Lost in tech-to-exec translation

A standard request for new computers elicits strange questions from the VP -- and sparks an unexpected opportunity to implement new technology

Communication is a fickle thing, especially when talking with executives about tech needs.

We made a standard request to the vice president for a couple of new computers for a remote office. The existing computers were Windows 2000 boxes and were experiencing all of the normal problems you'd expect from computers of that age and operating system. The users required the basics, such as Internet, PDF capability, and email. Still, with the bloat of today's programs we needed something that wasn't built when gas was $1.35 a gallon.

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The remote office's manager and I crafted a request with expertise, emphasizing the computers' vintage and sprinkling in all the buzzwords, like "productivity," "ROI," and "inefficiency." We thought this would be a no-brainer. The VP had signed off before on replacing far newer machines having far fewer problems.

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Ding. I opened the first email we received from the VP, expecting a response along the lines of "Yes, proceed." Instead, I received this cryptic question: "Are they using the PC, or do they just need a connection to the server?"

I opened the first email we received from the VP, expecting a response along the lines of "Yes, proceed." Instead, I received this cryptic question: "Are they using the PC, or do they just need a connection to the server?"

Huh? Perhaps somewhere along the line we had not made ourselves clear. I wrote a more elaborate response, providing a detailed explanation about their job descriptions, required tasks, and what resources might be necessary to accomplish those tasks. If they gave a Pulitzer for a good email, I would have won it.

Ding. Second response from the big guy: "So a PC is required to have access to the servers?"

Am I taking crazy pills? How else would they get email and Internet -- osmosis? How do I ask the boss, "What in the world are you talking about?" without him hearing me say, "Just fire me now"?

The office manager gave me a call, as confused about the response as I was.

I figured it was time to talk to the VP in person, but was told he was in meetings for the rest of the day. But after re-reading the email thread a few times, it started to dawn on me. Could he, in his own strange and abbreviated way, be alluding to VDI technology?

The VP was known to follow tech news and trends, and he'd been supportive of tech changes when it made business sense. I read the emails again, this time with the assumption that he was thinking about desktop virtualization while writing them. And it all clicked.

Despite our size (only four IT folks on staff), we weren't afraid to try new things, and we had been involved with virtualization early. The next big project we had been talking about was virtualizing desktops for all our locations. But with the initial implementation costs and such, we hadn't been expecting anything to actually happen until one or two years out.

But here was a great opportunity to show the VP that we were forward in our thinking and preparing for the very thing he was asking about. I put together another Pulitzer-esque email outlining the basic advantages of such a solution and how we planned to implement it. I pointed out that to solve the current problem at the remote site, we could get by with money for basic but newer PCs plus licensing costs. And I opened the door to implement the VDI solution at a very basic level for the two users as a test run.

Ding. "Let's give it a try."

Never had five words sounded so encouraging, but the situation is certainly ironic. What were the odds that a basic request would turn into the beginning of an action plan of something we were wanting to try -- and with management on board? We as an IT staff had been preparing the VDI plan, but the trickiest part in any such tech change can be broaching the subject with the execs, let alone convincing them. It would be nice to think that our preparation and my prize-winning emails had made the difference here. But sometimes, things just happen by chance.

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This story, "Lost in tech-to-exec translation," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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