Message to CIOs: Keep Your Friends Close and Your CFOs Closer
By Tony Kontzer
The CFO's steady encroachment of the CIO role continues.
The latest compelling evidence of this trend comes courtesy of financial services giant Credit Suisse, which late last month reacted to the departure of CIO Karl Landert by giving his job to CFO David Mathers.
CEO Brady Dougan said in a prepared statement that "The integration of our Finance, Operations and IT functions will support the evolution of the bank's strategy, while reinforcing the importance of sustaining overall cost efficiency and organizational flexibility and of developing a single operating platform for the bank."
Translation: "Now that we squeezed all the important integration work out of him and are prepared to go into cruise control, we don't need no stinkin' CIO."
Let's be very clear -- this is not a company that made a strategic decision to eliminate the CIO position, as J.C. Penney recently did. It's the lock-stock-and-barrel handing of the CIO post to the CFO, and a stark reminder of the CFO's steady evolution into the dark lord of IT (in other words, the one holding the purse strings).
Anyone who has any lingering doubts that large numbers of corporations will entrust their IT organizations to their chief bean-counters might want to check out a recent report from CFO.com that all but declares that CFOs are the actual CIOs anyway. Consider this line from the report, authored by Martha Heller, president of CIO recruitment firm Heller Search Associates:
"It behooves CFOs to think about what kind of CIO their company will need to employ down the road. Better to identify the right kind of leader and groom him or her than to do a rip and replace at the 11th hour."
So apparently it's now the job of the CFO to identify and groom CIO prospects? When did the CIO role become that of a sort of executive apprentice? Couple this with the growing tendency -- documented on Wikipedia, of all places -- of CEOs to look upon CFOs as their key advisors in the executive suite, and it's easy to see how the CFO has emerged as the biggest threat to the CIO's standing in the corporate hierarchy. (And it goes a long way toward explaining why so many CFOs think the CIO role is on its way out.)
It's quite possible that the steady rise of the CFO at the expense of the CIO can be traced to the passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act in 2002. For those who've tried to forget, Sarbanes Oxley was a reaction to a series of accounting scandals, most notably the infamous Enron debacle. It created a huge burden on IT to develop systems that would ensure comprehensive auditing of accounting procedures in an effort to protect unwitting investors. It also, for better or worse, created much stronger ties between finance and IT -- which has apparently evolved into much stronger oversight of IT by finance.
The only way for CIOs to fight this is to ensure they're more than caretakers for a company's IT systems. And no, I'm not referring to that tired "make yourself familiar with the business" mantra, which is clearly a good idea but, hey, where has that gotten most CIOs?
Rather, I'm suggesting something much more dramatic -- like perhaps CIOs should seriously consider brushing up on their finance skills, and do a better job of sidling up to their CEOs. Then, maybe, they can turn the tables one day.