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  • CFO IT

The Great Divide

Or, what your CIO would really like to say to you if only the job market were better.

CIOs also hate it when top executives’ eyes glaze over when they’re trying to explain something IT-related. In recent years, CIOs have made an effort to learn business-speak, yet some CFOs and other C-level executives still tune out as soon as an IT leader opens his mouth. And, oh yes, CIOs point out that finance-speak is often less than enthralling and every bit as jargon-laced as IT talk.

Although they’re getting better at it, CIOs have never really mastered the art of political gamesmanship, a.k.a. sucking up to the big boss—something they believe occupies much of the CFO’s time and effort. “CFOs are more concerned with managing up than looking down,” says former IT chief Thomas Bihun. The upshot: CIOs get blamed when an IT project tanks or may not get proper credit when IT scores a success, especially if the CFO claims ownership. “CIOs can chart the course,” Bihun says, “but they’d like more confirmation that the CFO agrees that it’s the right course.”

CIOs believe that CFOs and CEOs are—often at IT’s expense—easily bamboozled by the new boy in town, some slick consultant who comes along promising the moon. Of course, the loyal but not-so-flashy IT chief ends up having to implement the consultant’s magic remedy, or look like a defeatist or naysayer if he or she points out problems with it.

CIO Wish List

Let’s assume that the relationship between the CFO and CIO is so good that the CIO feels empowered to push new technology projects. What would they be? Not, as some CFOs might expect, glitzy, cutting-edge efforts worthy of a James Bond movie. When we polled CIOs, we found that they are most interested in systems that address Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and the need to react quickly and effectively in volatile markets where profits are often razor thin. Software applications dominated the list, including the following:

  • Business-process management (BPM) software, which can (according to the brochures) provide corporations with transparency into and documentation of a range of processes as required under Sarbanes-Oxley. Beyond that catchy selling point, BPM is really focused on overcoming the silos in companies that make a given process duplicative, slow, or otherwise inefficient. Answerthink’s Allan Frank stresses, however, that prior to going the BPM route, companies must streamline and simplify core processes themselves. Otherwise, the overlay of BPM technology isn’t going to prove effective. Meta Group, a Stamford, Connecticut-based research firm, expects BPM sales to jump by as much as 20 percent this year over last year’s $1.1 billion and projects that 85 percent of major corporations will launch BPM initiatives within the next 18 months.
  • CIOs have long been concerned about inconsistent data and numbers that result when corporate users don’t all drink from the same centralized ERP well, relying instead on such subversive tools as spreadsheets. Now that Sarbanes-Oxley mandates that Corporate America generate consistent numbers and data, CEOs and CFOs have come to share this concern. As an upshot, businesses are relying more and more on a range of data repositories (data warehouses, data marts, and newer but equivalent approaches) to unify corporate information and allow management to drill down and understand the fiscal underpinning behind any set of figures and then deal with inconsistencies. One CIO notes that data warehousing is far from new but has moved up many wish lists, again because of Sarbanes-Oxley.
  • Further down the list, another software application, known as service-oriented architecture (SOA), provides unity of a different sort, assembling small software programs into larger ones. There’s been a lot of buzz about Web services, which is a key part of SOA but not the entire story. Analyst firm ZapThink LLC says that the market for SOA products will reach $43 billion by 2010. Big vendors such as Computer Associates and Hewlett-Packard have recently moved into this arena. The next time your CIO brings up Web services, ask him or her if the discussion instead should focus on a proper service-oriented architecture. If that doesn’t go a long way toward moving your partnership to a whole new level, nothing will.

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