Fifteen years ago, IT was regarded as a necessary evil by many non-IT executives, who were often heard saying they were \u201cnot sure what it does, but it sure costs a lot\u201d.\nCFOs, in particular, were characterised as being IT-spend averse, with little meaningful (or cordial) communication between finance and IT on the issue of how much was the right amount to invest. In fact, some would suggest that finance\u2019s response to \u201chow much\u201d would almost inevitably be \u201cas little as possible\u201d.\nBut as technology\u2019s business benefits have become better understood by non-IT people, there has been a fundamental shift in the way things are done. In fact, the pendulum may be swinging back the other way as CFOs begin to drive technology investment \u2013 in some organisations, anyway.\nIndeed, a recent Gartner and Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF) survey showed that the CFO is increasingly becoming a top technology investment decision-maker, if not the leading decision-maker in many organisations.\nThe study, conducted between October 2011 and February 2012, showed that the CFO\u2019s role in technology decision-making increased in the past year with 44 per cent of CFOs stating that their influence over IT investment has grown since 2010. Forty-seven per cent say that it has remained the same, while only 9 per cent of those surveyed believe that their influence has decreased.\n\u201cThe CFO and CIO are well-positioned to work together at generating business value from enterprise IT investments. However, this performance is often not achieved because of poor perceptions of IT, a parochial CFO or CIO perspective, or simply a failure to invest in the CFO-CIO relationship,\u201d said John Van Decker, research vice-president at Gartner.\n\u201cThis year\u2019s results show that, in most organisations, the CFO and CIO work together to finance IT and provide information that supports enterprise processes. But there is also an opportunity for them to form a powerful alliance that generates more value for the enterprise.\u201d The survey results showed that there are many ways that CFOs are involved in making IT investment decisions.\nForty one per cent said that they were the actual leader of a group responsible for IT investment, whereas another 41 per cent were part of a group responsible for IT decision-making, 16 per cent provide advice and 1 per cent said they were the sole decision-maker. Since the large majority was involved in group decision making about IT, engaging the CFO is clearly a critical issue.\nThey are usually powerful influencers and strict enforcers of policies and decisions because of their access to, and involvement with, senior business governance groups, and their strong influence and credibility with the CEO and board.\nWhile the survey was conducted in the US, Peter Acheson, CEO of Peoplebank, Australia\u2019s largest ITT recruitment company, believes the Gartner findings accurately depict what\u2019s happening in many large businesses.\n\u201cTraditional tensions are to do with the fact that IT is a large area of capital investment spending,\u201d he says. \u201cAt the start of the decade the IT manager or CIO role reported to the CFO, who then reported to the CEO.\nThis meant the CFO had responsibility for IT, but if they weren\u2019t IT savvy and didn\u2019t understand it, or were cost conscious, then they may not have supported a project.\n\u201cNow the IT manager position has evolved to the CIO role. The CIO has become a peer to the CFO, especially in utilities and telecoms, which has helped to improve relations.\u201d\nAcheson says CFOs today understand IT is an important part of the business and a core enabler. However, he cautions that CIOs still need to gain the CFO\u2019s support when it comes to investment decisions.\n\u201cJust because they\u2019re peers, it doesn\u2019t mean the CIO can go to the board and ask for a major investment without the support of the CFO,\u201d he says, explaining that it is a function of the fact that the CFO has ultimate responsibility for collating the overall capital plan. He points out that collaboration with the CFO is vital in gaining support for new IT investments. Bill Sinnett, director of research at the US-based FERF, agrees.\n\u201cWhile CFOs certainly appreciate reduced cost through the more efficient delivery of IT, organisations need to understand that CFOs want technology investment that they can see business value from in the form of improved business processes. Therefore, their priorities are largely focused on analytics and business applications,\u201d Sinnett said in response to the Gartner\/ FERF survey results.\nPage Break\nCommunication skills\nEverything comes down to communication, says Acheson, who has seen a dramatic improvement in CIOs\u2019 communication skills in the past five years. \u201cAs IT becomes more important, and is increasingly seen as a business enabler, a good CIO makes sure that the CFO is on board and supportive from the project\u2019s inception.\u201d\nThe CIO needs to be a master collaborator, he says, with strong negotiation and persuasion skills to help ensure success when dealing with key stakeholders such as the CEO, CFO and others executives who are responsible for running the business.\n\u201cThey need to understand how IT impacts the business they work in and how IT helps enable the business\u2019 core activity. This differs between industries and is a very important part of winning support for new projects,\u201d he says.\n\u201cThere is a reason that the CIO is elevated to report directly to CEO. They are extremely important to the success of the business and need to understand that and respond appropriately to the demands of their position.\n\u201cThe CIO uniquely understands how IT underpins and impacts the business. Like any other role, to get other stakeholders on board it is important to establish a good track record of excellence and delivery of key projects, and to build a history of projects running on time and on budget.\u201d\nThinking strategically\nJohn Todd, CFO of Sydney\u2019s City of Ryde Council, agrees that communication and collaboration are key, but adds that strategic thinking and long-term planning are also crucial to the mix. The City of Ryde manages $2.5 billion total assets including $1.3 billion worth of infrastructure, and generates more than $100 million in income each year from rates and other business activities.\nHe says that traditionally in most councils there is a close alignment between finance and IT functions, and that they work closely together to meet the needs of the communities they serve.\n\u201cFor us, IT initiatives are driven by [departmental] business managers, who have an idea for a new project or initiative that utilises the skills and services of IT to expand the usability of the system,\u201d he says.\n\u201cIT plays a supporting and advisory role rather than initiating new programs. \u201cOne of the advantages of councils is that they are required by legislation to look four to 10 years ahead,\u201d he adds. \u201cDepending on their size, many companies are only forecasting in the relatively short term: 14 to 16 weeks for some smaller organisations.\n\u201cBecause of this requirement the City of Ryde is able to think strategically and plan for the long term, which gives our projects a good chance of success.\u201d\nHe says that like any relationship, the CIO-CFO relationship takes work. \u201cYou can\u2019t expect it to work if you\u2019re dictatorial \u2013 both sides need to be able to compromise for the relationship to work for the benefit of the business.\u201d\nStephen Copplin is the managing director of the CFO Centre Australia, which he established in 2009 to provide experienced finance professionals to the SME sector. He also believes that while tension between IT and the CFO may have been common in the past in both large and small companies, CFOs have recently become much more tech savvy, while at the same time CIOs now really \u2018get\u2019 the business. And everyone is benefiting.\n\u201cThey have undertaken a lot of continuing education programs and had exposure to IT people and systems that have deepened their understanding of the benefits the appropriate technology can bring to a business, so IT is no longer seen as black magic,\u201d he explains.\n\u201cCIOs are also more business savvy, thanks in part to the training they receive at university,\u201d adds Copplin, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland in the Business School and the IT and Electrical Engineering School. \u201cUniversities have made a concerted effort to get more business skills and entrepreneurship into courses where there wasn\u2019t that kind of training offered before.\n\u201cIf a CIO understands the overall strategy of the business and is fully aware of the business vision they will be better able to align their plans with the company\u2019s. Both CFOs and CIOs have been guilty of not understanding the whole business vision, just the bit they\u2019re involved in,\u201d he says.\n\u201cTry to understand the strategic direction of the organisation clearly,\u201d he advises, \u201cso you bring your ideas into alignment and demonstrate how they can add value to the business.\u201d\nPage Break\nVision impairment\nCopplin says another reason that great ideas stall is because everyone is operating from a different base. \u201cIf you ask people from IT, finance and sales about the company\u2019s vision you often get different answers from everyone.\u201d\nMax Vit agrees. He is IT and operations support director at NICTA, Australia\u2019s largest dedicated ICT research organisation, where he is responsible for running the IT department, managing the organisation\u2019s IT strategy and providing vision for new IT services to sustain the business and enable impactful research.\n\u201cOne of the reasons for tension developing between various functions is that people are not subscribing to a common vision,\u201d he believes. \u201cThis is often because the vision is not readily available to the people involved.\n\u201cWhen an organisation does not have a clear vision, or its vision is misunderstood, this can cause a misalignment at the moment of hiring the right people to support the organisation\u2019s objectives.\u201d He says one of the reasons for NICTA\u2019s success is that its goals are clearly defined and communicated to the organisation by the CEO and senior management, namely to create wealth for Australia and achieve research excellence.\n\u201cThis underpins the way the entire organisation works,\u201d he adds. \u201cNICTA is built around research groups and business teams \u2013 and the interaction between these two groups,\u201d he explains. \u201cEach group needs to interpret the goals and vision of the CEO and align with these \u2013 always within governance and compliance requirements.\u201d\nHe says the role of NICTA\u2019s IT department is not straightforward. \u201cWe are there to make the research groups\u2019 jobs easier and support their work by providing flexible platforms and services, and to be responsive to the evolving needs of research projects.\n\u201cResearchers are free to choose between Windows, Mac or Linux operating systems \u2013 whichever best suits their research \u2013 and it is up to us to make it work.\u201d\nHe observes that in the past some projects have been put on hold or derailed because of different camps subscribing to different agendas, leading to delays, additional expenditure or for the project to be shutdown.\nLike other commentators, he recommends bringing a CFO on board by showing them the project\u2019s value and how it aligns with the organisation\u2019s vision and benefits the business.\n\u201cFor example, if the facilities manager proposes to buy a $200k asset management system, we look at how it might help us meet our goals or assist us in achieving research excellence and wealth creation.\nIf the request\u2019s value is only to streamline asset management administration then the degree of separation from our primary objectives is too big, and we need to find an alternative solution.\u201d\nHowever, he says if a research team wants to implement new virtualisation infrastructure because it will save their research time and will result in a significant research outcome or commercially viable technology, then that is more likely to meet with approval.\nIt is also important to accept that sometimes you have to agree to disagree. \u201cThis is central to NICTA\u2019s culture. You may not agree with what\u2019s proposed, but everyone is given the opportunity to have their say and if it\u2019s what others want, and meets the organisation\u2019s fundamental goals, then the project may be given the green light to proceed.\u201d\nWhile the Gartner study showed that business intelligence, analytics and performance management are at the top of the list of things that CFOs would like to invest in, four major technology trends \u2013 the nexus of social, mobile, cloud and information \u2013 are also on the CFO\u2019s radar and are expected to drive technology planning, investment and usage in 2012 and beyond.\nPerhaps persuading them to come on board with your project may not be as hard as you think.