Approaching a cure, sip by sip

We were looking for a cure. I was talking to a friend of mine who we’ll call Mr. X (though his real name is Bob) and he told me of his problem: How to persuade the management of the small company he had just joined that they should spend a significant amount of money on the corporate network.

Bob, er, Mr. X was hired as network manager and had a departmental staff of one – himself. His concern was that, prior to his arrival, four people pretending to be network managers had a hand in what Mr. X called, for the sake of not using an obscene word, “engineering” the network. At least three of them (who he had never met but who, by all accounts, could well be qualified as clinically deranged) had created a network so labyrinthine and undocumented that it had taken him three weeks just to find out what was going on.

Now Mr. X had been very excited when he got the job – a small growing company, lots of responsibility, reasonable salary, not much of a commute.

But reality had walked up, introduced itself and then slapped him across the face when he started to look seriously at the systems he was to control.

One of his major hurdles, one that was insurmountable without spending money, was that most of the servers and firewalls were running software that was out of date. But the IT budget was puny.

In short, Mr. X had inherited an ugly mess.

So Mr. X’s choices were two. The first (and least palatable) was to tinker and tweak and hope that in so doing he would fix the myriad problems and avoid causing the entire teetering edifice to collapse like a house of cards bowled over by a 200-pound Saint Bernard in pursuit of the family cat.

His second was to get the powers that be to cut loose with the cash and let him get some help to sort things out on a long weekend.

So the question we were discussing was how to sell the second plan, the first being unacceptably risky in terms of possible downtime (although Mr. X considered that even without tinkering, the whole mess could crash anyway from any of a dozen problems).

We came up with four approaches:

No. 1: Make a forceful appeal to senior management. Ask for time in a senior staff meeting and, when the time came, take the CEO hostage until the rest of management signed off on the plan. While this would certainly get things moving, the possibility of a SWAT team getting involved would likely introduce unacceptable project delays.

No. 2: Hire a private detective to dig up dirt on the chairman of the board. The idea was to then threaten to expose the chairman unless he pushed the sign-off through. We liked this one, but paying for the detective would probably absorb all of Mr. X’s paltry budget and if there was no dirt on the chairman he’d be no better off and budgetless to boot.

No. 3: Engineer a budget increase. We liked this one a lot. All Mr. X would have to do is get into the accounting system and make a few minor changes. While we were sure that no one would suspect who actually made the changes, we figured that the CFO would notice before Mr. X could spend the money.

No. 4: Assassinate the network. Working on the highly plausible premise that the network would probably self-destruct if left alone, hastening the process would not really be unethical. The result, we theorized, would act as a wake-up call, and Mr. X would soon be awash in budget. Mr. X rejected this on the grounds that, as no one in the company other than him really understands networking, they’d just expect him to fix it and would perceive any failure to do so as an act of wanton negligence.

By now we were on the second bottle of wine and the cigars were lit. Mr. X came up with another choice. He’s putting his resume into circulation on Monday. Some networking problems just don’t have a cure.

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (US). He is at