Does Your CFO Know Tech? New Survey Says Yes and No

In the early days of the business technology revolution, I imagine some of the conversations between IT chiefs and CFOs had to sound like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” sketch.

“So, how does this work?”
“You login.”
“Where’s the log?”
“On the server.”
“So how do I get it?”
“You login.”
“How can I get the log if I need to log to login?”
“You don’t need the log to login. You need to login to get to the log.”

Thank goodness they allowed people to drink in the office back then.

Today, the scenery is a little bit different, but there are still some challenges to being in charge of IT as well as being the money guy in charge of the IT budget. That’s exactly what they discovered in the 2012 Gartner Executive Programs CIO Survey. More than 2,300 CIOs provided ratings on the knowledge of various C-Level executives on IT topics, and this is what they had to say:

  • 21 per cent of the survey respondents said that they reported to the CFO.
  • 69 per cent of CIOs responding to the survey gave their CFO good marks for having solid knowledge of IT budgets

But, CFOs didn’t fare as well in the other IT-related areas. Here are their marks, in declining order of strength

  • IT governance, where 40 per cent of CFO’s were seen as having strong knowledge
  • IT strategy with 37 per cent
  • IT service levels with 33 per cent
  • IT metrics with 28 per cent
  • IT project and portfolio management with 27 per cent
  • IT security 14 per cent

So, it seems there is still a knowledge gap between IT pros and the people who control their budgets. But I think there are two ways businesses of any size can get around these issues.

  • IT Pros — Think more like CFOs. It’s not that they don’t want to buy the right tools for the right jobs. It’s just that they need to see some level of cost efficiency that goes along with it. So, when you pitch your CFOs on something that would make your job easier, go beyond demonstrating to them how it could save you time. Delve deeper to show your CFOs how it could save the company money, or even help spark an otherwise dormant revenue stream. It’s good news to you if a few new servers could increase your processing time on key reports, but how does it save the company time? Does it free you up to do more specific real-time reporting with data that could help the executives make better or faster decisions? Does it make things faster for the sales force, so maybe they can squeeze in a few more sales calls? Try to show some Return on Investment (ROI) — that’s a CFO term — on the new expenditure, and you’ll find your local bean counter to be more friendly to your cause.
  • CFOs — Shakespeare once wrote “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Well, there are few crowns heavier in a corporation than the one that rests on the head of the CFO. When you make the right decisions, bottom lines look brighter. When you make the wrong ones, you’re updating your resume and hoping your golden parachute can take you safely all the way to the next gig. So, if you really want to maximize your ability to make good choices, take some time to learn more about how the tech side of your company works. It will make it easier to understand whether your tech guy is selling you on something that will achieve a better economy of scale, or if it’s something that will just cost more money for getting the same amount of work done. IN addition, as you increase your knowledge base, your learning curve on new technologies will dwindle, making you both smarter and faster in your job. That’s a savings in time and effort that can amount to real dollars down the line that you can bank on.

At the end of the day, just being able to communicate better among department heads will make each person’s job a little easier to handle, and that’s a benefit few can put a price tag on.

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