by Ade McCormack

Taking a direct line to the CFO

May 03, 2010
IT Leadership

Where CIOs report to the CFO, discomfort in that reporting relationship is common for both parties. CIOs in this situation can curl up into a ball and wait for the market or reporting relationship to change, square up to the CFO and unload both barrels, change their boss or influence the CFO.

The first three options could seriously backfire on you and your team, so we need to explore the influencing route. By this I don’t mean you should give the CFO a buzzword-filled ultimatum which may get you the resources you need, but which could equally drive the exasperated CFO to the CEO for a chat about the need for a CIO refresh.

No, when I talk about influencing the CFO, I recommend the following:

• Speak the language of the CFO – take a course in financial management.

• Grow the relationship. This is a courtship where the pursued may have negative feelings towards the pursuer, and so is a long-term exercise that will pass through a number of phases including hate, irritation, indifference, curiosity and dependence.

• Eke out an innovation fund and use this to deliver innovative services to those users that have influence over the CFO.

• Work with the CFO to agree a common definition of what constitutes business value and what the IT function can do to enhance this. You may find you have very different perceptions of the role or the IT function.

• Suggest that rather than the CIO reporting into the CFO, the IT function reports into procurement. As technology becomes increasingly commoditised, it makes sense to hand this over to those that can drive a hard bargain. However, information management must have direct access to the board. This allows the CFO to feel he now has tighter control over the tangible IT assets, but you know the real asset is the knowledge and wisdom that the technology supports.

• Build alliances with the CEO and all his major influencers. Now you have decoupled your technology branding from your information leadership branding you are less likely to be seen as the Chief Laptop Officer.

CFOs are not overly excited about having responsibility for maximising the return on their firm’s investment in IT. This takes them out of their competence comfort zone. If we can take a more sympathetic view they are more likely to ‘loosen the leash’. Once the trust is in place, you will find it easier to progress your boardroom-bound masterplan.

Ade McCormack is an advisor on IT value and leadership. Follow him at