LAS VEGAS -- When data center and facility managers meet with the CIO about new equipment, the conversations are rarely easy. The equipment they seek is often expensive, in the six- or seven-figure range, and justifying the expense can be challenging.
That was the backdrop for an unusual session of front-line technology managers at the Afcom data center conference. Part of their job involves convincing the CIO of the need for the equipment.
At this session, hands-on managers shared their techniques for getting CIO approval for new equipment. The forum was a roundtable, informal, and people spoke candidly, and so it was agreed that no names would be published.
At many large companies, the CIO is increasingly seen by the technical staff as someone from the business side and with limited technical knowledge. That may be the first hurdle.
Make the project real
CIOs today "truly don't understand from a technical perspective," said one manager. Another said that "CIOs are less and less technical as time goes on."
CIOs want the business case and the payback period, the ROI behind the equipment request. "You generally need to talk with them in business terms," said one person at the roundtable.
The process also means outlining the request in a way that the benefits of the project, as well as the consequences of not spending the money, are easily visualized.
One manager advised using a plain-speaking approach with the CIO, such as "Let me tell you what bad things you avoid if you do this thing." Another said it was important to explain: "How does this keep us making movies (fill in your product)."
Keep the presentation short
What IT managers observe is this: The larger the company, the less time the CIO has for you.
One manager recommended summarizing an equipment or project request on one sheet of paper. The manager also suggested arriving at the meeting with a presentation that can be delivered within five minutes.
Some at the roundtable said CIOs may sometimes ask questions "out of left field" about the project. The reason, suggested one, is "they're seeing whether this project is something you're willing to fight for."
Be diplomatic and educate
It's important to ensure that the people who write the checks at a company or institution understand what you are doing, some advised. Get to know the people in the finance department who work on IT purchasing.
One manager said that whenever he installs a new piece of equipment, he invites people from finance to the data center to see it. Building those relationships may help sell future projects. "It makes it more tangible," he said.
The idea of giving CIOs alternatives spurred debate. One manager recommended going into the meeting with three options: a high-end everything-we-want option; a this-will-get-the-job-done option, and a bare bones option: "It will work, but it will be a struggle." There was also a suggestion for offering short-term approaches.
By giving the CIO options, said an advocate of this approach, it "gives them some control over the solution itself."
But there was skepticism about this approach. Noted one participant: "If you give them the super cheap option, they might actually go for it and then you're stuck with it."
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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