CIO, CFO disagree on tech investments' value to the business

Do the CIO and CFO see eye to eye on IT's value to the business? A new SearchCIO.com report reveals some serious gaps and ways to improve alignment.

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As C-suite relationships go, the one between the CIO and CFO comes with a kind of built-in friction. The CFO, gatekeeper of the organization's finances, has to keep a wary eye on expenses that at times are both sizeable and opaque, such as those from the IT division. To CIOs charged with using IT as a strategic force, the CFO's focus on cost and ROI can seem shortsighted -- or worse, detrimental to the company's future ability to compete....

Still, CIOs and CFOs agree on one thing: Having a strong working alliance improves their company's ability to make sound tech investments.

Neither finance executives nor IT executives believe technology decisions reflect a balanced viewpoint of different constituencies.

So, how closely aligned are CIOs and CFOs concerning the ways IT can support and generate business value at their companies? Uncrossing the Wires: Starting -- and Sustaining -- the Conversation on Technology Value, a new report from SearchCIO.com and CFO magazine, suggests that strong CIO-CFO alliances remain a rarity.The two executive groups agree on the importance of technology to their business's success, but they diverge on many of the fundamentals that actually inform technology decisions. That disconnect ranges from the degree to which the business commonly understands the metrics the finance department uses to assess IT investments, to the depth of the finance department's understanding of the strategic value of technology.

The findings are based on a survey of 382 senior finance executives and 300 senior IT executives working in a wide variety of companies. It was conducted in December 2011 and January 2012 with support from Cisco Systems Inc. The survey's respondents are employed at companies with annual revenue of $100 million or more, and work for companies in nearly every industry.

Tech investments reflect 'unbalanced viewpoints'

The two groups also disagree on the relative clout their respective groups actually wield in these important technology decisions. According to the survey, finance actually gives greater weight to IT's influence on technology-buying decisions than IT executives do. More worrisome, neither finance executives (69%) nor IT executives (58%) believe these tech decisions reflect "a balanced viewpoint of different constituencies."

And, dismayingly, many of the old CIO-CFO biases and grudges are on full display. A number of CIO respondents claim their CFOs are hobbled by overly rigid definitions of ROI when it comes to technology. As one IT executive put it, his CFO is "driven by Wall Street expectations" rather than "capabilities and outcomes." For their part, CFO respondents complain about IT departments that are "difficult to work with" or "inefficient and rigid."

The news is not all bad. IT and finance executives alike see technology as a game-changer. To a remarkable degree, CFOs and CIOs concur (95% across the board) that their companies will make important technology investments this year. They also are on the same page as to which technologies will be important going forward: Business intelligence is in the top slot for 94% of IT executives and for 93% of finance executives, followed by mobility and cloud. And the report also captures best practices among CFOs and CIOs whose relationships appear to be working. One of those best practices? The importance of meeting often.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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