With technology increasingly integral to the operation of the finance function — and the business, in general — chief financial officers and chief information officers find they’re seeing a lot more of each other lately. A survey by Robert Half Management Resources and Robert Half Technology found that more than half (51 percent) of CFOs collaborate more often with their company’s CIO today versus three years ago.
Greater interaction between CFOs and CIOs can generate positive outcomes for the business in many ways. Here are just five:
1. More strategic decision-making around IT investments
Technology initiatives, from cloud migrations to business systems upgrades, affect nearly every business unit within organizations today. When the CFO and CIO engage early in IT project planning, it can lead to better alignment between finance and IT agendas.
Ultimately, CFO and CIO collaboration can pave the way for smoother integration of new systems and processes and help ensure the business realizes value from its IT investments in the long term.
2. Better management of IT risks
Information security, data privacy and cybersecurity issues are top of mind for both CFOs and CIOs. By maintaining an open line of communication about these business-critical topics, CFOs gain more insight into how IT is helping the organization to address IT risks and why certain investments are needed to protect data and users. CIOs, meanwhile, can stay apprised of compliance mandates and other business demands that may impact how the organization addresses IT security and risks.
3. Constructive discussions about BCM
Business continuity management (BCM) planning is a topic where CIOs and CFOs are known to butt heads. The typical scenario: CIOs lay out all the investments the business should make to ensure it can recover critical IT assets in the event of a disaster. CFOs push back and say the business can’t justify that type of spending on something that may or may not happen.
This stalemate is often the result of CIOs not talking about BCM in business terms and CFOs not fully understanding the value of BCM planning for IT. More frequent collaboration between CFOs and CIOs is likely to lead to more productive discussions about the costs and benefits of BCM planning from both an IT and business perspective.
4. Broader access to big data insights
As businesses work to become more analytics-driven, they need the CFO and CIO to collaborate effectively. CIOs play a vital role in evaluating and implementing business intelligence (BI) tools and hiring technical personnel to work with them. However, CFOs need to weigh in on these decisions so the business invests in tools that can provide the types of reports and insights the organization requires.
The CFO’s input can also help to ensure BI solutions can make data more accessible to business users —including accounting and finance team members with limited or no big data analysis skills. This is important, as one of the ways organizations are getting the most value from BI tools is by giving business users the power to work with data directly — thereby reducing the need to rely on IT.
5. A stronger partnership with internal audit
Many internal audit leaders report to the CFO on either a direct or dotted-line basis. Chief audit executives are also collaborating more frequently with CIOs. Because of their relationships with internal audit, CFOs and CIOs have an opportunity to bring internal audit into their discussions, as appropriate, to help the organization stay on top of IT risk and compliance issues.
In addition, these three executives can work together to find ways to use IT more strategically and cost-effectively for business enablement, helping IT to become more of a “value center” for the organization.
Taking collaboration to the next level
Given the numerous potential business benefits that collaboration between finance and IT leaders can yield, CFOs and CIOs should consider promoting more interaction between their departments, as well as other teams, such as marketing and human resources.
Here are some ways that finance and IT leaders can increase cross-departmental collaboration:
Encourage a “big picture" view. Provide opportunities, such as meetings with guest speakers from other departments and mentoring programs, to help all staff stay current on issues affecting different areas of the company.
Communicate priorities. Use consistent messaging throughout the organization about the company’s opportunities, challenges and goals.
Drop the jargon and skip the acronyms. When detailing objectives and challenges, use common terms that all employees will understand.
Seek an outside perspective. Consider working with a consultant who can provide objective feedback on your firm’s strengths and weaknesses, and offer best practices for breaking down silos and improving collaboration.
In addition, be sure to celebrate as a group when projects that required collaboration between departments are a success. Praise both individuals and teams for notable contributions, and highlight instances where cooperation between groups was instrumental in effective execution of the initiative.
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Tim Hird is the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. John Reed is the senior executive director of Robert Half Technology.