Creating Harmony Between Finance and IT

close up. successful business people shaking hands . concept of cooperation

Can Finance and IT work in harmony? This was the hot topic at Bridgepoint’s quarterly Leader’s Edge event series. A group of 30 CFOs discussed best practices for finance and IT departments to work cooperatively to achieve business objectives.

Michael Johnson, Principal at Bridgepoint Consulting, moderated a panel presentation by executives from both sides of the fence. Dr. Jim Keeler, VP, Engineering and Operations at Invodo and Mark Johnson, CFO at Q2eBanking, each discussed their personal experiences and tips to best align the two functional groups that often have competing interests.

Here is a summary of a few take-aways:

  • The importance of rapport. First off, develop a relationship with your technical or financial counterpart. Go to lunch, dinner, golfing – whatever it takes to build a trusting rapport. Creating a cadence of how you manage business and allocate resources will pay off for you both.
  • Alignment. How do IT programs fit in with overall business objectives? IT and Finance should collectively identify and align priorities, then plan and sequence them in accordance with the overall business initiatives. This will keep everyone on task and on the same page.
  • Accountability. Create metrics for everything, and share them. KPI (key performance indicator) measurement and reporting is imperative. Since IT is a service, don’t forget to include customer satisfaction as a KPI.
  • Escalate the IT image. If your IT department is perceived as desktop support, shift that perception. Until IT is escalated and treated as an integral part of operational planning, success will be limited.
  • Tech speak. Finance execs should gain a solid understanding of standard IT terminology and systems. Learn, read, study. Consider obtaining some level of technical certification in order to be most effective in your role.
  • Look further ahead. Create a five to eight year IT budget based on business projections; three to five years is not enough. And don’t forget to budget for the unforeseen details, like repair and replacement of computers.
  • Separate, but equal. Organizations should separate its technical groups — IT from product development/engineering. These groups should also report to different execs, if possible.
  • Communication style. Finance leaders need to be good listeners. Seek to understand, and then to be understood. Rather than general open-ended questions, ask the specific “who, what, when, where, why’s” to develop the best understanding of IT needs, ideas and perspectives.
  • Consider outsourcing. If you can’t help, get out of the way. Whether you are a CFO or an IT leader, don’t be a choke point. Outsource specialized projects rather than holding things up. (e.g., websites related to marketing that would suck resources from your internal group)