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Middle Man

A new breed of executive -- equally fluent in the ways of finance and IT -- is bridging the gap between two traditionally adversarial roles.

Joseph Anichebe knows which side he’s on. Despite a hybrid title — IT CFO for the investment banking arm of UBS — Anichebe’s allegiance, first and foremost, is to finance.

His team of more than 50, which oversees billions of dollars in annual IT spending at the Swiss bank, works with IT to monitor expenditure, build projections and assess new projects. “My job is not to get in the way of IT delivering solutions to the front office,” he says. “It’s to make sure that we’re clear on how much it costs, so that managers can make informed decisions. If we do that, our goals are aligned.” But it’s no bad thing for a “healthy tension” to exist between finance and IT, he adds. Anichebe has been in his current role for two years, but for 20 years has held various posts at the intersection between finance and IT, both through appointment and through circumstance. Along the way, he’s come into contact with a select group of others who have carved out a similar niche. “They’ve worked for me, and I’ve worked for them,” he says. “It’s a small world.”

Small, but vital. Few corporate relationships can become as strained as that between finance and IT. The stubbornly high number of IT projects that are completed over budget, late or lacking important capabilities — and sometimes all three — is a key source of friction. It doesn’t help that both functions speak their own highly specialised language, which is often unintelligible to other parts of a company.

That’s why executives such as Anichebe are becoming more prominent, bridging the gap between the two adversarial functions. Like Anichebe, most of these intermediaries have a finance background.

London-based recruiter Harvey Nash, known primarily for its expertise in IT, launched a finance practice last year in response to the blurring of the boundaries between the two functions, according to Carol Rosati, head of the firm’s CFO practice. “Companies are looking for a more sophisticated use of their systems, so they’re getting finance more involved to make sure that the right information is being generated,” she says. “There is a premium to be paid for a CFO or controller who can manage major implementations.”

In a global survey of 450 directors released in March by Deloitte and Corporate Board Member magazine, nearly half of the respondents said that they didn’t receive appropriate business plans at the outset of IT projects, or suitable updates during implementation, or both. It makes sense, therefore, that organisations are despatching finance managers to gather information about IT in the same way that they already do for most other capital investments.

What’s more, with technology now woven into all aspects of operations, IT will be discussed less and less as a subject in its own right. In the Deloitte survey, only a quarter of directors said that IT was addressed as a standalone topic in the boardroom. And on the increasingly rare occasions that IT is on the agenda, the CFO is almost as likely as the CIO to lead the discussion. Bear in mind, too, that just over half of companies surveyed actually have a CIO, and that this person’s interaction with the board is generally on an ad hoc basis.

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