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TechnologyAdvice Guide to IT Software
The role of the IT department has changed dramatically in recent years, and in many ways, is still changing. According to a study by consulting firm Protiviti, about two-thirds of IT professionals say there is a "major IT transformation" under way at their companies to enhance business performance and security.1 Whether a CIO, CTO, systems administrator, or helpdesk agent, an IT professional's job is to support the convergence of technology and business goals. But technology is ever-multiplying in quantity, complexity, and accessibility, which only makes matters more difficult. On average, 50 percent of organizations have suffered at least one failed IT project in the past year due to lack of resources.2
The right software can be one of the most powerful resources for helping IT professionals align their role with larger business priorities and not only remain an asset to their company, but help their company grow. This guide will help buyers and procurement teams develop a better understanding of products, features, and specific use examples in order to choose the best IT solutions for their needs.
Modern IT departments face a maelstrom of new, unpredictable variables, with essentially two options: adapt, or remain in the dark. Some industry analysts have gone so far as to predict the extinction of traditional IT management. Forrester Research, for example, suggested that the central IT department will be a "thing of the past" by 2020.3 While this is a stretch of the imagination, there are some real challenges IT professionals are struggling with:
Roughly 53 percent of IT professionals say that various departments within the company use unauthorized software, hardware, and web applications for business productivity.4 Examples might include a file storage site, a homemade spreadsheet for company data, or web-based email service. Shadow IT poses a threat, since it isn't ruled by the same security measures as approved solutions, but it also represents a failure of the established IT environment to meet end-to-end needs.
Instead of building on their own in-house servers, many businesses now host their IT environment through an IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) provider such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Rackspace. This helps reduce overhead costs and maintenance, but a multi-tenant environment brings added complexity, multiple virtual machine (VM) layers, and a higher demand for security and access control.
Democratization of technology:
As employees and lines of business (LOBs) increasingly scout out their own solutions on an as-needed basis, many IT managers have decided — instead of cracking down — to take on a new role as technology broker, which some have referred to as "IT-as-a-Service" or ITaaS.5 In this approach, IT is responsible for supplying the technology needs for LOBs by vetting and aggregating third-party providers, often at the request of employees themselves. This stands in stark relief to the traditional framework, where CIOs impose solutions from the top-down.
According to Gartner, 85 percent of Fortune 500 organizations will fail to effectively exploit big data for competitive advantage through this year.6 How much more so for middle-market companies and small businesses? Data analytics software can be highly complex, requiring knowledge of mining and governance techniques, as well as the capability to integrate third-party platforms with multiple data sources. Many companies are relegating their big data responsibilities to the IT department, which means IT professionals need to understand how the moving parts of their infrastructure work together in order to derive useful business intelligence.
The right IT software better positions CIOs, CTOs, system administrators, etc. to confront these challenges by simplifying infrastructure, enhancing visibility, integration, and security without slowing the pace of innovation. In the following section, we'll look at three major categories of business IT solutions, including common features and leading products for each.
IT Software Categories
Configuration Management Software
Configuration management (CM) software — often referred to as a configuration management system (CMS) — helps IT professionals manage the physical and virtual IT environment by monitoring changes made during development, implementation, and updates. This is especially important considering the average firm makes over 10,000 changes to its IT environment in a single year,7 and at least half of all mission-critical outages are caused by human error through configuration mistakes (hand-offs, integration, etc.).8
The end goal of a CMS is to maximize system performance and serviceability by reducing mistakes and inconsistencies. This is typically accomplished by mapping an IT environment (an ongoing process), keeping accurate documentation (for updates, releases, asset inventories, structural modifications) and storing the subsequent data in a configuration management database (CMDB). CM software also uses internal verification and audit tools to determine compliance with predetermined baselines and regulatory standards.
Most CMSs incorporate some or all of the following common features:
- Configuration management database
- Discovery automation
- Dependency mapping
- Change management
- Impact analysis
- Asset inventory management
- Baseline management
- Incident/Fault Reporting
Leading Solutions: HP, Kaseya, Solarwinds, Puppet Enterprise, CA Technologies
IT Helpdesk Software
In the simplest terms, helpdesk software helps IT departments automate service management. It serves as a platform where staff and network users can report issues and IT administrators can systematically address them. Most products use a ticketing system to log requests, prioritize, and queue them for completion, which saves administrators the time and effort associated with manual troubleshooting (e.g. phone calls, emails, repetitive office visits). Helpdesk software also increases employee productivity by allowing users to submit help tickets through an online portal, rather than leaving their work-in-progress to visit an IT manager.
Beyond one-off troubleshooting, helpdesk solutions offer smart tools for automating the resolution process, such as auto-assign features (allocate tickets to specific technicians based on skills required or issue type), shared macros (predetermined fix actions auto-prescribed for a simple or recurring issue), and self-help resources for your staff. Finally, reporting and analytics tools can offer valuable insight about your help center operations, such as average resolution times, trends in past tickets, and user sentiment.
Here are some common features found in IT help desk software:
- Ticketing/Issue management
- Custom SLAs (service level agreements)
- User/customer portal
- Self-help database
- IT purchase requests
- Asset scanning
- Integration with other IT tools (CMDBs, asset and systems management, etc.)
Mobile Device Management Software
As an increasingly tech-savvy, mobile population enters the workforce, IT managers are seeing a growing presence of personal devices in the workplace. Since personal mobile devices aren't governed by the IT department, they present additional security and privacy concerns. In a recent study by accounting firm Coalfire, 84 percent of employee respondents said they use a single mobile device for both personal and professional use. Furthermore, 49 percent said their IT departments haven't articulated a formal mobile security plan.9
At minimum, IT leaders should institute a clear bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy that addresses password protection, encryption, and best practices for mobile access of company data. But many companies are going the extra mile by implementing mobile device management (MDM) software. MDM software — sometimes referred to as enterprise mobility management (EMM) — gives IT administrators the power to monitor and control application access and configuration settings for smartphones, tablets, and other devices used by employees, whether personal or company-owned. Many solutions also have the power to remotely lock or erase data on devices in the event of loss, theft, or hostile termination.
Some MDM products are available as standalone, "best-of-breed" solutions, while others are part of a larger IT management suite. Compatibility with mobile OS (Android, iOS, Windows) varies by vendor.
- Passcode and encryption enforcement
- Loss/theft protection
Mobile application management
- Enterprise or group-specific apps
- App blacklisting
- Enterprise purchasing
- Secure distribution
- Mobile content management
- Email management
- Device security (malware protection, web filtering)
- Network access control (WiFi, VPN)
- Geolocation triggers (lock devices outside of specific locations)
IT Software Case Study
Company: Christopher Newport University10
Solution: LANDesk Total User Management Suite (Mobility Manager, Service Desk, Management Suite, and Security Suite)
Based in Newport News, VA, Christopher Newport University (CNU) is of the top liberal arts colleges in the Southeast. On average, they have 5,000 students and a campus network containing 1,800 Windows PCs and 700 Apple computers. Before implementing LANDesk, CNU was recording IT assets manually, which made detailed tracking near-impossible. Furthermore, they only had manual, disparate tools for patching and remote control, and nothing at all for asset inventory. "Basically, we managed our entire environment by hand," said CIO Stephen Campbell.
Campbell decided the university needed to adopt an enterprise-wide system for managing and tracking IT assets. After a thorough committee evaluation process, CNU settled on LANDesk Management Suite and LANDesk Service Desk. The solution yielded substantial time and money savings, as well as greater operational efficiency. "It integrates business processes into our service management infrastructure and provides an interface for licensing, change management, financial management, and all of our other needs," Campbell said.
In addition, CSU reported a number of key benefits:
- $100,000 annual savings in licensing costs thanks to license inventory management
- Administrative control given to 32 department heads
- Significant time savings from elimination of manual processes
- Faster annual IT audits (used to take weeks for 5-6 people to gather the data)
- Purchasing and requisition requests streamlined
- Total savings of over $300,00 per year
- Solution will pay for itself in less than three years
Choosing an IT Solution
At TechnologyAdvice, we help businesses connect with the best technology for their needs. We've compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision-makers like you.
If you're curious about any of the IT software listed in this guide, we'd love to speak with you. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a custom recommendation based on your industry and desired features.
- Brooks, Chad. "The 5 Big Challenges Facing IT Departments." Business News Daily. Last modified March 14, 2014. http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/6072-challenges-facing-it-departments.html
- Florentine, Sharon. "Why Are So Many IT Projects Failing?" Last modified December 4, 2013. http://www.cio.com/article/2380469/careers-staffing/why-are-so-many-it-projects-failing-.html
- Wohlsen, Marcus. "The IT Department is Dead. Long Live the IT Department." Wired. Last modified December 13, 2013. http://www.wired.com/2013/12/the-it-department-is-dead/
- "The Real Dangers of Shadow IT." TechnologyAdvice. Last modified November 19, 2014. http://technologyadvice.com/mdm-byod/blog/real-dangers-of-shadow-it/
- "IT as a Service." Wikipedia. Last modified February 10, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IT_as_a_service
- "Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2012 and Beyond." Gartner. Last modified December 1, 2011. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1862714
- Guddemi, Len. "Why 85% Of Companies Fail at Creating a Configuration Management Database (CMDB)." Forbes. Last modified October 22, 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/sungardas/2014/10/22/why-85-of-companies-fail-at-creating-a-cmdb-and-how-to-escape-their-fate/
- Dolisy, Joel. "How to Avoid Network Outages: Go Back To Basics." Network Computing. Last modified February 10, 2014. http://www.networkcomputing.com/networking/how-to-avoid-network-outages-go-back-to-basics/a/d-id/1234664?
- Faas, Ryan. "Study Shows Most IT Departments Fail to Explain Or Enforce iPhone/iPad Security." Cult of Mac. Last modified August 14, 2012. http://www.cultofmac.com/184615/study-shows-most-it-departments-fail-to-explain-or-enforce-iphoneipad-security/
- "LANDesk Success Story: Christopher Newport University." LANDesk. Accessed May 13, 2015. http://rs.landesk.com/success/documents/landesk-success-story-christopher-newport-university-LSI-1299.pdf