Solving the most common SMB IT issues

Someone checking their phone while using a laptop.
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IT is a broad and complex field - and this can sometimes prove to be a problem for small businesses. The IT required to run a modern organization has to be managed by someone, but IT staff are expensive, and particularly for SMBs who aren't particularly tech-focused by nature, it can be hard to justify the expense of retaining multiple technicians.

As a result, many small businesses get by with one single IT employee, who's expected to handle everything from fixing printers to configuring firewalls. While this can be a daunting prospect, SMB IT teams of any size can fall back on a number of tactics and technologies which can be used to navigate some of the most common small business IT problems - regardless of team size.

Account-based queries have to be among the most persistent support requests that technicians receive - and they're definitely one of the most annoying. In every business, there's usually at least one employee who routinely forgets their login credentials for systems like their email server or the CRM database, and has to have it manually reset by IT.

Aside from being a pain, these constant requests indicate potential problems with staff's approach to identity management, and give cyber criminals cover to insert malicious password change requests of their own. In order to help curb this behavior at the source, small business IT workers may wish to consider introducing the business to the idea of password management.

Rolling out password manager software to workers instead of forcing them to try and remember all of them themselves should help cut down on the volume of password-based support requests IT personnel have to deal with, as well as encouraging the adoption of good password hygiene habits and minimizing the risk of credential reuse among staff. Essentially, the aim is to give them the tools to prevent their problems from tripping them up in the first place.

On top of their standard capabilities, many password management platforms also include additional security tools with business subscriptions, including a variety of user management features, as well as the ability to flag any credentials that have been leaked online as part of a third-party data breach.

Admittedly, password manager software does require a little bit of legwork to set up. The most time-consuming element is likely to be user training and adoption, as some of the more stubborn workers resist the change.

On the subject of change, hardware migrations are another area that can be challenging to manage with a small IT staff. Take laptops, for example; in a small business where cash is somewhat tight, you're likely to be sweating each individual machine for as long as possible before replacing them. But in the event that you do choose to replace multiple devices at once, configuring each new device to match the organization's preferences one by one is going to be a time-consuming task.

One common approach is to create a disk image of your desired configuration and install that rather than changing settings and downloading apps one by one. But this too can be a very lengthy process, as it involves essentially wiping the machine and reinstalling Windows on it. That may not be necessary - especially if your devices use business licenses. Professional versions of Windows support use lightweight provisioning package files, which can be deployed automatically en masse, and apply relevant policy settings and app downloads with a minimum of tedious manual work.

One of the biggest IT challenges that an established small business might have to face is the prospect of moving to the cloud. If they've been around for a significant period, they've likely got a reasonable amount of technical debt to cope with, which has to be dealt with before any migration efforts can be finalized. How much work this will represent depends on the organization's level of debt and the technical complexity of the new platform, but even something as relatively straightforward as switching over from an on-premises to cloud-hosted email system will probably involve several weeks of work.

For a small IT team, the key aim is to be meticulous about cataloguing the migration process: how the old system was configured, what it interacted with, and what it was used for. Armed with this data, it's a lot easier to undo mistakes than it is when you're not entirely clear how the old system worked. In migration projects, it's also better to go slowly but with certainty and precision than it is to race for a pre-assigned completion goal if it requires cutting corners to meet it.

There are a myriad of potential headaches associated with running a small company's IT, particularly in situations where resources are tight. When faced with these kinds of challenges, the strongest weapon in an IT practitioner's arsenal is patience - although healthy doses of automation, tool consolidation and user education aren't far behind.

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Adam Shepherd is a Reviews and Community Editor for Channel Pro, Cloud Pro and IT Pro, and has previously written for PC ProPC Advisor and GamesRadar. He covers both business and consumer technology, but has a particular love for all things gaming, and is paying special attention to the emerging VR market.