How to Manage the CIO / CFO Relationship

The relationship between Chief Information Officers and Chief Financial Officers sits at the intersection of technology, financial, investment, and business strategy. Learn about research from Workday and Deloitte.


Dec 22, 2021

The relationship between Chief Information Officers and Chief Financial Officers sits at the intersection of technology, financial, investment, and business strategy. As the focus on digital initiatives continues to expand, CIO / CFO collaboration has become increasingly important.

An effective CIO / CFO partnership enables organizations to transform outdated processes, drive top-line growth through innovation, and support change initiatives faster than ever before.

We spoke with Deloitte’s Bill Briggs about joint research with Workday on topics related to the CIO / CFO relationship.

The conversation includes these topics:

Bill Briggs is the Chief Technology Officer for Deloitte Consulting LLP, former global lead of Deloitte Digital, and a Director in the US technology practice. As CTO, Bill is responsible for helping to define the vision for Deloitte's technology services, identifying and communicating technology trends affecting clients’ businesses, and shaping the strategy for Deloitte’s emerging services and offerings.


Bill Briggs: You don't have to do it alone. The best organizations are saying, we want to co-invest. We want to partner strategically with joint R&D. The centers are completely aligned. How do we actually grow and transform our business?

About the CIO / CFO research partnership with Workday

Michael Krigsman: We're speaking with Bill Briggs, Global Chief Technology Officer of Deloitte. Bill, tell us about the research you did with Workday on the CIO/CFO relationship.

Bill Briggs: It was 600 execs globally, and it was focused on digital finance transformation. In the past, we've talked about the broader opportunity in front of us. Think about just pure innovation, new business models, new products or services. How do we rethink how business processes are done?

What I really liked about this research is it homed in on the important function of finance and said, "What would it look like if we thought about finance transformation differently?" A few things came to the forefront.

One, a small percentage of CIOs were what we called the progressive CIO, which is basically the highest where they're looking at it from a different lens than just the rote, "How do we take the tasks and processes of finance and automate them a little bit more efficiently?"

They are really looking at it and saying, "How do we build this finance function for what the future of this broad tech investment, tech innovation has to be able to support?"

There are a few things that came out of that we can dig into, but it was really taking (in some way) a more bounded lens that reinforced a lot of our findings on the broader innovation topic that we think is going to be the competitive edge of our time.

Why is the CIO / CFO relationship strategic?

Michael Krigsman: Bill, why is this CIO/CFO relationship topic so important at this point?

Bill Briggs: You still have a lot of CIOs that report into the CFO, though I think that's a legacy relationship and is certainly changing. We're seeing more and more tech executives – one, even the name "CIO" is starting to be challenged. Is that too much of yesterday's thinking? Should we be something different: a chief digital transformation officer, a chief technology officer that includes the IT function?

You have that still relationship as really important. More importantly than that, the CFO has to be the one that understands, endorses, and advocates for a broader technology spend.

In the past, there's been somewhat of an adversarial relationship. If IT was a cost center that the best we could do is ask for some percentage reduction of spend year-to-year without sacrificing the bare bones of efficiency and reliability.

Now, we're saying, "Hey, how do we look at technology investments as maybe the most strategic deployment of capital in the enterprise?" If we want to do that, one, the CFO can't just begrudgingly accept it. They have to be part of forming and advocating a strategy.

The way we've always thought about finance in relation to IT has to change. This is a really interesting point in time where there's so much opportunity in front of us and, in a way, both organizations each have to rise and reimagine themselves. Doing it together gives us such a better chance to achieve what really matters, which is the business growth, the strategy.

Digital transformation and the CIO / CFO relationship

Michael Krigsman: Digital transformation has really pushed enterprise technology to be in the forefront for many, many organizations. Is that part of the change that you're seeing here, part of the reason why now is the time to look at this CIO/CFO relationship?

Bill Briggs: Tech transformation (for a long time) was always hard, but it would be multi-year. In a lot of ways, it was trying to solve a pretty well-known problem with a pretty well-known solution.

It was, how do we implement ERP globally across all of our manufacturing facilities from warehouses to distribution? In finance, how do we think about the treasury function, the AR / AP function? How do we think about the broader underlying pieces of finance?

By the way, those are still really important. What the study isn't trying to do is say, "Let's take our eye off the ball." There's still a lot of modernization that has to happen.

The difference is, digital transformation has actually shifted the emphasis on: How do we invest in unknowns? How do we help shape and make markets and futures? And increasingly, "[How] do [we do] that with emerging technology?"

Increasingly, that new opportunity is less about cost containment and more about value creation, about growth and financial performance.

And so, we're at this place where it requires significant spend. It's a different kind of spend, though. It's not, let's go to the board and have a nine-figure, five-year business case. It's more about, how do we incrementally and iteratively invest in the things that we know are going to become the building blocks of new opportunity? That is going to have to piggyback and revitalize a lot of the existing assets that we have.

There's this really great mix of, we have to invest more in uncertain futures, and we want to say, instead of bet, we want to build the future. We don't want to bet on the future. We want to build the future. But the future isn't going to let you have the same systems behaving the same way and be ready for all the opportunity in front of you.

Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that you're almost reconstructing the CIO/CFO relationship around innovation, transformation, and growth, as opposed to the historical focus on efficiency and cost-savings, as you were describing earlier.

Bill Briggs: Yeah. Exactly.

We did an innovation study, which was a nice complement to the CIO/CFO study. When we asked hundreds of execs—some tech execs and a lot of business execs, CEOs, and line of business leaders—80% of the tech execs said that the IT executive, the tech executive needed to be the one to champion these innovation costs. That's not surprising.

In fact, I was almost surprised about the other 20% that thought that that wasn't the agreement. What was more telling was 68% of the non-tech executives said it needs to be the tech leader doesn't own the entire transformation, but they have to have a formative role in sparking the ambition and helping drive the really dramatic change that has to be there.

Yeah, the fact that the CIO has to play in that role and, at the same time, the CFO was looking to say, "What is the modern finance organization? What is the modern finance executive that isn't just aware of the spend but is deeply helping shape and advocate for a different posture towards technology investment?"

You think of the two pillars that have to be able to rise up in this moment is the keeper of capital and is the keeper of technology direction. It's establishing that tone.

By the way, the other finding in the report was progressive CIOs actually see investment in digital finance transformation as much about how do we ready the underlying data for unknown uses tomorrow, as it is about the existing workflow and processes in automating them in a better, more efficient, more user-friendly way. How do we make sure big investments like finance transformation get us closer to being ready for whatever comes next?

What is a “progressive CIO”?

Michael Krigsman: Bill, you've used this term "progressive CIO" several times. Can you tell us what that means?

Bill Briggs: It really is the very small percentage in this study that we did that live up to this full potential. We have this idea of the different archetypes of CIOs.

For a while, we'd say they were basically a trusted operator, which is probably the historical definition of a CIO: Very low on the technology, worried mostly about uptime, efficiency, and cost containment.

We had the business co-creator, which was basically the seat at the table and being relevant in helping not just provide solutions but help shape a better understanding of the problem.

Then we had a change instigator—which I used to say William Wallace, but any student in history or cinema, I guess, would know it doesn't end well, so we don't want that image, maybe—the idea that someone is actually leading the charge in helping shape what we really should be thinking about, what true north, what ambitions should be.

Actually, we need tech execs to be moving toward that change instigator role. It doesn't mean that the other two go away, but they become embedded in your teams. They become embedded in your platform and operations. It's less about the active pursuit of the leader and more of an outcome of the broader work.

We shift to say it's very clear that needs to be the point, and we've called it Kinetic Leadership in studies before. They play nicely together. The progressive CIO lights up a very specific use case of what that kinetic leader needs to look like.

Michael Krigsman: What does that look like, that partnership, the CIO/CFO partnership, when it's really working well in the context of innovation and in the context of having a progressive CIO?

Bill Briggs: One of my clients – they'd be effectively a Fortune 20 – their CFO is the one that makes the argument of why there should be more tech investment. If you just want to talk in very banal terms, the fact that the CFO is the one arguing "Why can't we expand the budget into these areas that are driving innovation?"

They look at it as the best deployment of capital that they have versus any acquisition or any new product development. That the wholesale, the return on investment is in IT.

Now, to the CIO's credit, they've been very intentional about telling the story of that tech investment portfolio in ways that resonate with the CFO and with the CEO. Effectively, they use it to the board and to the Street to talk about why they're doing the things they're doing and how they're doing the things they're doing: Making sure expectations are clear, that there's a portfolio of investments, and some of them [have] ill-defined returns but a lot of upside. That's an important part of saying that we're not just short-sighted on today, but we're making investments in futures.

Characteristics of highly innovative Chief Information Officers

Michael Krigsman: What are the characteristics of a CIO who can carry this kind of relationship? You mentioned communication, explaining why, and collaboration as being important attributes. But what makes work (from the CIO side)?

Bill Briggs: You could say storytelling. That idea of the mission and able to articulate the mission in a compelling way, that's the first piece.

I think maybe the more important one is looking at their world from the lines of the business back, which is market back, product back, line of business back, function and domain processes back as well. But that's a different kind of savviness of a tech exec that has either lived in the business and able to bring that into the post or, more likely, that they just invested in understanding the business deeply to be able to come back.

You might roll your eyes and say that seems like the biggest cliché in the world. But it matters and there's a different level of trust that you can see.

Again, you see that with the line of business leaders, and typically CIOs on this journey will find a pocket of the business that believes there has to be change and are willing to lean in and invest in a different way to be able to prove it can work. You start building that because most folks around the C-suite (or across that broader GM and business unit owner) are pretty quick to try to adopt success.

The core tech piece of it doesn't go away. It doesn't mean that every technology executive has to be a deep technologist, but they damn well need to be able to stand in front of a highly effective technology organization if they want to be able to talk about something more.

Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I'm wrong then. What I hear you saying is operational excellence, deep, deep understanding of the business, deep understanding of the underlying technologies. All of these are table stakes for a CIO who wants to be that top cream of the crop, progressive CIO that you've been talking about.

Bill Briggs: We have to rethink how we structure investment and how we execute against the technology agenda in a modern way, which is taking advantage of ecosystems. How do we not just build or buy but assemble pieces of capabilities from cloud providers, open-source, and startups to be able to bring something new, and do it in a way that's committed? Everything we do should be market back, have a real reason for existence, and be iterative to prove the value almost like a startup or a VC within a big organization.

We're going to invest in things just enough to be able to prove that there's a high confidence in return. We continue to invest and have enough of those going that you feel good that you're not going to be caught flatfooted.

When you say it, you can see why there's only 8% of CIOs living up to that full potential because it's a lot. But there's no more exciting time to be a tech exec with the opportunity in front of us.

Innovation investment and the CIO

Michael Krigsman: In addition to the traditional CIO functions, you're really talking about a sophisticated understanding of innovation investment, how innovation supports the underlying corporate strategy, and all of the financial aspects that go along with that as well.

Bill Briggs: I think this is the biggest for large organizations. Innovation is a woefully ill-defined discipline, still.

There's a change, in the midst, and I think this is where digital transformation gets real. Can we be very intentional about things as simple as, what are our objectives for our innovation investments?

The study we did showed that the majority still had cost advantages is what they're trying to get out of innovation, which was surprising and maybe even a little disappointing. The high growth companies, the vast majority said it was for financial performance and growth, which I guess that speaks for itself.

You've got, "We're going to centralize. We're going to federate," as a key decision. As we do that, there's a piece that you want to make innovation as close to the business as it can get. There's also the piece that you don't want to have each part of your organization standing up, competing investments in some of those same underlying capabilities.

How do you think about what is a better, modern engineering backbone that we want to deploy across? Is there an AI platform that we want to start investing in that all the different teams could share?

Even as simple as, should we have sensing, scouting, and ecosystem relationship managers that are out looking for interesting, new players that could help us solve problems differently or problems we didn't even know we had, and do that in a way where it's not just the eureka of a random connection that you go long on a company without being intentional about who else is out there and what else could we be doing.

When you think about innovation budgets, if it's year-to-year where initiatives are fighting for their own existence, is the annual budget cycle when you almost have to justify every year, it's really hard to do bigger, bolder things.

One of the things we looked at was what percentage of investment is actually protected multi-year. It's still a really small percentage.

Going back to the CFO, if that's going to change, that's something that the CFO has to completely sponsor and support. They're going to expect some kind of a return, some kind of a confidence behind it. The more that that's a portfolio of investment, the higher your confidence can be. It's that balance of rigor with the portfolio lens that allow yourself to do some bold things that will take time.

The hardest thing – and we've found this even internally as I help lead our investments in hybrid businesses and helping make and shape markets from Deloitte's lens – is stopping things. How do you make it not that we're celebrating failure, but we're saying everything is a hypothesis and we learn from it?

We have the discipline to go and say, "We're not learning. We're spending money in this experimentation cycle but there's no hypothesis we're actually challenging and learning from. That's a failure."

That you doing hypotheses where you're experimenting but you're not learning, or you have something that continues because it's some executive's pet project that isn't being killed. That's the way to have innovation continue to have a shroud over it in an organization because it's impossible to pick a full slate of winners every time. You've got to be able to say no and stop.

How can CIOs and CFOs work together effectively?

Michael Krigsman: Well, certainly, the balancing of resources and the investment decisions is one of the hardest aspects of business, but all of this begs the question of how can CFOs and CIOs together drive this kind of optimal scenario and relationship that you've just been describing?

Bill Briggs: Part of it, and it sounds like 101, is that most IT organizations don't have good line of sight into their existing spend, much less the expected return behind the spend. There are continuing to be core tech investments that have to be made because of scalability, because of change in security postures, or because of just hitting the end of life on some existing legacy infrastructure applications that just need investment to modernize.

Those are really important but telling the story of why is something that most tech execs and organizations don't do well, this idea that we're going to give line of sight to the collection of investments we have, we're going to be able to drive a conversation, "Do we think these match our broader corporate strategy, business strategy, or if there's a government agency mission strategy?"

It's very easy to say one thing about our intent. Then when you actually measure where resources are being spent, you could see if that's aligned or not.

Then from a tech org, to be able to make sure that the things that are happening under core modernization or legacy renewal aren't being looked at as just, "Well, that's the tech, the IT shop wasting money or burning dollars." No, that's actually of incredible, strategic importance. But tell it in ways that the business would actually appreciate.

Some of it is going to be just stability of operations. Some of it is going to be the foundation we need for innovation and growth. In the study with Workday, a piece of it was showing how we have an iterative approach to core modernization that allows us to address some of those underlying concerns but do it in a way that's tied to bigger concerns.

Challenges in the CIO / CFO relationship

Michael Krigsman: Bill, as we finish up, are there common obstacles, patterns, challenges that tend to arise, and how do we solve those?

Bill Briggs: The first one is talent – across the board. When we say modern tech organizations, building modern engineering function, or building this innovation team, the skillsets that you need are in short supply.

I think that talent of CIO and the CFO need to step up to live to the potential we've been describing. The hard reality is not everyone that holds the title today can get there.

Part of our study, our global tech exec study, was that we don't think it's nature or nurture. It's not like only the folks that are built with a different kind of skillset have a chance to succeed in this role, but it requires some pretty intentional growth on the individual level to think about your priorities, how you're spending time, the team you're putting around yourself, the relationships you're cultivating, the story that you're bringing to talk about what your mission is, and how successful or not your organization is.

Now, the good news is, you don't have to do it alone. The best organizations are saying, "We want to co-invest. We want to partner strategically. We want to move from this being a procurement-based exercise where we pick software providers and contractors to go screw it in," to say, "We want to have joint R&D capability, capital, all jointly where centers are completely aligned, and how do we actually grow and transform our business."

That's the message of hope.

Michael Krigsman: That's why we need both CIO transformation and CFO transformation. It requires everybody working together.

Bill Briggs: Again, it's not about alignment. I think that's too passive of a word. This isn't bringing the CIO a strategy and letting them play Siskel and Ebert. The lights come on and they say [thumbs up or thumbs down]. They have to be not just a co-director but maybe even on the set with you to make sure that that vision is being clear and it's shared, real, genuine, and there's a conviction to follow through.

The good news is, we're seeing it happen. Eight percent is a lot better than zero percent. Hopefully, if we did this survey again in a year, with everything that's happened this last two years, the commitment to invest more in technology is there. The question is, do we fall back in the old patterns or do we use this as a reset to take full advantage of the world in front of us?

I know where I vote. Yeah. [Laughter]

Michael Krigsman: I'll take that as an invitation to come back and talk with you in a year.

Bill Briggs: I love it. Hopefully, I'll be back at home with pinball machines, guitars, and a little bit more interesting backdrop. I'm in the office today, so I was glad we were able to do it, but I'll see you at home next time.

Michael Krigsman: Great. Bill Briggs, Chief Technology Officer of Deloitte, thank you so much.

Bill Briggs: Thanks, Michael. It was a pleasure.

Published Date: Dec 22, 2021

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 736