The CIO vs. CFO: Dueling Surveys Debate Who's in Charge of IT

CIO magazine says most CIOs authorize IT spending, but a Gartner survey says more CFOs do. Who’s right?

Hang on a minute. Last I checked, most CIOs had authority over the IT spending in their organizations, and a majority of you (68 percent) were members of the C-suite’s executive committee. That’s data drawn from a survey of 729 IT leaders one year ago in our annual State of the CIO survey.

Now along come our friends from Gartner, claiming—in a recent joint survey with the Financial Executives Research Foundation and Financial Executives International’s Committee of Finance and IT—that a piddling 5 percent of CIOs have the power to authorize IT investments while 26 percent of CFOs do. That’s data drawn from a survey of 344 respondents “qualified in providing a perspective on technology deployment within the enterprise.” What does that even mean?

Gartner also found 42 percent of IT organizations report directly to their company’s CFO, with that number climbing as high as 60 percent for midsize businesses (with revenue between $50 million and $250 million).

Well, color me skeptical. In CIO’s 2011 State of the CIO research, we found 44 percent of CIOs report to the CEO and only 20 percent report to the head of finance. That is one huge discrepancy, folks. We also reported that in the purchase of IT products and services, CIOs are influencing every stage of the purchase process—far outweighing the clout of the CFO. Here’s what some of our data showed:

Who's In Charge?

Our research show CIOs influence every stage of the technology-purchasing process.

PURCHASING RESPONSIBILITY CIO CFO CEO
Authorize and Approve 57% 47% 45%
Determine Business Need 47% 28% 45%
Determine Requirements 34% 5% 8%
Recommend 39% 8% 11%

SOURCE: CIO magazine's 2011 State of the CIO Survey

I have no doubt that business-focused collaboration between the CIO, CFO and CEO has never been more important to the health of enterprises. Everybody gets that. But claiming that the heads of finance are leading the IT investment process (and making brand and architecture decisions) doesn’t make sense to me. It even sounds alarming. Do we want CIOs handling Securities and Exchange Commission filing decisions? By the same token, why would anyone expect CFOs to make the most enlightened IT decisions?

I’d love to hear your take on this, so please drop me a line with your thoughts about the true scope of the CFO’s influence.

Michael Friedenberg is the president and CEO of CIO magazine's parent company, IDG Enterprise. Email him at mfriedenberg@cio.com.

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