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Systems management 101: An ultimate guide

By Bryce Emley · January 9, 2023
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Millions of pieces of data run through our minds each second, and we only notice a tiny fraction of them. That means countless memories, experiences, and sensations are being used at any given moment to drive nearly everything we do and think—almost entirely without conscious thought. 

If you walk the other way when you see a Chihuahua, it may be because your neighbor's grouchy little bug-eyed monster chased you when you were a toddler. If you love nutmeg, maybe pumpkin spice candles were burning nonstop in your house when you were growing up. 

Systems management works like that and, incidentally, also requires a lot of brain power from the IT teams that oversee it. They work hard to keep data and networks running so smoothly that no one else even needs to think about what they're doing.

Table of contents:

  • Overview: What is systems management?

  • What is the purpose of systems management?

  • Common challenges when implementing

  • Systems management best practices

  • What to consider when choosing a systems management software

  • Systems management tools

Overview: What is systems management?

Systems management is the facilitation of IT systems throughout a company, office, data center, or other organization. The IT team overseeing systems management is responsible for everything from ordering computer equipment and maintaining networks to troubleshooting and setting up automation. In short, systems management is the brain working behind the scenes to ensure your important IT functions are firing on all cylinders.

What is the purpose of systems management?

The purpose of systems management is to keep networks, technology, and overall IT infrastructures running smoothly.

In a basic office setting, systems management could be as simple as having a single IT person who works on the website, keeps software updated across the office, and supports the rest of the staff's tech needs. On a more complex level, it could include a whole team responsible for managing servers, setting up robotic process automation, and programming AI.

Systems management covers a variety of tasks, including: 

  • Security: Systems management includes data- and network security-related operations and assets like firewalls, virus protection software, 2FA, password/login standards, phishing detection, and even the physical security of hardware.

  • Asset inventory: An organization's hardware, software, and digital assets also fall under systems management, including servers, computers, files, and product licenses.

  • User management: All the logins, permissions, and subscriptions for the SaaS products, applications, devices, and software used across an organization fall into this category.

  • Backup and recovery: Systems management also covers fail-safety measures like data backup and recovery procedures.

  • Data analytics: Processes for extracting, logging, transferring, synthesizing, and analyzing data also fall under systems management.

  • Automation: IT teams work together with other teams in an organization to set up and refine triggers that automatically execute tasks and processes like reporting, notifications, emailing, and logging data.

  • Capacity forecasting: Will your current data center support your needs in 10 years? Five years? Next year? Systems managers can assess your infrastructure at scale to help sustain your growth.

  • Cloud management: Whether it's public, private, or both, whatever your cloud computing needs are, good systems management can ensure you've got the security, utility, and capacity you need.

  • Help desk: For organizations with client-facing support ticketing, systems management includes issue resolution processes.

  • Interoperability: Effective systems management ensures that all of your separate software and applications play well together and fit neatly into your workflows.

  • Education: IT teams help train team members on how to use software and hardware and can train them on security best practices.

  • Compliance: Each of these responsibilities also has to maintain compliance, and IT teams have to be particularly cognizant of compliance as it relates to user data.

Common challenges when implementing systems management

Just like implementing a change in mindset, systems management implementations can cause a little friction. Here are a few potential challenges you might face when implementing a new system or IT management approach.

  • Learning curve: Any changes that come along with systems management may need additional training to execute. Within IT teams affected by those systems or changes that come from them, there may be resistance to alterations in job roles or processes.

  • Added complexity: It's often easier not to implement systems management strategies like automation or enhanced security, but the more complex workflows can be well worth it. Systems that lead to more efficiency should even simplify workflows down the road.

  • Cost: Good systems management costs money. Period. Specialized hires for IT teams may fetch high salaries, and the software and hardware needs required to scale can also add up.

  • Implementation: As systems management needs grow, organizations may run into roadblocks with existing applications and utilities. Interoperability can become an issue if changes aren't carefully considered early on.

  • Strain on current IT team: Existing teams may become overburdened by growing systems management needs.

Systems management best practices 

No matter what your IT needs are, you can promote sound systems management with these strategies:

  • Consult IT teams on requirements: Nobody knows your systems management requirements better than your IT team. They can advise on network, interoperability, hardware, and utilization requirements to set a baseline.

  • Consult IT teams on budgets: Decision-makers should never assume their current teams have all the resources they need for continued growth. By consulting IT managers, they can solidify timelines and budgets for putting systems management plans into action.

  • Consider frameworks: Like a template, an established framework can help keep teams on track with a proven, pre-set structure like FCAPS for network security, FMEA for compliance, or COBIT for IT governance.

  • Align goals with strategic vision: Communicate across teams to understand overall strategic visions and organizational growth goals so that systems management goals can help advance them.

  • Set attainable goals: Since goals should be both attainable and measurable, consider another framework like ITIL for setting values and measurables. Including IT teams will help ensure their viability and timelines.

What to consider when choosing a systems management software

Thinking about upgrading software or adding a new application? Consider consulting with your IT team or network admin on these points:

  • IT budget: Will licensing fees, registration costs, necessary hardware, or network upgrades fit into the budget? Will you need new hires? Budgeting for systems needs can be complex, and costs can add up quickly.

  • Timelines: You may need lengthy runways to account for onboarding, training, and early troubleshooting that could eat into productivity.

  • Existing resources: Take stock of all your current resources like applications, hardware, and staff certifications and skills. Make sure they can support your new software before committing to it.

  • Interoperability potential: If there are applications you depend on that would be a headache to change, your new software should be able to integrate with them.

  • Size and scale: The size of your organization, the number of users who will need accounts for the new software, and your scale plans should all factor into the software choice and its pricing model.

Systems management tools and ITSM products

Integrating the right systems management tools can help your IT team operate more efficiently, which in turn helps the rest of your organization. IT support management (ITSM) products can help:

  • Alleviate IT pain points

  • Improve network reliability and performance

  • Maximize automation and AI capabilities

  • Enhance security

  • Cut operating costs

Worried about interoperability? Zapier can connect applications like Wrike, SolarWinds, ServiceNow, and Jira so you can easily integrate them into your automated workflows so they run—like the majority of your mental processing—without a thought.

Related reading: 

  • The ultimate guide to conducting an IT audit (with checklist)

  • 4 ways to automate Jira Software

  • Freshdesk vs. Zendesk: Which should you use?

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