Technology is a crucial tool for every business. But for smaller businesses without full-time IT staff, the knowledge required to keep all their IT equipment running, up-to-date and secure can seem overwhelming. Welcome to the world of systems management
Simple systems management
Although business IT can seem daunting, systems management doesn't have to be difficult.
Taken individually, the day-to-day tasks required to keep a computer running are not demanding. However, when you have lots of devices to take care of and perhaps no IT staff, it can feel like you're fighting a never-ending battle.
The best way to deal with this challenge is to look at all your IT hardware and software, then create a plan to manage it in the smartest way.
One of the biggest challenges is updating (or 'patching') software. Software updates can give you access to new functions or fix bugs and security problems.
If an update is released for security reasons (often called a 'critical update'), it's important to install it quickly - otherwise your IT systems could be at risk.
Keeping track of several computers
Updating lots of computers has traditionally been a cumbersome task. But if you combine a standard procedure with automated update tools, you can make the task much more straightforward. There are two approaches:
1. Train your staff to install updates
This means making each employee responsible for keeping their computer up to date.
For this approach to work, you must teach employees how to install updates, and explain how they can check that an update is ok to install.
If you only have a few staff members, this may be a good option. Most software can be set to prompt users to install updates, so you just need to remind your employees to take action when an update is available.
The main downside is that it's hard to be sure all your computers are being updated in good time. If employees consistently press the 'install update later' button, they may be exposing your company to unnecessary security risks.
2. Automate how updates are installed
This centralised approach gives you full confidence that updates are installed when they should be. You'll need to use a tool that automatically updates software for you. This will allow you to pull all updates together, then roll them out across your business.
The main benefit of this is that you can be confident you're installing updates in good time, because the process is centralised and you (or your IT staff) are in control.
Of these two options, most businesses opt for a centralised approach. It means you can be sure every important update is installed successfully. It also allows you to perform systems management tasks outside working hours, minimising interruptions to people's work.
Whichever option you choose, don't underestimate the importance of keeping software updated. And keep in mind that, sometimes, applying updates can be complicated.
Nine times out of ten, updates will install with no problems. But occasionally, you might run into an update that causes a conflict with other software you use. It's usually a good idea to test updates before rolling them out across your business.
If you only have limited IT expertise in house, you might prefer to work with a reputable IT supplier.
Does the cloud make managing updates easier?
If you use any cloud computing services, you may be familiar with how they can change the way you work. Because cloud services run on servers outside your business, they tend to reduce the management overhead you face.
This usually applies to updates, too. With most cloud services, updates will be applied automatically. You'll always have access to the latest version when you sign in.
For instance, if you move to cloud accounting software, you'll no longer have to download and install updates to gain access to the latest tax tables and rates. The software provider should take care of all this for you.
Don't forget your mobile devices
As smartphones and tablets have become widely used for business, companies face the additional challenge of keeping them up to date.
Smartphone manufacturers regularly release updates to the operating systems used by their devices. Individual apps also require updating regularly.
Mobile device management (MDM) software can help your business with many aspects of its mobile devices, including identifying, testing and rolling out updates. It's worth considering if you have a standard set of mobile devices that are issued to staff.
If you allow staff to use their own mobile devices for work under a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, you may need to find other ways to encourage them to keep their mobile devices up to date.
Don't panic about the mobile issue though. Although hackers, viruses and malware for smartphones and tablets are on the increase, most attacks are still aimed at devices running Microsoft Windows.
Systems management keeps things smooth
It's best not to think of systems management as something you can put off until you have a quiet moment. Like servicing your car or going to see the dentist, it'll keep everything running smoothly and help catch small issues before they disrupt your business.
If you don't have in-house IT staff to call upon, it's worth seeking advice from an IT supplier. It may be that you can perform many tasks yourself, but advice from an expert is invaluable at the start of the process.