You can't run a company without technology, but you can't invest in technology without the blessings of the finance department. And thanks to the stagnant economy, the pendulum of power between Finance and IT is swinging decidedly toward the chief financial officer's door these days.
"The power dynamic in the C-suite really does change when the economic times are difficult," says Bob Martins, a CFO partner at Tatum LLC, an executive services firm headquartered in Atlanta. "And right now, any kind of spending decision requires much more scrutiny."
All of this means that now is an excellent time for you, as an IT manager, to hear what Finance has to say. Computerworld asked several CFOs what message they'd most like to get through to their top technologists.
Say goodbye to bells and whistles
During better economic times, Don MacKenzie, CFO and chief operating officer at Accounting Management Solutions Inc., could be persuaded to buy a more expensive system if it offered nice-to-have usability options or extra functionality.
But these days, the age-old battle between cost and functionality is being won by cost. So when the Waltham, Mass.-based professional services firm needed new customer relationship management software, MacKenzie told his CIO at the outset, "Maybe we don't need the Cadillac. Our problem might be better solved using a Chevy solution."
MacKenzie expected the CIO to deliver an analysis that looked at several systems -- something he has always done, in good times and bad -- detailing how much each one cost, the features offered and what type of ROI each one could be expected to deliver. But MacKenzie admits that given the financial pressure, the weight was almost all on the cost side of the equation.
"I'm not suggesting that there wouldn't have been a financial analysis [in the past]," MacKenzie continues, "but the focus then would have been more on functionality and on [the software's] tie-in to other applications. That might have overridden the financial considerations."
These days, that's not the case. One of the options the CIO presented was "a 300-pound gorilla with all the bells," MacKenzie says, "but we went with one that was a lot cheaper."
Play with the toys you already have
Tibco Software Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., has made significant investments in IT in the past, including the acquisition of an ERP system. So before Executive Vice President and CFO Sydney Carey opens the coffers to buy more hardware or software, she wants to make sure that the company is making full use of its current resources.
"The recession has focused us more on the fact that we've made investments," she says, "so we need to ask, 'Are we really getting all we can from them?'"
Specifically, Carey explains, "we needed to leverage our systems, automating or integrating or getting the right information to the right people at the right time to make decisions" -- but without making any more big investments in infrastructure.
That meant working with the CIO and the IT staff to get more value from the ERP system. Carey had the IT staff add business process management software and other programs to the ERP front end to make the company's order fulfillment system run more efficiently.