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Message to data center managers: Speak up!

Data center managers need to hone their communication skills with C-level execs and cast issues in business terms, says Bick Group's CEO.

ORLANDO, FLA. – Andrew Parham thinks that data center managers should be like lookouts on a ship, perched up in the crow's nest.

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The CEO of data center consultancy The Bick Group told data center pros on Monday to connect with their CEOs, CFOs and other C suite executives on why data center issues are crucial to their business. And they should inform – and warn – those executives on how changes in the data center industry could change the business.

"I believe that we in the industry need a bit of a kick in the teeth ourselves," Parham said during his keynote at the Data Center World conference. "I don't think we listen well enough. I think we tend to want to go in and talk about technology and 'Data center this and data center that,' and that conversation gets us nowhere with the corporate executives."

That's not always an easy sell, however, and Parham acknowledged that it can be a very delicate situation. .

For one thing, there are often layers of management between data center managers and the corporate suite, said Jeff Porter, data center manager for a financial firm, after the speech.

"I'm not that close to the top," he said. "I don't usually get into the boardroom."

Business-IT alignment
That said, Porter said he liked Parham's message, and acknowledged there are ways to get his message heard. He can present data center issues to his supervisor, and if his points are strong enough, that message can move up the line.

In general, data center pros have to get better at talking about the value of their expertise to the business in general.

Parham suggested that data center managers assemble a five- or six-slide presentation deck that clearly connects data center needs to business values. A data center manager can then show that to his supervisor. When the board meeting eventually convenes, the supervisors will want a data center manager there.

The presentation should be framed in business objectives, not technical goals. Executives don't really care about data centers, servers, and storage area networks, he said, except in terms of how the impact the business.

"They definitely don't buy power and cooling or space," he said. "They buy security, availability, control. They buy performance for their companies."

Executives often read something about data centers in the Wall Street Journal or the Harvard Business Review. Then they go into the data center, but oftentimes they find staff that's being protective about the facilities and their IT assets, and speaking in terms that are too technological.

"I don't see many data center directors that would truly be considered part of the executive decision-making group," he said. "I don't see a lot of dialogue between the CEO and the data center manager."

Parham also pushed his vision of cloud computing, saying that the cloud will be "a storm, not a shower."

For Porter and many other IT pros closer to the ground, however, there are no clouds in sight.

"We're very conservative," he said. "We may do something eventually as an internal-only cloud, but at this point we're not willing to risk putting data into a colo facility." "That may change with time," he added.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.

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