Quarterback Of Change: CFOs Step Up To Lead Technology Initiatives

Colin Sampson

Whenever dynamic market or economic conditions warrant a shift in the way your operation runs, someone has to take charge of change. C-level executives typically step forward to lead these initiatives. But when technology systems are involved, most leaders traditionally yield to the CIO.

Until now. In the last year, I’ve noticed that CFOs are increasingly assuming a much larger role in choosing and implementing new technology. Although they are willing to work with CIOs and line of business leaders, CFOs are clearly taking control of new projects that will help their companies reimagine business performance and enable real transformation.

What’s behind this shift?

Even 12 months ago, most companies expected CIOs to develop a strategy for technology-related issues such as Big Data, analytics and reporting, cybersecurity, and enterprise mobility. But as the pressure rises to enhance compliance, reduce costs, and mitigate risk, financial execs increasingly recognize that they require more innovative technology to reach their goals.

CFOs want technology that supports a live view of business performance across the company to support executive decision making. They want to be able to interact with data and issues in the moment – live – digging into data, visualizing performance, and predicting what’s likely to happen next. Instead of relying on discrete reporting solutions that present data in a static, isolated way, they want a harmonized, single source of truth about key business metrics that delivers instant insight and predictive analytics.

Realizing this vision almost always requires a radical change of systems and processes and often the introduction of shared services. Organizations must discover where data currently resides, centralize it onto a core digital platform, and create business intelligence that supports real-time decision making.

As a result, CFOs are taking a greater interest in IT systems and demanding influence over the decisions once controlled by CIOs alone. The CFO is the logical person to ensure that technology is chosen with a laser focus on data integrity, risk management, compliance, and governance.

Making change a team effort

Yet most CFOs understand that they must act as quarterback, bringing together the financial needs of the company, the technology know-how of the CIO, and the day-to-day requirements of each line of business. By leading this team, the CFO can help the business gain maximum value from a technology-fueled transformation.

In Australia, the CFO of a large real estate company is currently building a strong digital core to serve as the foundation for essential change. Instead of relying on a narrow accounting view, this executive is working with the CIO, various lines of business, and the board to create a holistic technology solution that will act as a true enabler of the mission.

At another company I visited in the Far East, the CIO has taken the opposite view. Instead of partnering with the CFO and other executives, he actively excludes them from decision making about new software and hardware. I suspect the CIO is merely protecting his turf in the hopes that maintaining exclusive control over technology will delay his inevitable loss of power.

That’s the wrong approach. When individual egos reign, companies end up with solutions in silos that make it impossible to build a core digital platform to deliver a single version of the truth. When business leaders work together, success typically follows.

CFOs play a pivotal role in executing change. Those CFOs who partner with CIOs and the leaders of the business will be in the best position to reimagine business performance through innovative technology.

Learn more about thriving in the digital economy. Download this report from CFO Research and learn how finance professionals can leverage innovative collaboration and reporting and analytics technologies to help them strategically guide businesses toward profitable growth.

Colin Sampson

About Colin Sampson

Colin Sampson is the senior vice president and SAP Ambassador for the Asia-Pacific and Japan region, and a former regional CFO for SAP. He is responsible for building long-term relationships with strategic and key customers across the region.