With the evolution of the “digital business,” new players such as the CFO are increasingly engaged in IT innovation and decision-making. CFOs and other internal leaders recognize an opportunity to influence the IT function and push an agenda that may be different from the agreed upon path.
How do you better partner with your CFO when they believe their position entitles them to run IT? Here are five steps to create an effective partnership with your CFO:
Try to understand your CFO's purpose for getting involved in IT. It’s possible he or she feels a simplified sense of ease around your company’s technology activities and may not understand all the nuances that make it work. Maybe your ability to keep things running in an apparently smooth fashion have contributed to this. Since a typical CFO has a lot on their plate, and diving into IT is not something that is trivial, it’s your job to educate and set expectations for involvement.
Getting attention from your CFO is a good thing. Take this opportunity to demonstrate your financial and operational savvy, and ensure your CFO has a solid understanding of how your technology plans support the business. Your direct reports should also be educated on these plans and able to support if needed. Their buy-in and ability to communicate will only reinforce the message.
Your CFO might be looking at overall budgets and trying to find places to save money. Your IT strategy may already have cost containment features in place, but use this chance to begin talking about strategic investments to remove technical debt while gaining long-term cost savings. In your interactions with the CFO, explain the indirect costs, including retention of legacy technologies, integration of legacy systems with modern platforms, security and risk, and the missed opportunities to innovate and support the business strategy. Don’t forget the costs of time spent managing and supporting systems that only show up in personnel expenses – this time could be spent on innovation and strategy versus legacy technology.
Many times, your CFO will receive requests from different departments asking for budget to support external vendor IT-related work. As an IT leader, finding this out after the fact is problematic. The retained organization may not have followed the correct standards, the technology put in place may be difficult to integrate across the organization, or it might not have a support plan. You should embrace feedback from your CFO when these types of non-IT department requests come in and ask to be brought into the loop sooner rather than later. This doesn't mean you have to take on every IT-related assignment from different departments, but it puts you in a position to provide guidelines for security, integration, and support. In the end, you will own the technology work.
While your CFO may have read articles and analyst reports about the ease of managing IT in the new digital age, the ability to actually run large environments and deliver on digital goals is more complex than these outlets will imply. Take the time to work with your CFO on the complexities of your company’s IT strategy, existing environments, and approach to providing digital agility in the workplace. Make sure you provide an understanding of both the intricacies of the environment and your approach to simplifying and improving the user experience.
Senior leadership involvement can be intimidating, but it brings huge upside opportunities. As a technology leader, you should align improvements to business strategies. Closely connect yourself to business leaders, including financial leaders, to gain a better understanding of why they might be interested in your organization and what you can do to help in any situation.
Above all, take the time to educate them on the complexities of your area, but don't discount the plan to improve the digital experience. Having a plan and successfully communicating that plan will help in all situations. So, when your CFO wants to drive IT, understand the reasons and communicate your plan quickly and clearly.
Jason Hood has almost 30 years of experience running cloud, infrastructure (server, storage, and network), desktop, service desk, security, HPC, and data teams for both Fortune 500 and private equity-funded companies. Most recently, he has focused on the operations side of large data centers, IT modernization, and cloud migrations.