Five Tips for Dealing with Your CFO

CFOs are increasingly calling the shots, which means CIOs are reporting to them, not the CEO. Do you know how to talk business in a way they'll understand? If you're all about the tech, the answer is no.

1. Talk in dollars and cents. CFOs speak the language of finance. If you're requesting spending on IT, use the same tone. Finance chiefs need a business case for IT expenditures that empasizes the payoff in terms of worker productivity, reduced costs or new customers. "I think a lot of the smart CIOs are really getting into those cost-benefit conversations with the CFOs," says Mike Dandini, head of the management and professional liability underwriting unit at insurer The Hartford. CIOs who emphasize how technology operates or its hip factor are taking the wrong approach, says Dandini.

2. Remember, you're family. Despite the notion that budget-conscious CFOs view IT as a cost center, both CIOs and CFOs lead groups whose functions affect the entire organization. All workers depend on IT to complete their jobs, and companies risk becoming insolvent if they don't stay on budget. Working together to achieve broad success should serve as a goal that both departments can use to come together over IT spending.

3. Don't resist the consumerization of IT. Research suggests that the bring-your-own-technology trend will keep growing. CIOs who refuse to support it may see departments turn to consultants or IT service providers for help. Such spending will likely get noticed by the CFO, who won't be keen on paying for duplicate technologies. Work together to develop an implementation plan that incorporates regulations, compliance issues and fiscal policies that fall under the CFO's domain.

4. Develop mutual respect. When capital is spent on technology to aid a company's key initiatives, business units notice. Showing that IT understands a business need helps develop trust between finance and IT departments, says Forrester vice president and principal analyst Bobby Cameron. This component is necessary if CIOs expect CFOs to support spending on new, more advanced technologies. If the CIO is viewed only as a cost manager, IT will not be viewed as crucial to the business, says Cameron.

5. Bring in customers. Business-savvy CIOs focus on using technology to help create products and services that capture market share, and CFOs respond positively to that mentality. Continue to shift your thinking toward how IT can generate business value. "Put a server in a closet, and you have a server in a closet," says Cameron. But supporting sales with that server adds value, he says. Handling costs will still be important for future CFOs and CIOs, but neither party will be preoccupied with expenses when customers are at stake.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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