Who Should A CIO’s BFF Be: The CEO or The CFO?

Worldcom's Bernard Ebbers Would Have Been A Bad Friend For CIOs To Have
Worldcom's Bernard Ebbers Would Have Been A Bad Friend For CIOs To Have

The times they are changing. Let’s take a moment and have a talk about one of a CIO’s key survival skills: the ability to successfully negotiate office politics. Specifically, if you could only have one best friend, who should it be: the CEO or the CFO?

Changes In The Workplace

The workplace that a CIO works in looks nothing like it did as little as 10 years ago. The changes that have happened have reshaped the boundaries of power. The CEO used to be the rock star who acted as a visionary leader. Think of Bill Gates, Tom Siebel, and Larry Ellison. However, the corporate scandals that rocked the business world at the start of the new millennium (i.e. Worldcom, Enron, etc.) has created the need for a change at the top.

Philip Tulimieri and Moshe Banai have taken a look at the that changes that have been taking place in the C-suites of major firms. They believe that a new focus on ensuring accountability by the senior executives, especially the CEO, plus the arrival of new regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act have changed who investors want to have running the company.

In the past, CFO were generally in the shadows of the CEOs – simply acting as mangers of the company’s money and trying to make sure that the company didn’t do anything too wild that they couldn’t pay for. This is all changing now.

The Arrival Of Co-Leaders Of A Company

In today’s corporate world, the balance of power is shifting. No longer is the CEO the only person running the show. Instead, the CFO is now playing a larger role – sorta a co-leader if you will.

The roles of a CEO and CFO are still different. A CEO has the responsibility of always being positive and working to move the company forward at all times. The CFO, on the other hand, is responsible for making sure that the company approaches every situation with caution and does its best to minimize the risk that it is being exposed to.

Tulimieri and Banai have made the interesting discovery that the rise of the CFO has meant that the role of the Chief Operating Officer (COO) has started to decline. The CIO is also responsible for this – that automation of much of a firm’s back office operations has reduced the need for the COO.

What’s A CIO To Do?

CIOs need to navigate these new corporate political waters very carefully. Yes, the CEO is still an important ally to have on your side; however, no longer is this enough – now you also have to be on good terms with the CFO.

One of the biggest challenges going forward will be keep both leaders happy. It’s important to realize that there will be disagreements between the CEO and CFO and that’s when the CIO needs to be most careful.

The challenge for any CIO is on which relationship should the most time should be spent. This will be different for every company. However, the CIO has the opportunity to show a great deal of value by facilitating communication between these two executives.

Final Thoughts

A CIO who can provide the information that a CEO needs in order to drive the company forward while at the same time providing the information that the CIO needs in order to measure the risk, will be seen as valuable.

The arrival of the CFO at the top of the company’s decision making structure means that being able to measure the financial value of every IT project will become even more critical. The world changes and CIOs need to make sure that they pick their corporate friends very carefully!

CIOs who can survive in the new world of company leadership and who can find a way to make friends with both the CEO and CFO will be better at finding ways to apply IT to enable the rest of the company to grow quicker, move faster, and do more.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you think about someone trying to make off with your company’s private data, what comes to mind? Some wily Russian hacker who sneaks into your company’s network through the backdoor? Perhaps you need to update your thinking. A recent report from Cisco revealed that the real threat is coming from insiders. What’s a CIO to do?