Building networks can be hard work. Installing cost-efficient infrastructure, optimizing bandwidth, balancing network loads, securing traffic — all of these tasks take a great deal of careful planning and expertise.

Yet building a network is often the easy part of being an IT administrator. The real challenge is managing the network to keep it running smoothly and securely at all times.

In the age of cloud, distributed computing, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), when networks can stretch across hundreds of physical sites and involve thousands of people and devices, effective network management is tougher than ever.

That message rings through clearly from data released recently by TechTarget. In its 2015 IT Priorities Survey, which studied the issues and challenges that top the lists of IT admins’ plans and concerns, network management was front and center. It tied disaster recovery and business continuity as the #1 initiative that IT professionals worldwide plan to tackle this year.

What’s more, the 2,212 admins surveyed reported that network management has been steadily growing in importance year to year. For 2015, 44% identified it as their top concern, up from 41% last year and 39% in 2013.

Why is network management so important now?

These figures aren’t surprising, for several reasons. One, as TechTarget noted, admins today expect — and are expected by the executives they answer to — to be able to monitor their networks from anywhere.

Not having physical access to core network infrastructure is no longer an excuse for failing to keep tabs on network performance, topology, and inventory. That’s because it’s now possible to monitor and administer the network through online access and even mobile devices.

Two, administrators in 2015 are dealing with a dizzying array of technology and workplace trends that are rewriting the rules of network management.

For example, most of today’s networks were designed and built long before BYOD blurred the lines between the internal business network and public networks, creating all manner of new security and performance challenges.

Hybrid cloud computing, which also didn’t exist a few years ago, creates similar challenges that demand excellent network management and monitoring. Like BYOD, hybrid clouds obscure the line separating business infrastructure that admins can control from public resources they don’t.

When you can’t count on having direct control over all the devices and data on your network — indeed, when you don’t even know when devices will be taken on or offline, or new ones introduced, as employees haul smartphones in and out of work and hybrid clouds grow and shrink according to need — management and monitoring have to become your chief line of defense against performance and configuration issues.

The information you get from network management solutions is the only thing you can truly count on.

Making networks better

Of course, network management isn’t only about keeping your head above water and maintaining the status quo. It’s also a way to make networks better than they already are.

On this point, too, TechTarget data found IT professionals in agreement. In another survey, the organization asked admins what they hope to get out of network monitoring solutions. Optimizing bandwidth and managing more devices came out on top, with 64% and 58% of respondents identifying these factors as major motivations for better network monitoring.

Improving app performance, WAN performance, and WLAN management rounded out the top five priorities for admins who invest in network monitoring tools, TechTarget found.

These priorities reflect the need for admins to get more out of the network they already have. That’s a key point since IT departments are so often tasked with doing more for less.

In that respect, software that does things like automate topology and inventory, manage device configuration and monitor performance is a way to reap the benefits of a more expensive network — minus the expense.

Adopting a network management solution

Since investing in network management pays so many dividends, why aren’t more organizations already taking advantage of it? One reason — and the major one TechTarget pointed to in evaluating its survey data — is the difficulty of streamlining management and monitoring solutions across environments that involve hardware and software from multiple vendors, or that span both wired and wireless infrastructure.

But that concern is becoming less and less relevant. Modern network management tools, especially those not developed by hardware vendors themselves, are designed to work well in diverse environments. That’s as it should be since, again, trends like hybrid computing and BYOD mean that even the most homogenous networks are now home to a wide array of constantly changing devices and platforms.

Modern network management tools also do a much better job than previous generations of centralizing control and monitoring. Admins can keep track of everything from a single location, using a single software platform. That’s a particularly important asset for small and mid-sized businesses that don’t have the time or capital to deploy and learn multiple network management solutions.

The bottom line? Good network management is now more important than ever, both for keeping things running smoothly and getting more value out of network infrastructure. IT professionals know this, and are finding fewer and fewer good reasons not to invest in network management solutions.