Making your case to non-IT management: Focus on problem-solving

Derek Schauland has found that non-IT company execs are unimpressed with cool new technology if they don't understand how it solves a problem. Shift your focus when making a pitch for new solutions.

In today's IT environment many IT shops are headed toward the relatively newer solutions of virtualization and disk-based backup, but some organizations just don't see the value of new-fangled solutions when the old ways still work. Sometimes this isn't for lack of wanting to be "green" or to realize savings in power and other resources, but for a lack of understanding as to what a virtual machine really is.

This ain't your daddy's data center

Sure virtualization has been around a while and it's continuing to gain steam, but for non-technical people, there is no tangible way to explain to them how virtualization works and what it's good for. At least, I find it hard to demonstrate just what a virtual machine is -- and what it is not -- to senior level management.

Virtualizing workloads to make better use of the hardware you purchase makes complete sense; it really is getting the most bang for your hardware buck. But how do you get management to see the light at the end of this tunnel and not run the other way?

One thought I have seen expressed on the web and most recently heard from my wife is that selling management on a "product" may be the wrong approach. They do not want to buy a solution; they want to solve a problem. For example:

Pitch: Virtualization will save money over the next N years because we are using more of the technology we purchase and it costs less to power the solution. Management Response: How does using less power for our servers equate to better operations?

Taking a different approach might be a better move here. Instead of bringing up the solution to the problem of server underutilization, why not highlight the problem and work with management to get to the solution?

Yes, virtualization is a huge IT buzzword, and that's one problem. Management doesn't want to know about the latest and greatest technology just because the IT staff wants to check it out. They want to know that it will solve a problem they are seeing everyday. Maybe power costs are an issue; if so, bring to light the amount of power being used by each of the servers in an environment and show them the cost of each device, and then maybe they'll more easily understand how reducing the footprint will reduce those costs. You're talking about the same thing, but it's a subtle difference in approach.

Consider how an application cycle works

Microsoft released Office 2010 recently and it is, overall, the best version of Office that I have used so far. There are improvements all over the place, but if Office 2003 will still do the job and allows your accounting staff to crunch numbers the same way they always have... there is no real reason to move to anything new, until the end-of-life and continuing support issues come into play.

Keep in mind the end game

While testing and demoing and trying out the latest application for feature X might be top of mind and even fun for IT pros, management doesn't always like to find itself standing on the bleeding edge. If you want to test some scenarios, work with your team and get a TechNet subscription and/or some copies of VMware workstation to build a lab which allows for this. Do not push the solution over the means to solve a problem or you will likely get nowhere fast with upper management.

If you're really excited about a new technology that could solve problems or improve productivity, it's always a good idea to take it out of the lab and get it to a pilot group of users to try out. This will help them see and understand what the changes or new applications will or won't help them accomplish. Try to get some volunteers, rather than flinging something new on random users. Step by step, this approach is much more likely to gradually win them over to new ideas.