Valerie Valcourt, a technology manager at Northeast Utilities worries that if she can't clearly communicate the benefits of policy-based storage to end users, efforts to create efficiency in her company will only produce resistance to her plans.

"Do I go in with a big stick and just say, 'This is the way it's going to be?'" Valcourt said during a "town hall" meeting of IT managers at Storage Networking World yesterday.

The gathering, sponsored by the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) newly formed End User Council, was billed as an opportunity for IT managers to reveal problem areas and talk about the most important issues they're facing today. Users weren't shy about weighing in.

John Blackman, a systems architect at a West Coast-based Fortune 500 bank that he asked not to be identified, said people in his organisation are "scared to death of automation" because they fear change management. "You can't automate systems because of the change-control process," he said.

"It's a lack of trust," said Ray Dickensheets, senior technical director at Sprint. Dickensheets said business executives speak two languages: "capex and opex," or capital expenditures and operational expenditures.

"The credibility gap is very real," Tony Scott, CIO of General Motors, said. Scott has been overseeing an effort that began about six months ago to dramatically consolidate his storage and server infrastructure. During the project, he said he's often faced a sceptical chief financial officer. That's because during the last boom in technology spending, Scott said, IT managers developed a reputation with business executives of always wanting more money, and promising too much and under-delivering. "I think we're earning some of that credibility back, but it's going to take time," he said.

Ron Durbin, a professor at the Information Storage Industry Center, a science research center in La Jolla, California, said what's often needed to smooth out the process for winning approval of projects is to involve upper management in the technology decisions.

He suggested that when pitching new technology, IT managers bring two or three ideas to executives and allow them to choose the one they consider the best to address a business need or systems issue. "You go into the room looking pretty smart that you investigated three options instead of one," Durbin said.

Several users at the gathering said they had run into problems finding accurate project ROI calculators because each vendor's model produced a different result for the same types of technology projects.

Dickensheets said the problem he ran into is that all ROI calculators measure payback based on how much storage capacity each administrator can manage. "They're generic," he said.

Members of the SNIA's End User Advisory Committee suggested the group begin work on a "vendor-neutral" ROI calculator based on recommendations from users and vendors.

Others said they'd be happy if they just had better communication with their CIOs. "I know what I need, but I'm four layers from the CIO. He doesn't know what I do. I never see him," said one user, who chose not to identify himself.

"We're the cost unit; they don't care what we do," another audience member said.