After interacting with over 1000 network engineers during training sessions about what they think could help drive IPv6 deployment in Africa, I have come to the realisation that a three prong approach is required:
1. Provide technical guidance/training to the engineers so they have the skills to be able to plan, deploy and integrate IPv6.
2. Provide non-technical guidance/training to engineers so that they can 'sell' IPv6 to executives.
3. Provide non-technical guidance/training to executives so that they both (a) understand the importance of IPv6 within the context of their businesses, and (b) can champion their geeks' IPv6 deployment projects.
Many training courses focus on the first issue, and quite logically, that's where the real work lies. I've developed such a course that has been delivered in over 45 countries, and there are lots of other great training available, both free and paid.
On to issue #2, engineers need to sell IPv6 to managers rather than complain that they don't 'get' it ('it' being the obviousness of IPv6 as the future). If you are an engineer in that position, you are in luck, I've got some guidance on How to Sell IPv6 to Executive Management and the follow-up article here on CircleId about Thinking Strategically about IPv6. There's lots of other guidance out there.
The intention behind this post is to address the second part of issue #3 — if you are one of those managers who DO understand the need to push IPv6 deployment, what can you DO to help your engineers on that project? This should be easy, because in many ways, guidance for executives is complementary to the non-technical guidance for geeks hence you will see some of the same elements. Here are some suggestions:
A. Help the engineers build a business case for IPv6 deployment to the company:
It means asking them to make presentations to you, giving them feedback that forces them to be explicit and concrete about how this benefits the company and what the cost and risk implications are going to be. You are master of the business model, they master the technology, so in this partnership, you guide them to fit the technology into the business model. Yes, this will take several sessions but think of it, a good manager is already on an on-going basis communicating and getting her geeks to understand how their technology fits into the big picture of how the organisation creates, delivers, manages and profits from value — if that has been happening, then most of the job is already done. If it has not, then at the beginning, both of you will use jargon that the other might not understand but after a few rounds of mutual learning and coaching, in the end, you'll have a shared vision in a document that the higher ups can read and immediately get it because it plugs directly into the organisation's business model, while laying out cost, risk and other implications.
B. Become their champion to your other business colleagues:
I am mostly a geek myself and I truly sympathise with geeks who don't understand how supposedly smart executives can be so stupid when it comes to seeing some obvious things and making the right investments. The geeks' world is perfectly logical to them ...but unfortunately so does the executives'. The truth is that in both cases, logic could be flawed due to lack of understanding and full perspective. The result is dissonance between the business and the tech and that is your most important job - build bridges over the moat that separates the executives (in the castle) and the engineers (on the field). It is not coincidence that single biggest reason initiatives or projects fail is lack of executive support and championship, and here's where your engineers need you ...to be a champion. It means you will coach and hold their hands in navigating the political backwaters of the resource allocation machinery within your organisation. You will help guide them in the art of compromise and influence and if need be, do the politicking and shield them from it. (because nothing disgusts most geeks like politicking within organisations over things that make 'logical sense')
C. Help them secure critical resources for deploying IPv6:
Be it time off to go learn about IPv6, IPv6 books and other learning material, getting a line in the budget so they can get the training they need, or ensuring they have the human resources for different aspects of the deployment project. Those are invaluable supportive actions that make all the difference in the world. I have long learnt (through much anguish) to mostly disregard what most executives *say*, if you really want to know what a organisation is committed to doing and can do, look not to the CEO's annual presentation or even the strategic plan, look at the the budget. The point is this ... waxing lyrical about how important IPv6 is to the future of this organisation and not allocating resources to it (budget, people) is hypocrisy that your geeks will soon discern, after that human nature takes over and guess what happens to their engagement and enthusiasm?
D. Hold them accountable at all phases of the project as planned:
If you did a good job of coaching and handholding, you would have made sure that the deployment project milestones are not just technical but are of known business value. You will hold them accountable for delivering on schedule, on specifications and within budget constraints. The act of holding them accountable for this project is evidence that you care about it and it shows that you have skin in the game.
E. Help them communicate the value of the deployment phases to the rest of the organisation:
"Our network core is now dual-stacked" is an uninspiring goal to attain for guys who are not geeks. "We just crossed a major hurdle in making sure that our content and clients can be reached by the X million people who don't have IPv4 addresses" (or something like that) might be more meaningful to the CFO who is paying for it. Yes, you need to be both their cheerleader and PR person.
Those are just some suggestions, I am sure great managers will find additional ways. In the end, it is the same things that make one an effective manager — so nothing new under the sun, don't let the shiny new IPv6-dressing fool you. The principles are the same, How to Sell IPv6 to Executive Management.
By Mukom Akong Tamon, Chief Excellence Officer™ | Certified in IPv6, 4DX Strategy Execution, Lean Si. Mukom works for a Regional Internet Registry (RIR). Everything he writes are his opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers, past, present or future.
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