How Can SMEs Monitor Performance, Manage Costs, and Secure Profit?

Written By Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds

Around the world, organisations are adapting—rapidly—to a cascade of factors designed to keep businesses running and keep employees safe. Supporting newly remote workforces are raising the stakes for IT organisations to keep applications up, networks humming, and environments performing optimally—all while ensuring the security of an expanded attack surface.

At the same time, organisations are re-evaluating budgets to weather an economic downturn. Of course, IT pros have always been under budget pressure, and doing more with less is the name of their game. But the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified those factors, increasing the need for products that aren’t just easy to use, but easy to buy and can fit the needs of any budget.

Amid these macroeconomic headwinds, small- to medium-sized businesses are among the hardest hit. A recent study estimated the coronavirus could be costing UK SMBs as much as £69 billion, putting two-fifths at risk of permanently closing. In our increasingly virtual world, technology will be pivotal for SMBs to fuel business success and maintain organisational stability.

The “new normal” means businesses need to have visibility across on-premises to private cloud, public cloud, and multi-cloud—and user monitoring to home offices, couches, and kitchen tables. It complicates management needs across physical networks, infrastructure, and packaged apps sitting behind the firewall, and adds software-defined networks, internet traffic, dynamic infrastructure, edge computing, and custom apps, not to mention aligning people and processes with the technology to keep it all humming.

Small businesses can find themselves falling into one of “too” camps: too little, too late; or too much, too soon.

 

Too Little, Too Late

As data breaches become more frequent and privacy concerns soar, security has already been elevated on the business agenda. The SolarWinds® IT Trends Report 2020: The Universal Language of IT revealed two-fifths of tech pros in small businesses (43%) state 10 – 24% of their daily responsibilities/tasks includes IT security management. And when asked which area of security skills and management their organisation is prioritising for development (prior to Covid-19), six in 10 tech pros within small businesses named network security.

The truth is, you can’t ignore any part of your IT operations management world. Whether it’s your applications, servers, data, infrastructure, or networks across your hybrid or multi-cloud environment—it all matters to your business’ survival… and to its success.

However, the same study found a quarter of tech pros within small businesses state they don’t use any technical approaches to gain visibility into adopted cloud or SaaS technologies (e.g., network traffic analysis/network applications analysis, log analytics, tracing, etc.). Forty-one percent of those surveyed weren’t even sure which of their existing tools (if any) provided them with visibility of cloud and SaaS technologies. This is even more concerning when you consider 49% of small and 58% of medium business IT pros are spending more time managing apps and service delivery than infrastructure and hardware.

But it’s easy to become complacent because 99% of the time, things will run smoothly. And even if they don’t, the consequences are rarely perilous. The real dangers only become apparent when it’s too late—when a threat goes undetected and infects an entire organisation.

 

Too Much, Too Soon

But let’s not forget the whole other 75% who are using technical approaches to monitor adopted cloud or SaaS technologies. The challenge for this group is deploying their time and resources effectively. Even before COVID-19, 55% tech pros within small businesses and 46% within mid-sized businesses had named lack of budget and resources as their single biggest barrier to successfully supporting their organisation.

Too often, years of putting out IT fires with point solutions makes the looming inferno hard to see through all the smoke. And when you have to expand skillsets without training to match, you need tools to be easier to use—not harder. Although there’s now a proliferation of tools available to support IT with operations management, many of these create more complexity than they cure. Integrations remain difficult, functionality is limited, and the user experience is far from intuitive.

Small businesses, in particular, who have to deliver the same value with fewer resources, can fall into the trap of thinking a greater number of tools or a wide-ranging set of functionalities (designed for large enterprises) will arm with them additional firepower. The reality is, it’s too much, and often too soon. More dashboards don’t mean better visibility—they’re an extra drain on precious bandwidth that distract from core business priorities. When you can see more in one connected view, you and your teams can do more with less, cover your bases, and deliver even more for the business.

 

Securing Profit

Securing data and proving compliance wasn’t always your job—but it is now. And unless you have a specialised security team, it’s up to you to keep your systems compliant and the data driving your business secure—while doing your day job. So, how can tech pros create a remote monitoring strategy that ensures optimum performance and maximum efficiency?

It starts with an audit. An audit of potential threats. An audit of existing tools. And an audit of current practices. This will need to factor in the new IT environment post-COVID whereby the security perimeter of an organisation lays far beyond the confines of the office. Consider the applications your teams require, the devices they may be working from and the sensitivity of company data to define access levels. This will need to be constantly reviewed and updated, so tech pros will need to approach this systematically to ensure it remains accurate and fit for purpose.

IT should work backwards from business needs to define the tools they require. Assess each subscription and license to understand the value your organization derives from it rather than the functionality it provides. This is a change to consolidate, saving you and your organisation time and money—and an opportunity to present a direct impact on profitability back to the wider business at a time it needs it the most.

 

Final Thoughts

Working in IT, your role has always been business critical. Keeping applications, infrastructures, and networks up and running, performing at optimal speed—and secure and compliant—is the engine running your digital organisation. But the need to drive growth—while keeping a newly remote workforce productive and available—has intensified the complexity of today’s IT operations management and financial challenges in a way few IT pros and business leaders, if any, have ever seen.

IT pros within small businesses are feeling the impact of this new environment most acutely. They need to be able to protect and defend their data and systems—and keep compliant—just the same as their enterprise counterparts but with a fraction of the resources. It’s a tough balance to strike—businesses run the risk of either not having enough protection in place or having on an abundance of tools, of which none may provide the level of insight required. With the initial chaos underway and many businesses returning to some semblance of “normal” as lockdown restrictions lift, this is a good time for tech pros to take stock and rethink the systems that have delivered the most value.