation administration activities from a single graphical interface. This helps to prevent the kind of surprises that can keep the team in the office for an overnight disaster recovery session.
One of the most used automation engines is Red Hat's Ansible, which focuses on building repetitive tasks as simple playbooks. Ansible uses near-English language instructions for creating automated tasks. Ansible is designed for cloud computing and is able to learn how your systems interrelate.
While all of this sounds great for IT admins, it's true that the base functionality isn't well-suited for management. Enter Ansible's graphical add-on, "Tower". Tower for Ansible wraps the engine in a highly functional GUI, turning it into a sophisticated tool for IT management. The downside is that due to Ansible's ability to integrate and manage so many systems, Ansible with Tower is definitely not cheap.
Solarwinds is a suite of IT Management tools that allow you to pick and choose exactly what functions are appropriate for your organization, paying only for the modules you need. If you choose to embrace the Solarwinds biosphere, it turns out that there are modules to tackle nearly every aspect of IT management, so it may be the only tool you need. The journey begins with Solarwinds RMM (remote monitoring and management), which provides a unified dashboard to visualize and interact with your company's IT architecture. Data driven insights allow you to make well-informed decisions regarding growth and maintenance.
IT managers have a responsibility to stay on top of IT security. You may have a team that is charged with ensuring your network, servers, workstations, and BYOD devices are protected. However, that doesn't abdicate you from your responsibility to develop and implement policies and procedures that protect your company's IT assets. The goal here is to stay informed without micromanaging your security team — and it turns out there are some excellent tools that allow us to do that.
Your department is probably already using Wireshark in some capacity, as it has become the de-facto standard network security tool. From a management perspective, Wireshark's graphical interface provides the necessary high-level view of your network traffic and patterns over time, allowing unexpected or unauthorized traffic to be identified and dealt with before a situation arises. Cost is a non-issue as Wireshark is free.
Lansweeper, by comparison, should not be considered an alternative to Wireshark, but rather a complement. Lansweeper's ability to scan your entire network infrastructure enables you to quickly identify all devices and servers that are operating, period. This provides an ability to identify non-compliant configurations, unauthorized services, or other potential risks to your company. Pricing is per-asset scanned, with a 100-asset, free tier.
Continuing with the theme of IT security tools that complement each other, Splunk provides a management-level view over your system's log files. Splunk's GUI analyzes your logs to generate graphical reports and data insights. Many of these reports are useful to monitor and detect potential security incursions, as well as for tracking user behavior. Pricing is dependent on how much data you analyze and what additional insights you subscribe to, but it includes a free tier for analyzing under 500 MB of logs per day, which is enough for many small and mid-sized organizations.
Help Desk Software
Most IT managers rely on a help desk system to handle feature requests and bug reports from end users throughout the enterprise. This provides a documented path from issue to resolution that is not possible through word of mouth. The biggest hurdle is employee behavior. While some will embrace a help desk system, many will try to grab you or your team members in the hall or at the water cooler, known as a "drive-by". They may need a careful nudge by explaining that using the help desk allows your team to understand their problem more thoroughly and therefore reach a better conclusion.
Zendesk Support and Spiceworks Help Desk are two of the most common ticket management systems available, and both provide approximately the same abilities to communicate with users by documenting, assigning, and tracking change requests and bug reports. Both can handle everything from small offices to enterprise needs, with the main difference being their revenue structure.
Zendesk takes the traditional route of charging by the number of support agent accounts and the level of functionality you require, beginning at only five bucks per month. Spiceworks on the other hand is free.
The Bottom Line
The complexity of today's IT departments necessitates the use of management and automation tools, but be careful not to make a decision in haste. It's important to choose tools that work just as well for your team as they do for you. Solicit input from all stakeholders before coming to a conclusion.
With knowledge of the available resources and the right training on their use and application, a new manager can make decisions on how to most efficiently guide their team and monitor their systems. And with the time saved, you may get to see your family after all! Learn more and get prepared with courses by CBT Nuggets.
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