by Roy Harris

The CFO-CIO Breakdown

Dec 12, 20113 mins
CIOIT Leadership

Why do finance and IT sometimes have trouble communicating? CFOs weigh in. Are techies too wrapped up in "sexiness"? has been working closely with the Tatum corporate-finance-services people on Tatum’s monthly surveying of executives from mid-sized firms. That gives us a chance to communicate with Tatum experts about the findings — and also to suggest a few questions of our own.

The big news from the November survey is the sharp upturn in CFOs’ readings of business conditions ahead.

But we were fascinated, too, at responses to a special series of questions that Tatum asked at the behest of the CFOworld editors — on the topic of CFO-CIO communication, and how it can be improved.

Is the relationship strong between the CFO and the executive who represents IT at the mid-sized companies that are part of the Tatum framework? Among the 105 Tatum CFO questionnaire respondents, 42% consider communication with their company’s chief information officer strong, although only 7% called it very strong. Those citing poor communication? That was 26%, with just 1% calling the communication very poor.

Asked what the causes of any communication gaps between IT and the finance department might be, 65% cited how goals often were not in alignment with objectives, while the next most-popular answer (34%) was that the structure of IT doesn’t nurture communication, and 31% said IT people were too technical when speaking with others.

Asked what areas required the highest degree of communication, not surprisingly CFOs ranked data security first (63%), data accessibility next (48%), and IT simplification/integration and IT costs tied for third (37%.)

The “comment field” produced some of the most interesting information, though. Herewith a few of the individual reasons for CFO-IT breakdowns cited by the Tatum respondents:

“CFOs are very focused on the bottom line and strictly look at hard costs. IT sometimes is too focused on the ‘sexiness’ of the technology. Not always, but sometimes,” said one thoughtful commentator. He or she went on: “The focus needs to be on what (by both finance and IT) is going to help the organization achieve their goals. IT and finance should be equal counterparts, working with the rest of the executives to help the organization achieve their goals.”

Said another: “Improving/resolving workflow issues is difficult for executives without cross-training or core understanding of process mapping.”

A third respondent who looked at both finance and IT “types” said neither sees itself “effectively as service providers within their organizations.”

A few others preferred to look only at the IT’s flaws. “CIOs are not from the business world and do not understand it,” said one.

“CIOs don’t have a clue,” said another.