By Mike Talon
We've all been in this situation before: For your latest project, you've put all your ducks in a row, and you've spelled out everything perfectly with your technical reasoning as to why it's mandatory. But now you need buy-in from upper management, a group that typically has little-to-no technical knowledge.
How do you explain highly technical designs in terms that nontechnical managers and executives—who typically have decision-making power over the budget—can understand and appreciate?
Unless you know a technical writer who can translate for you, you're going to have to do it yourself. This is generally a difficult procedure for technical personnel, as we tend to think in terms of the technology itself.
It can be difficult to transcend this mentality to break down the elements of a highly technical solution into normal English terms. But failure to do so almost always leads to management's failure to understand the importance of your project, which means they won't include it in the budget.
There are, however, some steps you can take to more easily explain technical solutions. Since most disaster recovery solutions impact major business concerns (such as financial data, messaging systems, etc.), you can usually make a very good business case for the DR solution in question.
For example, consider what would happen if the messaging systems were to go offline suddenly and not come back for 24 to 48 hours, a conceivable recovery window for a nonprotected system. Also note what would occur if the company lost all e-mail and other data and had no backups or no ability to retrieve it.
You can express these metrics in terms of business impact without going into the technology required to protect the systems. Explain how much more quickly the systems could return to functionality and how much data the company would save (in terms of hours or days of work, not MB or GB of data). Using this approach, you can explain the solution without resorting to tech-speak.
You can also leverage any regulations that govern your industry to help justify why DR systems are necessary. For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) oversees the banking industry, and financial institutions must comply with a very strict set of regulations regarding data recovery. Current standards mandate tape backups stored off-site and no more than 24 hours of data loss, and new standards are forthcoming.
By stressing adherence to these regulations, you can explain both the need for the DR solutions and the effect they'll have on the organization in terms of compliance—not in terms of bandwidth and software solutions. Some form of DR regulation applies to most industries, and regulations affect most other publicly traded companies as well. That means you can probably find some government agency that has gone through the trouble of translating the technology into business cases.
No matter what situation you're in, it's important to understand that not everyone has received the same training as you when it comes to technical solutions. In many cases, you must be the one who translates the technology case into the business case in order to win the support—and the money—you need for your plan.
Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.