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  • CFO Europe Magazine

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.

Meanwhile, a survey last year of nearly 300 senior executives by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of CFO, found that a third of the respondents thought that standalone IT departments would not exist in five years’ time.

Technical Difficulties

And so it falls to finance to measure, monitor and manage IT for the benefit of the board and other senior executives. At UBS, Anichebe is currently refining how the bank measures IT’s total cost of ownership (TCO), a task that he’s performed in many of his previous roles. When entering new markets, the cost of IT applications and infrastructure necessary to support particular products can have a significant impact on a venture’s profitability. The TCO project gives senior managers certainty by making these costs as transparent and predictable as possible. Anichebe’s experience has shown that a main source of friction between finance and IT “has come from IT teams building a Rolls-Royce system when a Mini Cooper would do,” he says.

No Bells and Whistles

As Stuart Kilpatrick, group financial controller at Elementis, a £396m (€579m) speciality chemicals group in London, sees it, “Most IT systems are designed to give users choice, but sometimes too much choice can be a bad thing.” Kilpatrick recently helped steer the company through the rollout of a new JD Edwards system that coincided with the opening of US and European finance shared service centres.

“We spent more money on preplanning at Elementis than I ever have before, making sure that everything worked on day one,” the controller says. “Finance got involved early, setting parameters for what was critical to the business.” By focusing on key system requirements, and not allowing all of the available bells and whistles to distract project teams, finance managed users’ expectations and ensured a smooth rollout.

Also key to the success of the project, Kilpatrick says, were the dual IT-finance specialists assigned to the various tiers of steering groups overseeing the implementation. Finance staffers with “a natural affinity for systems” were prominent, as were a few IT employees with some financial training, a much rarer breed. “They’re worth their weight in gold during these situations,” Kilpatrick notes.

But having a foot in both camps is never easy. “It’s surprising how heated the exchanges between finance and IT can get,” says Heather Blackwood, a UK-based interim finance executive. Blackwood, who has experience in senior roles at several food and drinks groups, including Allied Bakeries, Threshers and Seagram, in addition to her current assignment at London’s Royal Free Hospital, says “Half of my roles seem to be acting as the intermediary, smoothing feathers after arguments between finance and IT.”

“Finance people expect their systems to work, but they don’t often put the effort in to get them that way,” she notes. “It’s about articulating what you want, because systems deliver exactly what you ask for.”

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