Opinion

Happy System Administrator Appreciation Day!

To mark the 12th annual System Administrator Appreciation Day on 29 July, Nick Cavalancia, vice president of Windows management at ScriptLogic discusses the skills that a modern IT Admin needs to have these days to cope with current and future challenges.

IT Administrators are the unsung heroes of companies across the globe. They work hard in the background making sure that the system and PCs are running smoothly, tirelessly troubleshoot and patiently deal with user issues. (If you have never been down at the IT department, you might want to have a look at this short animation to see how our unsung heroes coping with their tasks.)

This Friday, 29 July, we all have a chance to collectively show our appreciation to our admins for all their hard work behind the curtain ensuring that we all can do our job as smoothly as possible.

In those 12 years since the existing of this day the working conditions of IT Admins have changed dramatically and new technological advancements and economic factors have more rapid changes in store.

Just to give you an idea of what the people that make sure that you can do your daily work have to deal with, here is a short overview of the skills that a modern IT Admin needs to have these days to cope with current and future challenges:

Decreasing IT budgets: IT departments have experienced significant budget cuts, which often lead to reduced staff, which in turn means an increase of the IT admin's work load. This inevitably leads to a limited amount of time for the execution of tasks such as troubleshooting, network monitoring, and maintenance. We all know that if we face IT problems at work, we want them to get fixed right away. It admins have to work quick and efficient to keep everything up and running and thereby everyone happy.

New devices: Businesses have started to embrace new devices such as smart phones and tablets, often without thinking about how those can fit in the existing IT network. Similar to the rise of laptops IT Admins are once again faced with the problems of mobile devices - generally containing sensitive data - leaving the network. In addition to incorporating those devices in the overall IT security strategy, the IT Admin also needs to work with the maintenance of smartphone and tablets.

Move to the cloud: Cloud technology is a rapidly growing trend, which can help cutting costs and make work more flexible. There is, however, quite a bit of work to do for the IT Admin, before these benefits can be enjoyed. Cloud migration is quite a tricky undertaking in which critical systems and data needs to be moved to a new environment.

Security threats: Recent hack attacks have proven how vulnerable many IT networks still are. New threats arise on a regular basis and security strategies have to be adopted accordingly to guarantee maximum security. Security threats, however, not only come from the outside world, but also from the inside. Sensitive data can easily leave the company - intentionally or unintentionally - on a mobile device or simply a USB stick.  For the IT admin that means to be constantly on top of new threats, monitor the network, secure USB ports and apply patches to name but a few tasks.

Education:  An IT Admin is no longer just the guy who solves problems with a couple of clicks and command lines. He needs to keep employees informed about security risks that for instance social media and external devices such as USB sticks and smartphones pose. Despite strict security measures there is always the human factor, which is hard to control. Hence, soft skills are a key requirement for an IT Administrator.

Boosting Productivity: The education aspect also comes into play for new strategies that help to offer the user a productive working environment: in order to not restrict workers' productivity, many IT Administrators elevate user rights, so that critical software or updates can be quickly installed by the users themselves. Even though there are tools that monitor this process, the IT Admin needs to keep users informed about potential risk, that come with elevating a user's administration rights.

This was first published in July 2011

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