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4 Keys to a Successful CFO-CIO Relationship

As the CFO and CIO roles continue to evolve and overlap, it becomes increasingly important to acknowledge personality differences and find common ground.

Within the past 5 years I’ve seen a significant shift in the ways that Chief Financial Officers and Chief Information Officers interact. The role of a CFO continues to become even more strategic in nature, with a shift towards accessing data through data cubes, securing customer privacy-protected data, and of course, monitoring software investments and their subsequent results.

CIOs likewise have seen similar shifts in their roles and responsibilities. Network management of the cables and wires has given way to managing the integration points between data and software hosted in clouds, and meeting the demands of both internal and external users. Mobile app development is now commonplace. Working remotely is routine. Data breaches happen continually and the CIO has the significant responsibility of preventing them.

The overlap and dependency on each other is indisputable. Risk assessment, cost management, and staying on pace with technological advances is everyone’s job. But as Deloitte pointed out in this Wall Street Journal article “The Power of Business Chemistry: A Framework for CFOs” personality types often differ between the CFO and CIO which also should be recognized and taken into consideration.

As a financial professional, what can you do to help manage the overlap between Finance and IT? These are some of my ideas:

  • Educate yourself. You need to stay abreast of technology shifts and work to fund needed changes when its recommended and appropriate. Sticking with tried-and-true software and hardware may not serve your company’s business strategies any longer. Costs, security, meeting the advanced needs of today’s consumer are all points that we have to be cognizant about. Keeping ourselves up to date helps.
  • Educate the CIO. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but rather, to recognize that what’s intuitive to you as a financially educated person, might not be something the CIO has had a great deal of exposure to. Doing a cost-benefit analysis on the back of a napkin is second nature to you. While highly educated, the CIO may not immediately consider the time-value-of-money for a long term contract, leasing options, or other projects that may be affected if money shifts to funding a technology initiative.
  • Leverage the strengths of both individuals. Respect for each other’s area of expertise shouldn’t be underestimated. If you doubt that, drop in on a functional IT meeting where the team is troubleshooting a coding error or server failure. I’m sure you’ll hear things that you don’t understand or can’t relate to. The CIO has to speak the language of both his team and that of the C-suite.
  • Relationship building. Baseball outings and league bowling aren’t required in order to have a good relationship with the CIO, although they can often help. Occasional lunches and finding non-work commonalities may be all that it takes.
Flexibility and collaboration go hand-in-hand in any relationship and they certainly help here as well. With a solid respect for each other and a focused desire on the needs of your organization, you’ll be able to work through the inevitable challenges that arise when competing priorities go head-to-head.

How can you work to better understand the challenges that your CIO faces?  Let me know your thoughts

John Orlando is CFO, Centage Corporation