These days, few IT events close without a clarion call for CIOs to think or act more like CFOs. In most businesses, the CFO sits at the right hand of the CEO, so the appeal is clear: borrow from the CFO’s playbook, and you’ll place yourself in a strong position for a future board appointment. But what does “becoming more like a CFO” mean in practice? Become more numbers focused? Take tighter control of the purse strings? Or is it something more?
I believe that CIOs should aim to develop the full set of attributes that make good CFOs effective. The list of those attributes is too long for me to be able do it justice here. But there are three important things in particular that CIOs can learn from their finance counterparts:
Know your numbers – who’s spending and using what. In this age of technology democratization, it’s not just the IT department that is spending on hardware, software and services. On their own account, business units are procuring devices and outsourcing IT services to cloud providers. Good CFOs know where all the money is going and who’s spending it. CIOs should know the same about technology spending and usage in order to defend their own budgets when necessary.
Articulate information as currency. Money is, of course, the chief currency of any business – none can operate without it. And CFOs’ role as the steward of the money explains their rightful prominence in the business. But in the digital age, information may almost be as critical. The word “information” is not part of the CIO title for nothing. But too many CIOs are seen only as stewards of the organization’s technology. If they can come to be seen as the master of the organization’s information, it will take the CIO to an altogether higher level.
No tech mumbo jumbo – speak to boards and shareholders in their language. Some of the biggest investments that boards are considering today include technology initiatives, which the CIO will often be called in to justify. In these situations, the language of business value will go much further than the language of technology – or even of savings and efficiency, which boards will certainly appreciate. But by putting the benefits in terms of, for example, market share and top-line and bottom-line growth (and maybe even earnings per share, to really impress the shareholders), CIOs will be far more convincing.
Of course, this should not be a one-way street. CFOs have a thing or two to learn from their CIOs. Learning how to adapt to constant change, as technology leaders do, is one. Motivating innovators is another. And the list could go on. The lessons CIOs and CFOs can learn from each other is one very good reason why they both need to build and nurture this special relationship.