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Sell client virtualization to CEOs by stressing innovation over ROI

CEO John Weathington says CIOs can convince CEOs to invest in client virtualization by stressing innovation, as well as cost savings.

John Weathington, contributor

John Weathington, 

As the CIO of a midmarket company, your vision of the company's infrastructure will most likely involve desktop virtualization. Unfortunately, your CEO may not share a vision of client virtualization with you. In fact, she or he may be ambivalent to the topic, because their concerns point to a different direction -- that is, until you present them with the initial costs. At this point, they may have a less-than-enthusiastic reaction, given that the initial and ongoing costs of desktop virtualization can be high. Costs and cash flow are always concerns for CEOs.

Emotional arguments will always trump rational arguments, especially when the future of the company is at stake. Some well-intentioned CIOs try to sell desktop virtualization with arguments centered on consolidation and utilization efficiencies. But cash flow isn't the CEO's only concern. Forget about justifying client virtualization with cost savings. To grow your company, your CEO must innovate, and this is where you'll get her or his attention.

Strategic client virtualization

Although desktop virtualization and innovation seem like two completely different topics, there are very tenable arguments that effectively bridge desktop virtualization and innovation, which we'll get to in a moment. To sell the argument, you must start from the CEO's perspective, not yours.

Forget about justifying client virtualization with cost savings. To grow your company, your CEO must innovate, and this is where you'll get her or his attention.

Strategic discussions with the CEO will help you build a good partnership. Having regular, peer-level discussions with your CEO will help you position all your arguments, including why the company should embrace client virtualization. Strategic vision-building is iterative, but it usually flows from understanding the products and markets the company should be engaged in, to understanding the culture and capabilities that support the operation. This flow helps you build the bridge between innovation and such capabilities as desktop virtualization.

Center the initial discussion on the CEO's vision for the company for the next three to five years. Discuss the products, services and relationships that the CEO envisions for the company three years from now. Most likely, the vision of the future will be dramatically different from today. Most midsized companies are focused on growth, which means innovation.

It's difficult to grow a company without innovation, and your CEO recognizes this. Although many different models are used to stratify products and markets in the creation of your company's strategy, most likely there is some category that describes products and/or services that have huge potential. This is where the passion of the CEO lies, so focus on this area to build your argument for client virtualization. For instance, you might already have a product that's doing very well in a given market, but the margins are thin. The idea that's got everyone, including the CEO, excited is a service offering that can easily be sold into an already captive market, with great margins.

Without showing your cards just yet, start thinking about how desktop virtualization would fit into this equation. For instance, the service model would be more reliable, efficient and secure, with all service agents on a virtual desktop infrastructure platform. You may even be able to open a discussion around disruptive information innovation with you at the helm. The most important thing to understand at this point is how much value or return this key part of the virtualization strategy will bring to the company, both in financial terms and with regard to intangibles, such as reputation and brand. You will use this to build an ROI argument for your adoption of a client virtualization solution.

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It's important that your proposal is based on ROI and tied to a passion play like big innovation. With the exception of your view, desktop virtualization -- in and of itself -- is not exciting. Taking the company to new levels is, though, and the CEO will take you much more seriously if you put it in those terms. In the process, your own belief system about the adoption of virtualization may need to be adjusted. Although the most cost-effective way to adopt client virtualization is with a big, upfront investment, this is exactly why the idea won't take root. Many, including the CEO, won't see past the big upfront cost of a desktop virtualization solution.

You should resist the urge to take the big upfront cost approach in favor of buying just enough licenses, or otherwise building out just enough desktop virtualization infrastructure to support the big innovation. In the long run, this will cost more money, but the virtual desktop infrastructure adoption will be easier once it's tied to a key strategic initiative. If you make the argument that client virtualization will save money in the long run, it will probably backfire. Stick closely to the company's interest in evolution, making sure the virtualization capabilities tightly support the goal of making this big innovation happen.

About the author
John Weathington is president and CEO of
Excellent Management Systems Inc., a San Francisco-based management consultancy. Write to him at

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