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How to Have a Healthy Conversation between the CIO and the CFO

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by Bryan Mueller August 18, 2016
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The CIO walks into the CFO’s office. He’s steeled himself for this meeting, believing the CFO has only one word in her vocabulary when it comes to technology spending. Rumblings cross his mind.

Why does she always say no to investing in technology? If only she could understand the technical part of my job, she’d know the spending will pay off. After all, there’s more to running the books than cutting costs. CFOs never seem to understand the potential benefit of innovation for a company.

The CFO’s mind is rumbling, too.

Here he comes again. What technology does he want to fund now? If only he could tell me the business value of all this spending. It’s hard to trust him when he dumbs down his technical language. I just want to know how his projects will help the business. Aren’t we on the same team?

Unfortunate stereotypes in the C-suite can have dire consequences on the way organizations make decisions. When the CIO underestimates the CFO, for example, or when the CFO doesn’t fully appreciate the role of the CIO, dysfunction can thwart what should otherwise be a collaborative and supportive relationship for the sake of the business.

As destructive as these stereotypes may be, they persist in many organizations, and complex antidotes have cropped up in response. One school of thought promotes the idea that if only the CIO could learn to speak the CFO’s language, the CIO could more easily and regularly secure funding. Those who think this way advise CIOs to talk in simplified, non-technical terms and always appear to advocate for the lowest-cost option. It encourages CIOs to pretend to give control of the decision to the CFO, presenting the CIO’s desired choice as the only logical one.

But this school of thought simply adds to the fallout. It assumes the CIO has a total lack of business context and strategy. Instead of feeding what some consider to simply be an ego war, the CIO should build his or her case as a response to the needs of the business and appeal to the CFO’s almost-certain desire to ensure that spending supports strategy.

Thankfully, the thinking in the market today is shifting in this direction. Organizations are recognizing the fact that if their decision-making process lacks an analytical framework to align decision-making to strategy, it also lacks the business-oriented perspective to bridge the gap between IT and Finance.

Many CIOs are embracing this approach, restructuring their organizations to become more business-centric, and increasing their focus on building and delivering services that meet specific business needs. At the same time, CFOs are positioning their organizations to be more strategic and proactive in support of decision-making.

Technology Business Management, a methodology that provides insights into the cost of IT across an enterprise, can help organizations make sound business decisions that are both driven by IT, technology and innovation and embraced by Finance. With this type of discipline and healthy leadership in place, conversations can be built on trust, and the relationship between the CIO and the CFO will be more productive for the benefit of the business.

If you are a professional involved in navigating the gap between IT and Finance, contact me to discuss further.

About the author

Bryan is a Principal Consultant in the Banking, Financial, Services, and Insurance Vertical and contributes to the ISG TBM (Technology Business Management) Practice. He provides critical business insight to help clients develop strategies and achieve business outcomes.

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