Fostering Effective Finance and IT Collaboration Starts at the Top

By Robert Half on December 13, 2019 at 11:52am

Finance and IT, two functions that had little occasion to collaborate closely in the past, now find they are frequently working side by side to deliver high-value, strategic projects for the business. As companies implement new technologies and launch digital initiatives meant to modernize or wholly transform their operations, effective finance and IT collaboration can help to assure that the organization realizes positive outcomes from those investments.

When the CFO and chief information officer (CIO) collaborate, it helps to shape and fuel broader collaboration between finance and IT. And the CFO-CIO partnership has been deepening over the past several years. In a recent Robert Half survey, 82% of CFOs said they collaborate more often with their company’s CIO today than they did three years ago. Compare that finding to a similar survey conducted by our company in 2016, when only about half (51%) of CFOs surveyed said they were teaming up more often with the CIO than they had been in 2013.

Many CFOs and CIOs work together to help senior management consider operational and financial issues — and weigh the potential risks — when the business needs to adopt new technology solutions. And quite often now, the CFO-CIO partnership is also vital to the finance function’s transition to new technologies, including advanced tools like artificial intelligence (AI).

According to the 2019 Global Finance Trends Survey Report from Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, more finance organizations are implementing AI and robotic process automation (RPA), improving how they use and protect data, and investigating blockchain applications, virtual currencies, and more. And research for Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report notes that transformative technologies like automation and cloud computing are already revolutionizing finance and accounting functions.

For more insight into current technology trends in accounting and finance, download a free copy of Robert Half’s latest Benchmarking Accounting and Finance Functions report, available here.

A partnership that can yield many business benefits

When the CFO and CIO partner on digital project planning, it can lead to better alignment between finance and IT agendas, enhance change management efforts, reduce risk and, of course, promote effective finance and IT collaboration. Here are a few other ways that a close partnership between these two C-level executives and their teams can create benefits for the business:

  • Streamlined processes and cost savings — The IT department’s knowledge of emerging systems and solutions can help finance identify new applications for boosting productivity. For instance, automation-driven software for regulatory compliance work can save finance employees time while reducing costly errors. Not only does that help to streamline business operations, but it also allows the finance team to work on more strategic projects and focus on growing client satisfaction.
  • Better use of data — CIOs are often instrumental in evaluating and implementing business intelligence (BI) and other advanced data analytics tools. They weigh in on these decisions so that the business invests in solutions that can provide the types of reports and insights that the company — and the finance function — require. The CFO’s input can also help to ensure new tech tools and services make data more accessible to all authorized business users so they can work with data directly and create more value for the company without IT’s ongoing assistance.
  • Enhanced data security — Safeguarding client data and proprietary information is a must in the finance sector, particularly as companies rely on technology for more of their daily operations. Bringing IT and finance departments together can reduce duplicate efforts that waste time, as both teams work as one to meet compliance demands and address cybersecurity risks. In addition, IT can teach finance teams how to better protect sensitive data.

Tactics to jump-start finance and IT collaboration

If you, as a finance leader, aren’t yet collaborating with your counterpart in IT, now is a good time to start building that relationship and laying the groundwork for effective teamwork between the finance and IT departments. It’s likely only a matter of time before your organization will need to rely on finance and IT collaboration to execute a digital project successfully. So, here are some ways that CFOs and CIOs can start fostering collaboration between their departments:

  • Ask for employees to offer ideas. One way to get finance and IT teams thinking about how and why they might work together is to ask for their ideas. They may already have some suggestions — including those you had not already considered. Asking team members for their recommendations will help them feel like they are part of the process — as well as more positive about collaborating. Consider meeting with each group individually first, and then bringing everyone together to build on ideas and perhaps, brainstorm new ones.
  • Don’t wait for a major project to arise. If possible, avoid making a mission-critical initiative the debut for finance and IT collaboration. Simply setting deadlines and telling teams to “work together” could easily lead to disaster. Instead, start connecting your teams in the day-to-day work environment by giving them insight into what each group is working on and how those objectives impact the organization’s overarching goals. Mentoring and job shadowing programs are two excellent methods of giving finance a peek into the world of IT and vice versa.
  • Invest in team-building efforts. Teams work better together when employees know and respect one another and get along well. So, consider organizing team-building events inside and outside of the office to break down silos, build rapport between the finance and IT departments, and ideally, enhance employees’ knowledge and skills. One idea is to set up a casual, catered lunch or brunch on-site, inviting both departments to eat good food, socialize and then hear from a special keynote speaker. For example, you might bring in a digital transformation expert, who could talk about how technology is changing the nature of work for finance and IT.

Even if your firm has no immediate plans to undertake an initiative that would require finance and IT collaboration, the business can generally benefit from a closer relationship between these two critical functions. And there’s a good chance that accounting and finance staff would like the opportunity to glean knowledge from the company’s tech experts, regardless of any imminent business need. In fact, 83% of accounting and finance managers surveyed for the Jobs and AI Anxiety report said they believe their teams are eager to learn about new technologies. So, there is little to lose, and much to gain, by fostering finance and IT collaboration in your organization.

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