As companies accelerate their close, improve the ubiquity of the financial process and lower their costs, “you move to a shared service center,” says Peter Harries, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And that evolution depends on business and IT being closely aligned.
The benefits of alignment go beyond increasing the likelihood of identifying opportunities or dangers earlier, says Terry Flood, COO of IT integration provider Logicalis Group. “Good relations between the CIO organization and the CFO organization just cost less. You’ll have infrastructures that save the company money, and you’ll get focused on how to make the company money,” he says.
In this partnership, though, the CIO is typically the junior partner. “For financial reporting, the buck stops with the CFO and other executive management, so they drive the show,” says Steven Kursh, executive professor of finance and insurance at Northeastern University.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the CIO is merely an executor.
“Having a CIO who understands the needs of finance for reporting and daily financial needs will help the CIO bring the right technology and packages to meet these needs,” says Joe Kuehn, an advisory partner at accountancy KPMG. He’s seen simple examples of that with his clients. For example, reports are historically created monthly, and people have grown accustomed to waiting for the next report before formulating their strategies. “No one ever asks for more frequent reports,” he says, but a tuned-in CIO will notice that decisions are being held up and use automation to make reports available more frequently.
And sometimes the CIO takes a larger role. For example, at paperboard manufacturer Rock-Tenn, CIO Larry Shutzberg was heavily involved with defining the financial process. “But if I followed the traditional role of the CIO, I’m not sure I would have had the same role in the revised financial process,” he says.