How to build a better relationship with the CFO

CIO CFO relationship

To build stronger ties with CFOs, CIOs must do more than simply show operational and technical competence. CFOs now look at IT leaders as potential partners who can harness technology in order to unlock value, efficiency and superior returns. To win over your CFO, you’ll need to prove you understand that challenge – and that you can deliver.

Do you sometimes feel as though your CFO has seen the Tom Cruise blockbuster Jerry Maguire just once too often? Is his favorite phrase, “show me the money”? If so, get over it. The key for CIOs who want to build stronger relationships with the CFO is to embrace the film’s memorable catchphrase.

Whether or not CIOs report directly to the CFO, as many do, they need to understand how to make an ally of finance, which has such a crucial role in making key investment decisions for the business – many of which will directly affect the IT function. That means grasping what lies at the heart of the CFO’s role: a rigorous focus on the bottom line, both today and for the future.

Those CIOs who have good relationships with CFOs have understood that IT must not simply be a cost center. In areas such as “big data” and analytics, the CIO increasingly has an opportunity to help deliver what the CFO wants most – lower costs and improving revenues.

Here’s how to prove to your CFO that you get it:

  • Shed your inner geek
    You may be excited about the technical aspects of new developments in IT, but the key to getting your CFO equally enthusiastic lies in explaining what new technologies can achieve. Build your IT strategy on the basis of commercial realities, with a clear view of the return on investment that new innovations will deliver.
  • Learn that data is a game changer
    CFOs now recognize that businesses making decisions driven by data are outperforming their competitors. The CIO can be instrumental in delivering everything from better demand forecasting to improved supply chain management. Set out a vision of a united data strategy across the business for your CFO.
  • Work on the 80-20 conundrum
    Overly expensive legacy systems may prevent the business investing in new technologies that would be much more productive. Look for solutions to that issue. Could cloud technologies, for example, play a role in moving the dial?
  • Don’t be an empire builder
    CFOs aren’t impressed by the size of the operation that you run. If you think IT would function more effectively and efficiently through moves toward shared services or outsourcing, say so, even if this would mean a change of role for the CIO. You may end up with fewer direct reports or a smaller budget, but you’ll have much more influence with the CFO.
  • Don’t forget risk analysis
    Convincing your CFO that you understand risk is a crucial factor in winning their confidence. How can IT improve the company’s ability to measure risk in the decisions it takes?
  • Build better links between IT and finance
    Start by asking the CFO for an assessment of how well IT is serving both the finance function and the business as a whole. Consider initiatives such as staff exchanges so that both departments have a better understanding of each other’s processes and priorities

Finally, resist the urge to shout “show me the money!” at your CFO. It usually doesn’t go down very well in person.

5 thoughts on “How to build a better relationship with the CFO

  1. You are absoluitely right! The relationship to the CFO should be prio one for CIOs. Even if you don’t report into this role there’s still the need to get along well with her or him: It’s the CFO who holds the organization’s purse strings. There is another nice article on this topic, written by Jerry Gregoire: Headjump first to the final paragraph where he says: “Finally, be boring. Remember that CFOs are easily frightened and confused by change. Try wearing the same clothes every day.” Love it!

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