Should the CFO Take IT’s Reins?

BLOG: More than half the finance chiefs in one survey say they’d like to head up tech. And IT is showing the CFO more deference. These are both very good things.

As someone who is out in the field with corporate technology, talking with tech teams across a variety of industries, I’ve observed the deference that IT is starting to show to finance. With technology investments so tightly linked to a company’s success, it only makes sense that the CFO would have a hand in developing IT’s roadmap.

This positing on my part is solidified by a recent survey conducted jointly by Gartner and the Financial Executives Research Foundation. Almost half of IT organizations responding to the survey --  42% -- say they already report to the CFO. Perhaps even more enlightening is that 53% of CFO respondents say they prefer a scenario where they headed up IT.

“The CFO and CIO are well-positioned to work together at generating superior performance from the enterprise,” Bill Sinnett, director of research at FERF, notes in a statement with the report.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy for CIOs to get jazzed about the latest and greatest technology, and to think that the organization couldn’t possibly do without it. The CFO holds the holistic view of the business’ core values, mission and financial state to steer the CIO’s enthusiasm in a realistic direction. For instance, a CIO might be convinced that the company needs a secondary site for disaster recovery. However, the CFO can point out that departments are increasingly submitting budgets that include cloud-based tools, which offer built-in backup and business continuity. This would either negate the need for a failover site or impact its size and expense.

CIOs tend to know what’s happening based on requests for technology; CFOs know what’s happening beyond IT. Only 5% of respondents said the CFO hasn’t any participation at all in IT decision-making.

There’s a caveat, though, on the positive outlook for CFO involvement – CFOs must be willing to understand the role of IT. This sounds elemental, but it’s not. As Gartner Research Vice President John Van Decker commented in the statement, “CFO reporting can lead to success if the CFO has a deep understanding of IT’s value.”

Gartner and FERF concluded that superior performance can be hindered “because of poor perception of IT, a parochial CFO or CIO perspective, or a failure to invest in the CFO-CIO relationship.”

These are all obstacles that, in my view, are beginning to crumble as both the CIO and CFO are held accountable for compliance, data protection, the strength of the data center and other vital tasks.

If you are in an organization in which the CIO doesn’t report to the CFO or they have a weak relationship, sound the alarms. This could be the difference between your business’ success and failure.