In an era when organizations have to move forward quickly with innovative -- often expensive -- tech initiatives, CIOs and CFOs may have to form a partnership.
Digital transformation is driving huge organizational changes, not the least of which is the evolving relationships of CIOs and CFOs.
Traditionally, the two roles have been somewhat at odds because CIOs must continually invest in technologies and CFOs are ultimately responsible for financial performance. In today's' highly competitive business environment, CIOs and CFOs need to partner at a strategic level to drive growth and enable organizational agility.
From old school to new school
Data provider Dun & Bradstreet is going through a digital transformation that allows the 176-year-old company to behave and compete like a much younger entity. To get there, the CFO and former CIO (now Chief Content and Technology Officer) are working in partnership to set strategies and execute them.
"We come together quite a lot because what we're trying to drive is more innovation at a faster clip in a more efficient way," said Richard Veldran, CFO of Dun & Bradstreet. "It all comes down to data and technology which is at the core of many of the things we're trying to get done here."
As the sheer amount of data continues to grow exponentially, Dun & Bradstreet has more opportunities to drive growth by monetizing data. However, to do that, the CFO and CTO need to work as partners.
"So much of it now depends on the alignment of your technical capabilities and investments," said Curtis Brown, chief content and technology officer at the firm. "Rich and I spend a lot more time talking about our strategy and our execution against that strategy. I would say that's the single biggest change."
The partnership allows Veldran and Brown to allocate resources more effectively and make joint decisions about where to invest and how to invest. They're also working together in a lean agile fashion which enables them to accomplish more in less time while reducing the risk of big project failures.
Focused on high growth
Hitachi Vantara CIO Renee McKaskle and CFO Lori Varlas act as if they're co-founders and, in a way, they are. Both women were hired into their respective positions about two years ago to spearhead digital transformation. Years before, Varlas and McKaskle had become acquainted while working at Peoplesoft.
"We're two women in non-traditional women's roles, so from the get-go, we bonded on the common vision of where we're going to take this company and how our individual skills and experiences added to that story and towards that journey," said Varlas. "I think the other thing that bonded us was time is not our friend, particularly in terms of technology, so we had quickly align on what the business strategy was and figure out how we leverage our own backgrounds and experiences to make that vision a reality."
They both say it's important to learn from each other, listen to each other and be aligned on the vision or outcome.
"As we work really closely with the business, things come up. Someone might approach Renee or [me] for different purposes, but it springs to mind, 'Has Renee's cybersecurity team looked at that?' " said Varlas. Or, "Does Lori know about that for investment purposes?" said McKaskle." There's a bit of a tag team going there because we both have a common understanding and purpose of how it fits together."
Empathy is key
Cross-functional collaboration is necessary to drive effective digital transformation; however, everyone interviewed for this blog said empathy for the other person's role is critical.
"I can sometimes be a propeller head, but to think more empathically and as a partnership toward the enablement and delivery of the operation of the company, that's where folks sometimes get stuck," said Dun & Bradstreet's Brown. "CFOs do have to put pressure on delivering a certain set of results within a certain financial framework while [CIOs and] CTOs are trying to drive technical improvements that often require investment."
As businesses undergo digital transformation, the CIO and CFO have to move quickly and in unison. The best results come when they're aligned on the business outcomes they've trying to achieve. That alignment also helps CIOs and CFOs overcome some of the tensions that stem from traditionally separate roles.
Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include ... View Full Bio
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