How a CIO can make the CFO a BFF in the push to automate

BrandPost By Seth Catalli
May 17, 2021
Technology Industry

You may speak different languages, but donu2019t let that hamper how you make your business case.

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Credit: iStock

It’s a rule universally acknowledged that Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) speak different languages. They have different areas of expertise, different priorities, and different roles. But ultimately, they’re partners—and they both have a say in the strategy and direction of a company.

So, how can CIOs convince their CFO counterparts about the importance of investing in automation? How can a CIO make the CFO an ally in championing an enterprise-wide automation initiative? Here are some suggestions.

Know your audience

Not all CFOs have followed the same path to their current roles, and their background can offer insight into how they weigh decisions:

  • CFOs with a controllership or accounting background may look first at the governance and risk angles of an automation initiative.
  • Those with roots in operations may have concerns over how automation can drive efficiency across a broader segment of the business.
  • CFOs with backgrounds in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) will want to analyze the data used in the assumptions and pressure-test the variables in the ROI projections of an automation project.

However, these are just possible nuances in the way that CFOs might think. The bottom line is that all CFOs prioritize revenue growth, cost containment, and risk management. If you can frame your business case in those terms, you’re more likely to make them an automation advocate.

Addressing doubts and concerns

An effective cycle of persuasion can help you build awareness of the value and purpose of automation and address the CFO’s evolving questions. Here are suggestions to anticipate some of the “big picture” questions a CFO may have:

  • Why do anything? Start your justification of automation with an analysis of the financial cost of doing nothing. Create a data-driven narrative of the before and after states that show the improvements you can achieve. Show how the status quo hampers the organization’s ability to deliver in areas such as customer and employee experiences and the impact that can have on satisfaction metrics and net promoter scores (NPS).
  • Why do it now? This is where you underscore the urgency of your automation program. Show how automation supports the broader strategy. Document how it can help you outpace your competition, and make the case that you have a limited window of opportunity to strengthen your lead.
  • Why do automation specifically? Automation is just one of many projects competing for limited budget. A guaranteed way to lose your CFO’s support is to create a vague picture of the future benefits of automation. The CFO needs a clear projection of the future outcome regarding revenue, cost, and risk to justify investing in automation versus other priorities.

Building the case for an enterprise-wide project

A process-by-process approach to funding your automation program can quickly devolve into a mishmash of disconnected projects with a broad array of stakeholders. As a result, the project can stall or fail altogether. Instead, a guiding vision for a broader project—such as providing a software robot for every employee —can help convince a CFO that the project would have the scope and momentum to succeed. A good way to explain the advantages of this type of large-scale automation initiative to the CFO is to identify the stakeholders that will benefit at every stage. One proven sequence is:

  • Global process owners – Show how quality and compliance improve for complex processes spanning multiple departments, business units, and regions. Consider initially targeting one element of an end-to-end process, such as order management within order-to-cash, and expanding upstream and downstream from there.
  • Shared services owners – Explain how the efficiency of high-volume transactions will improve. This can include automating processes that were formerly in a business process outsourcing
  • Business unit leaders – Highlight the gains from automating entire functions within departments and increasing the productivity of every employee with a digital assistant.

Finally, an automation operating model guided by a steering committee can provide the governance that helps protect the CFO’s investment to ensure business leaders are achieving the expected ROI at each stage.

CIOs and CFOs may have different roles, but their endgame is the same: the success of the organization. By building an effective collaboration with your CFO counterpart, you can launch the automation projects that keep you on course to reach that shared goal.