08 Jul 2015

IT Manager Tips: Building a strong relationship with your CFO

The CFO and the IT Manager have very different roles within a business, and learning how to communicate with each other to reach the organisation’s goals is essential to creating a successful management structure.  IT Managers often see projects from a technical perspective first and will focus on the benefits technology can provide, while a CFO will see IT projects in the context of the overall financial landscape of the business.

As technology is increasingly at the core of most business’ operations, the CFO and IT Manager are finding it more important than ever to work together.  There are still some key things that an IT Manager can keep in mind to ensure the partnership with the CFO is as constructive as possible.

1) Resist talking tech, talk benefits

Generally, a CFO is probably not going to be across the technical projects within the organisation.  It is the IT Manager’s role to communicate with the business about technology changes and keep the CFO informed about costs, benefits and potential business impacts.  When pitching an idea, it makes sense to keep the financial benefits at the forefront of the discussion with the CFO, but don’t neglect to highlight other benefits as well.  Things like increased productivity, efficiency and higher quality output from staff is often an important driving factor in a tech project.  CFOs are required to be very aware of the risk profile of any investment, so if the solution will help the business cut costs without introducing new risks into the operation then that could be a good way to lead the discussion.  CFO’s focus on the benefit of an investment, relative to its cost, and an effective IT Manager will take the time to learn how best to tailor that message.

2) Be honest about cost

No matter what size of investment the project requires, take the time to ensure you have a clear understanding of all the costs involved. A project that blows out in cost because the IT team wasn’t properly informed about the additional expenses will only damage relationships and the CFO may lose faith in the IT Manager. Long term, this will make it more difficult to gain the green light for future IT projects.

All executives appreciate a thorough cost analysis before a project goes ahead, and CFOs should also be aware of alternate solutions if there are any.   An example might be developing a solution in-house compared to an off the shelf product.  The custom solution will often be superior, while an off the shelf product represents a lower risk profile and fixed cost.  The trust built from full transparency between IT Manager and CFO will pay dividends if the IT Manager has to insist on an expensive solution when absolutely necessary for the organisation.

3) Meet with the CFO as often as possible

An IT Manager should focus on forming a close working relationship with the CFO.  Catching up regularly to discuss the organisation’s IT strategy, opportunities and challenges will surely pay off long term.  Keeping the CFO informed affords them a greater understanding of the state of IT in the business, and also helps build trust and understanding long term. The CFO will have a greater appreciation of the challenges facing the IT Manager and the projects that are on the horizon.

Perhaps most critical of all, if the organisation should go through a period of merger & acquisition, one of the most challenging tasks will be to integrate the merged IT systems together. While the CFO will bear much of the responsibility to ensure a merger or acquisition goes smoothly, having a strong relationship with the IT Manager will help to mitigate as much risk there as possible.