The CIO, CFO Relationship

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“Show me the Money!”  (Rod Tidwell to Jerry Maguire).

Recently I have had the opportunity to speak at a number of conferences where the target audience has been CFOs and senior members of their teams.  This has caused me to think about the CIO, CFO relationship and what a CIO can do to build a productive relationship with the CFO.  Here is my current answer; 6 things a CIO can do to build a strong relationship with your CFO.

  1. Take Care of the Basics.  I have written often that competence comes before influence and the first order of business for the CIO and their team is to deliver robust quality services.  From a CFO’s perspective this means ensuring that the financial systems and tools, such as Excel, that the finance team rely on work when needed but especially during the critical financial month end process.
  2. Display Financial Acumen. CFO’s prime focus is managing and reporting organisational financial performance. If you as a CIO want to have a great relationship with the CFO you need to understand this world.  If finance or accounting is not in your background then invest in your financial education so you can talk the CFO’s language and then use this knowledge to manage IT costs well. Work hard to show the CFO the dynamics of IT costs. If you can, demonstrate  how IT costs can be reduced over time while at the same time demonstrating the relationship between new and expanded services and increased IT costs.
  3. Enable CFO Success.  Competence before influence applies to the CFO just as is does for the CIO and the CIO can support the CFO to build a high performing team by providing the right tools and the right information at the right time.  Invest time in understanding the finance function, what services they provide and how technology and information can support them to improve the quality and value of their services. There are many opportunities to do this, some common ones are reducing the time taken to close out the month end, streamlining financial reporting or simplifying complex spreadsheet processes.
  4. Manage Technology Risk Well.  In many organisations the CFO is responsible for risk management and has the primary relationship with internal and external auditors. Work with the CFO to form a joint view of IT risk and security issues and how much the organisation should invest in managing these risks (do you really need 99.999% reliability and a hot disaster recovery site) and be proactive in addressing issues raised from audit reports.
  5. Team for Benefits Realisation.  Ongoing  investment in IT is usually one of the largest investments that organisations make.  As a CIO I wanted this to be true as ongoing investment provides the opportunity to deliver more value however I knew that for the organisation to continue to invest in IT we needed to deliver on the promises made in IT based business cases.  The CFO can be a great ally in benefits realisation by insisting that business owners plan for benefits before approval is provided and by implementing corporate wide benefits capture and reporting mechanisms.
  6. Expand CFO Influence.  One of the themes of the CFO literature and the conferences I have attended is the desire of CFOs to move past being only the finance guy to becoming the primary source of corporate performance management.  As the custodians of the majority of corporate information, IT can play a vital role in supporting the CFO to make this shift.  CIOs should work with the CFO to understand the dynamics of your business (how does your business make money?)  and deploy business intelligence solutions such as management dashboards and advanced analytics that utilise both financial and nonfinancial to data to show not just actual performance but also likely future performance (ie lead and lag indicators).

Show me the Money! was a phrase I heard a lot as a CIO. Usually it was a friendly jibe from my CFO when we were talking about next year’s budget or as I was asking him to sign off on projects.  Initially I didn’t like the phrase as it usually meant there was some sort of challenge coming but over time I learned to love it as it provided an opening for me to team with my colleagues in Finance and together we could make a real difference for our company.

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