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Talking to the CFO: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

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Several months ago, I wrote about the importance of gearing business communications to your intended audience. Essentially, that means it's OK -- recommended, even -- to throw around terms like SaaS, SOA or virtualization when you're hanging with your CIO or developer buddies. Heck, even the business analysts might like it if you slide them a little tech talk. .

 

But leave that language behind you when you head into the board room or into the office of other C-level executives.

 

My post included some fine advice from Intel, the company known for its memorable "Intel Inside" slogan. Among the tips: Provide tangible, real-world examples showing how technology can be used, and can the jargon.

 

A recent CIOUpdate article strikes a similar note, but keeping in mind that more CIOs may find themselves begging for money as the economy worsens, it specifically concerns speaking to CFOs. The big takeaway: Put lots of numbers out there, because that's what CFOs want to hear. I especially like a suggestion offered by Bud Mathaisel, SVP and CIO of outsourcing provider Achievo Corp. Appoint an "internal CFO" within the IT department to take care of the budgeting and financial accounting for IT. This should cut down on unexpected questions from the CFO and keep him or her happy with plenty of relevant reports written in financial terms.

 

Mathaisel also mentions that CFOs hate to be surprised, so don't try to conceal it if a project is going over budget. Instead, tell the CFO of any problems upfront and offer possible solutions. If project costs will run 20 percent over projections, be prepared to tell the CFO how the money can be recovered by cuts elsewhere in the IT budget.

 

Another bit of smart advice: Consider taking a finance course. You aren't trying for an MBA, but you want to be able to read -- and understand -- your company's financial statements and to produce a coherent cost-benefit analysis.

 

As a special bonus, the article includes a link where you'll find a handy glossary of accounting terms, acronyms and abbreviations. You're welcome.

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