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CIOs: Are you your CEO's business partner or their gimp?

A Machiavellian guide for the modern CIO

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Chief Finance Officer: 'Money is much more exciting than anything it buys'

You need to be a special type of person to be really into finance as a career. Those who rise to the top of the profession are the most special of all.

CIOs need to walk a fine line when building a relationship with the CFO. As noted above, CFOs view CIOs as a source of unpleasant balance sheet surprises.

How, then, to get them to put away the cost management scalpel, stop them using words like "amortisation", and get them to stop pulling out their career management chainsaw?

It is a rare CFO indeed who is interested in doing anything new. You can’t demonstrate a cost reduction on something you are doing for the first time and this confuses them. The technology industry reinvents itself every 18 months, the finance industry reinvents itself... ummmm, well it hasn’t yet, but we live in hope. (Even the change from the barter system to a system based on currency relies on us all pretending that we are bartering invisible gold.)

Even though they won’t admit it out loud, CFOs secretly think that there is nothing that can’t be done with either Excel or - in the most extreme scenarios - a Microsoft Access database. While you are standing there pitching that shiny new ERP project to them they are thinking “five spreadsheets and two Access databases max”.

The big consultancies all know this; Excel skills are the primary quality they look for when loitering outside university gates wearing trench coats and promising boiled sweets to the children passing by. All partners at big consultancies have only reached that level because they have learned the secret skill of making a pivot table do a complete rendition of that Kevin Bacon sequence from Flashdance.

So how do you get the CFO to put away the ball gag and the riding crop and let you attend all the interesting M&A meetings?

Show them you control their fate. One way to do this is buy 1,000 lima beans and some coloured pens and dump the lot – minus bean 672 – on the CFO's desk.

About three days later, when the CFO is starting to show signs of stress, visit the dishevelled and pale creature that now hisses at you from the dark corner and give them bean 672.

The look of naked lust, longing, gratitude and relief on his face may move you to tears, but be strong as this experience will be enough to set your relationship off to a spectacular start and by the end of the day you are more than likely to be totally plastered, in a tattoo parlour on the wrong side of town both having 672 permanently etched onto your preferred tattoo-bearing buttock.

The minor C-levels

I am going to switch to semi-serious mode now to explain how to get off to a good start with the big cheese, the boss, the head honcho, etc, but first I will explain why I left a couple of other C-words out.

  • Chief R&D Officer: These guys totally think they could run IT better than you.

    Don’t take offence; they totally think they could run every department better than the person responsible for it. It is a character flaw of the very intelligent. He or she is a smart operator, but that intellect didn’t leave any room for a personality or sense of social appropriateness.

    They think that they know better than everyone and there is no point trying to convince them otherwise.

    If they can remain convinced that socks and sandals is a perfectly good fashion combination, how on earth are you going to convince them that they don’t need a 16-core Xeon server connected to a Fibre Channel SAN for their home theatre set-up?

    Leave this relationship alone, it is impossible to win and everyone else ignores them anyway.

  • Chief Supply Chain officer – This one doesn’t need any tricks, he is probably a good guy in a tough job and is easy enough to get on side just by showing an interest in what he does (no one else tends to). Slipping the occasional “Robotics Monthly” journal into his executive bathroom would also go a long way towards nurturing a healthy relationship.

Chief Executive Officer: 'I am the state'

The key to understanding your CEO is to recognise that he or she believes the I in CIO stands for three things.

One is information, which needs no further explanation.

The second is insight, which is what a CEO wants from information.

The third I is “immediately”, which is when your CEO wants information turned into insight.

Your CEO therefore wants you to be a CIIIO – a Chief Information and Immediate Insight Officer.

Every CEO in the world wants better quality information faster. The days of waiting for month-end (or even quarter-end) to see what has been going on are over. They want information in real time and if you have followed the advice above you have just cemented a set of relationships that will help you deliver just that.

But to be an effective CIIIO, your work is not done.

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Next page: CIIIOs hit the road

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