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11/9/2009
08:46 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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CIOs Flaunt Risk, Say CFOs

A recent panel discussion called "CFO/CIO Straight Talk" revealed that some finance chiefs believe their IT leaders don't have a good grasp on risk management and are still too eager to pursue big-bang projects. Looking inward, those same CFOs say their own lack of imagination is also a problem.

A recent panel discussion called "CFO/CIO Straight Talk" revealed that some finance chiefs believe their IT leaders don't have a good grasp on risk management and are still too eager to pursue big-bang projects. Looking inward, those same CFOs say their own lack of imagination is also a problem.From a CFO.com article:

It's a Catch-22 typical of the conflicts businesses have faced amid the recession. They're looking to information-technology departments for efficiency and productivity, to be sure. But their retrenched budgets may strain their ability to make the full investment needed to meet those goals.

In that environment, the divergent agendas of CFOs and chief information officers may contrast even more than usual. Finance chiefs, for instance, want to avoid major risks and know exactly what IT projects will cost, while CIOs are likely to push ambitious ideas they believe could transform the company.

And those ambitious ideas can also serve to tank the credibility of CIOs who push them without having done a rigorous ROI analysis, said one CFO quoted in the article: "Stop saying that it's going to produce 2,000% ROI. Nobody believes you."

Fair enough. But even if we allow for some New York-sized bloviation-exaggeration on that figure-let's slash it by 90% to a less-absurd ROI calculation of 200%--I'll be that barely one out of 10 of you has submitted in the past three years a business case with an ROI projection of 200%.

But perhaps I'm wrong, and maybe this frustrated CFO is on the mark. Over the past couple of years, as budgets have gotten tighter than two coats of cheap paint, have CIOs had to resort to outlandish claims such as ROI of 2,000% in order to get approval to spend any money? Do these CFOs have a point about the state of credibility CIOs have among C-level peers?

At least one of the CFO speakers at the event said the key is to balance the creativity coming out of the business-technology team with vital business needs:

Frank Gatti, head of finance at Educational Testing Service, told of a new online product the company had developed for students to use in registering for admittance to business schools in India. The idea IT came up with was a video with two people talking users through the registration process. ETS posted it on YouTube and provided a link to the video at the registration site. At a cost of virtually nothing, the tactic pushed down call-center costs related to the new product by 20% from what had been expected.

"I feel I have to rely on people who are much more creative and understand how technology can connect to what customers are doing," said Gatti.

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