Are you still at work while your colleagues are off? Whether it’s the height of summer or the depths of winter, there are certainly some points in the year when it’s hard to get hold of people and project work all but stops due to vacation time. One thing that doesn't stop is network management. But you can take advantage of slow periods by scheduling some of the activities that get overlooked while you're trying to stay on top of the day-to-day. Here’s our guide to catching up during the slower periods.
1. Update your documentation
Are your contact lists for suppliers 100% accurate? Amending your personal directory or the department’s telephone lists will never take precedent over fixing an outage, but not having the correct details on hand when something does go wrong will cost you precious time. Review, check and update your lists, and do the same for colleagues in other departments.
Go through the rest of your team's documents as well and make sure they're up to date. Contracts are a good place to start. Are they still relevant? Do you need to review support terms? And while you're digging into those support contracts, how about evaluating what your suppliers provide against what they are supposed to be providing?
2. Automate your scripts
It's very easy to put off writing and installing automated scripts. If you have good manual processes and checks in place, your routine network management tasks probably don’t take very long anyway. You know what you are doing, and it’s easy to work through the daily, weekly and monthly housekeeping tasks. Automating these processes with scripts can seem like a lot of hard work with little payoff.
If you can find the time, however, automating the run of routine processes will save you a lot of effort. Think ahead to your next big upgrade or project. Manual processing takes you away from working on that, so consider automating what you can, when you can, with the knowledge that the effort involved now will pay off later.
3. Review your strategy
Where do you want to be in a year’s time? Three years? Five years? Your network management strategy should reflect the changing needs of the business, but do you know what those needs are or what they will be? Say your company is going to open a new division overseas next year. Your network will need to grow to support that. And even if your business isn’t planning anything quite so adventurous, it no doubt has some growth plan. It’s worth reviewing the redundancy you have in the system to ensure it is adequate to support a growing business. Then you can plan when you need to add more components to the network.
If nothing else, this will help you phase the investment and not spend your entire budget in one year on upgrading WAN links.
4. Do penetration testing
Penetration testing is another task prone to sinking to the bottom of the network management to-do list, especially if your company views itself as a low-risk target. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a disgruntled employee to do some damage.
Make friends with an ethical hacker and carry out some internal, external and Wi-Fi penetration testing to identify security vulnerabilities in the network. Then take the report you’ll get at the end of the exercise as a starting point. You’ll need to plan how to address the identified configuration errors and system vulnerabilities. Testing of any kind is only useful if you act on the results.
5. Do some professional development
Professional development often gets overlooked. Network management can keep the typical admin so busy that the thought of going home and studying for the CCNP (or any other certification) just doesn't appeal. When things are slower, however, it’s often more feasible to get out your books or finally schedule that test.
If professional exams aren’t for you right now, then use the time to prepare your career plans in other ways. Think about what will be asked at your annual performance review and start a file for the successes that you have had. It’s almost impossible to remember everything you’ve accomplished over the course of a year, so make life easier for yourself by doing some prep now.
Update your resumé if you have even half an eye on a future career move. Or research a qualification that might be relevant for the position you want to have in a few years.
Your slow period might only be a couple of weeks, and this is a lot to fit in during those times. The best thing to do is plan ahead. You should be able to forecast when network traffic and project requests start to tail off (and pile up again), so every year, you can plan a program of work to do during those times.
You won’t be able to hit everything every year, but build a rolling schedule into your annual work plans. For example, you’ll probably agree that most businesses don't need to carry out comprehensive annual penetration testing. You could plan to look at a different area of the network each year and test elements of the infrastructure in rotation. Equally, consider automating some routine network management work this year and plan to do other processes in the future. You don’t have to take everything on at once.
The other alternative, of course, is to join the others taking vacation time and have your own personal slow period, relaxing with a well-earned cocktail on the beach!
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