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Collaboration: 4 Keys to a Successful CFO-CIO Relationship

July 6, 2016
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Within the past 5 years I’ve seen a significant shift in the ways that CFOs (Chief Financial Officers) and CIOs (Chief Information Officers) interact. The role of a CFO continues to become even more strategic in nature with an elephant-size shift toward needing access to data through data cubes, involvement with securing customer privacy-protected data, and of course, monitoring software investments and their subsequent results.

CIO Responsibilities

CIOs likewise have seen similar shifts in their roles and responsibilities. Network management of the cables and wires has given way, in many situations, to managing the integration points between data and software hosted in clouds, and meeting the demands of both internal and external users. Mobile app development is now commonplace. Working remotely is routine. Data breaches happen continually and the CIO has the significant responsibility of preventing them.

The Overlap and Dependency

The overlap and dependency on each other for the CFO and CIO roles is indisputable. Risk assessment, cost management, and staying on pace with technological advances is everyone’s job. But as Deloitte pointed out in this Wall Street Journal article “The Power of Business Chemistry: A Framework for CFOs” personality types often differ between the CFO and CIO which also should be recognized and taken into consideration.

How Can CFOs & CIOs Collaborate?

As a financial professional, what can you do to help manage the overlap between Finance and IT? These are some of my ideas:

  • Educate yourself. You need to stay abreast of technology shifts and work to fund needed changes when its recommended and appropriate. Sticking with tried-and-true software and hardware may not serve your company’s business strategies any longer. Costs, security, meeting the advanced needs of today’s consumer are all points that we have to be cognizant about. Keeping ourselves up to date helps.
  • Educate the CIO. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but rather, to recognize that what’s intuitive to you as a financially educated person, might not be something the CIO has had a great deal of exposure to. Doing a cost-benefit analysis on the back of a napkin is second nature to you. While highly educated, the CIO may not immediately consider the time-value-of-money for a long term contract, leasing options, or other projects that may be affected if money shifts to funding a technology initiative.
  • Leverage the strengths of both individuals. Respect for each other’s area of expertise shouldn’t be underestimated. If you doubt that, drop in on a functional IT meeting where the team is troubleshooting a coding error or server failure. I’m sure you’ll hear things that you don’t understand or can’t relate to. The CIO has to speak the language of both his team and that of the C-suite.
  • Relationship building. Baseball outings and league bowling aren’t required in order to have a good relationship with the CIO, although they can often help. Occasional lunches and finding non-work commonalities may be all that it takes.

Flexibility and collaboration go hand-in-hand in any relationship, and they certainly help here as well. With solid respect for each other and a focused desire on the needs of your organization, you’ll be able to work through the inevitable challenges that arise when competing priorities go head-to-head.

Understanding the CIO’s Responsibilities

How can you work to better understand the challenges that come with your CIO’s responsibilities? Here are a few additional steps you can take:

  • Participate in IT Meetings: Attend IT meetings periodically to gain a firsthand understanding of the issues and challenges faced by the IT department. This will also demonstrate your commitment to collaboration and your willingness to support the CIO’s initiatives.
  • Learn Basic IT Concepts: Familiarize yourself with basic IT concepts and terminologies. This will make it easier to communicate with the CIO and understand the technical aspects of their work.
  • Encourage Joint Projects: Promote and participate in joint projects that require collaboration between finance and IT. This can help both departments understand each other’s challenges and work more effectively together.
  • Seek Regular Updates: Request regular updates from the CIO on ongoing IT projects, challenges, and successes. This will keep you informed and allow you to provide timely support and input.
  • Promote Cross-Training: Encourage cross-training opportunities where finance and IT staff can learn about each other’s functions. This can foster mutual respect and understanding, leading to a more cohesive working relationship.

By taking these steps, you can bridge the gap between finance and IT, ensuring that both departments work together seamlessly to achieve the organization’s goals. The evolving roles of CFOs and CIOs require a collaborative approach, and with the right strategies in place, you can create a strong partnership that drives success.

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