Your Real Boss Is the Money Person

CIOs are losing control of the investment decisions for their departments, according to a recent survey by Gartner, Financial Executives Research Foundation, and the Committee of Finance & IT of Financial Executives International.

CFOs alone authorized 26 percent of all IT investments, while CIOs solely authorized only 5 percent. Also, 42 percent of IT organizations reported directly to the CFO. Only a third of IT organizations reported to the CEO. You don’t need an advanced computer science degree to see that companies are increasingly putting IT under the thumb of finance. That means a potential shift in the types of projects getting money, which will affect what skills and backgrounds have the greatest employer appeal going forward.

There are reasons for the greater control of CFOs. A survey in late 2006 showed that technology executives thought their departments offered significantly more strategic value than other C-level managers. For example, only 42 percent of non-technology executives thought that business process outsourcing was effective, while 70 percent of the CIOs were sure it was. Server consolidation and virtualization were a clear win to about 75 percent of the technology people and 55 percent of the others. In this more recent survey, only 30 percent of the CFOs said that IT fulfills its mission. That means the bulk of financial executives don’t see IT as being worth the money it spends, which might help explain why only 31 percent of them thought that IT had the capability to advance their companies. In short, executives responsible for the entire business and finances had a sense that IT was wasting money.

No wonder they have taken greater control. The results mean that CIOs increasingly have become more operational experts, providing expert opinion but not in a position to decide what projects to pursue. To know where to direct your career, you have to understand how CFOs think and what their priorities will be, especially because only 32 percent of CFOs recognize CIOs as strategic partners. The three top factors that help CFOs recognize a successful IT project are:

  • clear ownership,
  • the business case, and
  • project management.

Understanding how to effectively create, justify, monitor, and execute projects becomes critical to IT succeeding and to your own success. CFOs wanted to use IT dollars on technology that could provide their companies a competitive advantage. What that most often meant to them was business intelligence initiatives, chosen by 65 percent of CFOs as one of their top interests. The next closest category, at 46 percent, was enterprise business applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), integrated financial management, or customer relationship management (CRM). In other words, if you’ve considered more education to advance your career, you might look at a business intelligence degree or even a business degree.