Your technology management shopping list for 2018

By Dan Lautman

Part of my job is to assess technology infrastructure and management for associations and nonprofit organizations. No matter what size they are, many of them, even the large organizations, are missing some key technology management tools. If you’re in a smaller organization, this can be a real problem – you may have an IT department of one or two people, yet you’re expected to do everything from end-user support, to systems administration, to project management, to budget recommendations. While we all wish we had more time in the day or more human resources to dedicate to technology, when it comes to many associations the fact is we have limited budgets and must work with what we have.

Thankfully, there are tools available that can help automate and streamline your staff’s job. Hopefully, you have many or all of these basic tools in place by now. If you don’t, consider adding them to your budget and roadmap this year for some low-effort, high-impact wins for your IT department and the entire organization.

Task and ticket management tools
I’m surprised how many systems administrators and even helpdesk staff scoff at the idea of a ticket management system. I hear objections like: “It would take more time to enter the ticket than it would to do the work,” or, “Our users would never use it so why bother?”

Yes, entering tickets takes time. All documentation does. But if that documentation provides value, then it’s time well spent.

The second premise is problematic because it reveals a misunderstanding of the system’s purpose. A ticketing system doesn’t only help users request support. Its main purpose is to help IT staff by:

  • Showing management how IT spends their time.
  • Making the case for additional end-user training requirements
  • Making the case for financial investment in IT
  • Creating accountability for the IT department - but for end users too. For example, a
  • ticket proves that they requested additional info from the user but they haven’t responded.
  • Analyzing trends: “Ever since we provided Excel training to the accounting department, helpdesk requests have gone down 50%!”
  • Helping prioritize tasks. Email-based ticket ‘management’ tends to send you into a LIFO-based system (last-in-first-out) rather than prioritizing tickets properly.

If you oversee an IT department as a non-technical executive, ticket reports can provide valuable insight into what and how the department is doing. Other service-oriented departments can leverage ticketing systems. Internally, graphic design teams or facilities teams can get a lot of value from a tool like this, and even member-facing call center teams could use this to manage and prioritize requests from your members! There are many cloud products available for ticket management – ZenDesk being a very popular and user-friendly option.

Monitoring and Alerting tools
Practically speaking, there’s no way any human being can manually monitor their assets 24x7x365. But many your systems need that level of monitoring—like your firewall, core switch, and physical servers. And those examples only cover the technology needed for your users to log in to their computers in the morning! What about email, virtual servers, SaaS products, and wireless access points?

The only thing worse than a system going down is finding out about it from a user – or worse, a member. Be proactive, be the hero, and get yourself a monitoring system.

If you’re doing it yourself, PRTG and Nagios are good options. Combine this with an environmental monitoring tool like ITWatchDog. Your Managed Services Provider (if you have one) should include all these tools as part of their service package - but some MSPs only monitor servers. Make sure all systems, including firewalls and switches, are also monitored by your MSP.

Patch Management tools
IT pros all know it’s important to patch software, but I come across organizations that rely on Microsoft Update and the assumption that users will do the right thing. If you’re not managing security patches, then you’re leaving it up to the user. And, if you’re leaving it up to the user, well, you’re going to end up with a bigger, uglier problem later.

You also have the problem of third-party product updates, which users might not even know about or, if they do, may not apply. Just like monitoring, you have to get in front of this issue: “whitelist” and deploy patches yourself. You’ll have the peace of mind that users are running current software. They don’t have to think about it or come to you with “help me update Flash” requests.

Ultimately, automated patch management translates into time and cost savings – manual patch management takes a lot of time from an IT department perspective, and executives appreciate the peace of mind knowing that systems are kept up-to-date.

If you’re doing this yourself, WSUS + Ninite is an affordable, bare-bones combo. SolarWinds and ManageEngine have products that fit the bill as well. Again, this type of service is typically included in an MSP agreement, but you need to make sure it’s getting done by spot-checking servers and workstations.

Password Management tools
Password management is important for everyone, but is extra important for IT professionals who hold the “keys to the kingdom.” Too often, I see a “security through obscurity” solution—an Excel sheet with passwords stored in clear text buried in a directory. Sometimes, passwords are not documented at all.

The IT management passwords are possibly the most important thing you possess—treat that knowledge properly by securely documenting it. There are many good products in this space including 1password and Dashlane.

Dan Lautman is Sr. Consultant, Technology Management at DelCor Technology Systems headquartered in Silver Springs, MD. He is a regular presenter at association conferences and has spoken at NYSAE’s Technology Summit in the past.