The CFO: The CIO’s New Best Friend?

When it comes to getting executive support for their IT projects, CIOs may find surprise allies in chief financial officers and finance directors at their corporations.

A survey of nearly 300 CFOs and finance pros, conducted by CFO Research Services and sponsored by tech services firm Getronics, found that their attitudes toward IT spending are changing for the better. Whereas CFOs have often looked at IT spending as a weighty cost to the company, more and more are viewing IT now as a “value center” capable of driving corporate revenues and profits. They also see information technology as a competitive tool and a means to enhance shareholder value.

According to the survey results, CFOs are looking at the total value of ownership, rather than the total cost of ownership, when considering IT investments.

The survey’s results signal good news for CIOs who continually tout return-on-investment and benchmarking figures as they justify new projects. The fact that more CFOs are taking an increased interest in IT budgets and getting involved in the planning process should be a positive sign for IT pros.

“This research shows a fundamental shift in the way that CFOs view IT
investment as a result of the changing role of IT within their businesses,” according to Kevin Roche, president of North America Getronics Infrastructure Services. “The data shows that IT investments are being considered in a new light – how IT can make the organization more efficient and profitable. By creating ‘value’ IT can generate revenue and improve customer service for a significant impact on the bottom line.”

The survey shows that CFOs are determined to invest in IT projects that promise a strategic and a financial return over the long term. Sixty-four percent are conducting ROI anaylsis and 63 percent are researching the projected payback period for IT investments.

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More than half (57%) report they consider IT infrastructure to be a “significant factor” in merger and acquisition activities.

A focus on customers is high in the minds of CFOs when they look at IT investments: 80 percent of respondents view improved customer service as “crucial” or “very important” for IT investment over the next 12 to 18 months. Only 69 percent say they’re investing in IT to reduce operating costs.

Mary Driscoll, president of CFO Research Services, said the trend has been building among CFOs, but “this is the first time we’ve been able to indicate that CFOs are the key decision-makers in technology strategy and demonstrate that they are moving away from the traditional project accounting role.”

In-depth findings of the survey, which polled 288 CFOs or other finance executives at U.S. and European corporations, include:

  • 58 percent of CFOs play an active role in IT project decisions, including final spending, governance, or resource decisions, and 20% of the financial officers surveyed spend more than a quarter of their time on IT management issues.
  • Respondents recognize IT as integral to business prosperity with 95 percent citing IT as a requirement for business process improvement and 58 percent indicating IT is an important driver of profit growth – a sign they view resources spent on IT as an investment rather than simply as a way to reduce costs.
  • 80 percent see IT as a way to improve operating processes and
    customer services. As a competitive tool, 67 percent says they have improved decision making with real time analytics while six out of ten are using IT to enhance financial planning, forecasting, and budgeting.

Belgium-based Getronics is a global information communication and technology services and solutions company with U.S. headquarters in Billerica, Mass. CFO Research Services is a unit of CFO Publishing Corp., Boston, Mass., the publisher of CFO Magazine.

David Aponovich is senior editor of CIN. Email him at [email protected]