Survey: CIO-CFO Relationship Still Prickly

Susan Hall
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Seven Ways to Become Partners with the CFO

Great tips for building a partnership with your company's top financial executive.

My colleague Mike Vizard last month wrote about an IBM survey in which CIOs were asked to define their mandate. The results looked like this:


  • Leverage: Streamline operations and increase organizational effectiveness (14 percent).
  • Expand: Refine business processes and enhance collaboration (51 percent).
  • Transform: Change the industry value chain through improved relationships (23 percent).
  • Pioneer: Radically innovate products, markets and business models (13 percent).


Though most of them were in the "leverage" and "expand" groups, we've written about the increasing call for IT to drive business growth. At the same time, we've noticed a trend toward the CFO taking on technology decision-making and other traditional CIO responsibilities. At one of our Midmarket CIO Forums last year, blogger Rob Enderle talked about the importance of befriending the CFO. He explained it this way:

If you can find ways to make the CFO's job easier, that person is more likely to help you when you need it and less likely to hang your budget out to dry. If your goals align, the CFO is more likely to see the advantage of spending on IT and will focus cuts on other areas. Given how hard it is for the CFO to get real numbersand how critical IT is to generating those numbers, an alliance can pay strong dividends, including cutting stress from both jobs.

My colleague Ann All followed up with some great tips for cultivating that relationship. So how is that relationship working out? Not so great, it seems.


Network World reports that in a survey of 344 CFOs by Gartner and professional organization Financial Executives International, found:

  • Only about a quarter said their IT department "has the organizational and technical flexibility to respond to changing business priorities," or "is able to deliver against the enterprise/business unit strategy."
  • Less than a quarter said IT "delivers the technology innovation needed by the business," or that it "has the right mix of skilled people to meet business needs."
  • Only 18 percent said they thought "our IT service levels meet or exceed business expectations."


Is this part of a continuing land grab by CFOs? It looks like there's lots of work to be done here. According to the survey, 42 percent of IT organizations report directly to CFOs, a percentage that's expected to rise.


This CIO.com post on the survey notes that the sponsors 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." And several commenters jumped in, advocating that the CIO report to the CEO.


What is the CIO to do? From another conference, Ann reported about another department that takes a dim view of IT: marketing, which sees it as "the department of no." She quoted Forrester Research VP and principal analyst James Staten's three-part strategy for becoming seen as "the department of yes":


  • Employ "strategic rightsourcing" strategies.
  • "Industrialize IT" by automating as many IT services as possible.
  • Use agile methods borrowed from application developers to create a more flexible infrastructure.


He talks about "hollowing out IT" with the goal of "freeing the bodies, the time and the mental capacity to figure out what the business wants and how IT can help them achieve it."

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