Network managers are at the heart of any business' operations in today's environment. No company can afford to be reliant on an outdated or ineffective IT infrastructure, so skilled professionals who bring a deep understanding of the technologies their firm needs are essential.
Yet there’s much more to this role than the technical aspects of overseeing the network. As well as the hard skills, there are a range of other attributes that any successful network manager must possess, from communicating with other departments to leading a team. Here are six technical and management skills no networking professional can afford to be without.
1. Problem solving
Being able to look at a situation, identify where any issues lie and determine the best course of action to fix them is a skill that's invaluable in many roles, but it's especially important in network management, where the complex, intertwined relationships between various components demand a careful, intuitive approach.
However, it's not something that comes naturally to everyone. Key factors that make for strong problem solving skills include the ability to quickly define what the problem is - something that may often be harder than it sounds - map out potential solutions and recognize the pros and cons of each, then identify the best strategy for moving forward.
2. Analytical thinking
The ability to think critically and assess a problem from all angles is vital in keeping networks up and running. This involves being able to look at the information you have available and ask the right questions to understand the complete picture of your network. These skills aren’t only vital in troubleshooting any issues and coming up with the best solution, but also ensuring you can plan ahead for the future.
It has a lot in common with the ability to problem solve, but it's about more than that - it's about planning ahead, spotting the potential for issues to arise before they occur, and understanding the knock-on effects that any decision you make will have. You'll need deductive reasoning skills, the ability to interpret data and be able to show good judgment to be an effective analytical thinker.
3. Cloud management
Being able to effectively handle cloud deployments is an essential part of any network manager's skill set in today's environment. Solutions such as Infrastructure-as-a-Service are showing major growth and for most businesses, will play an integral role in their critical operations.
However, the networking requirements for cloud solutions may differ significantly from those used in traditional arrangements. The architecture is often highly complex, doing away with technologies such as switches in favor of virtualized environments. Understanding how you manage this, and how such networking can be integrated with other parts of the network, ensures that traffic can flow freely and data is secured, regardless of where it's stored or how it's processed.
4. Project management
Being able to plan, manage and execute projects from start to finish is another invaluable skill for an effective network manager. IT infrastructure will be in a constant state of change, as business needs evolve, new technologies emerge and legacy solutions reach the end of their life-cycle. Therefore, there will always be some activities being undertaken that can benefit from strong project management skills.
There are many elements to this, though they tend to fall into three main categories: knowledge; experience; and personal attitude. However, within these, there are many specific skillsets. The International Project Management Association, for example, identifies 42 key competencies for knowledge and experience, as well as eight aspects for personal attitude and ten for 'general impression'.
These range from communication and organization to creativity, vision and conflict resolution. Therefore, any network manager with these skills will undoubtedly be in high demand.
5. Network monitoring
You may think network monitoring is a task best left to your automation tools, but there’s also a lot of skill involved in the process. From determining which indicators to focus your attention on to selecting the right technology tools and configuring them to deliver the results, strong network monitoring skills are a must-have.
You also can't rely solely on automation tools to alert you to any issues. If you don't feel confident in being able to manually analyze logs and identify any anomalies, you could be missing essential warning signs that there’s a problem within your network. And if you do spot something, you also need to be able to make quick, firm decisions on what to do about it.
6. Access management
Today, one of the top concerns for any network manager needs to be keeping their business' systems secure. But this requires much more than simply technical skills and expertise in cyber security. One of the most challenging aspects of this for network managers is access control - who is able to view critical and sensitive information - and this means being able to understand and manage your employees as well as the technology.
For instance, in today's always-connected, mobile-first world, personally-owned devices are increasingly making their way into the workplace. Therefore, many people will not see any issue with carrying around sensitive company information on their smartphone or tablet and may not appreciate any tough restrictions imposed by IT. This means it will often fall to network managers to implement effective access management policies, as well as ensuring these are effectively communicated to employees.