How have FD views on technlogy changed?
Partner, leader transforming finance, PricewaterhouseCoopers
FD’s views on technology have fundamentally changed over the past 10 years or
so, particularly as companies realise that a lot of their future, and future
aspirations, are inextricably linked to IT.
A lot of CFOs have come to realise that they need to understand much more
about IT than they ever did before. And those who are aspiring to become CEOs
really need to have a much better understanding of IT and what it can do for the
I liken it to a journey. Both IT and finance have the same customer, which is
the business they serve. And that business is on a journey, which is generally
to improve performance.
Most of us don’t start on a journey without knowing how to get there – which
route to take, in other words. So, the first point is, you’ve got to know where
I think the finance function plays an important role in working with the
business to understand where exactly the business is headed and how it hopes to
get there. We have a destination. And in this modern world of technology, most
of us have sat-nav or a TomTom to help us get there. That’s what I liken to the
Now, putting in the wrong destination into your TomTom can be disastrous.
Likewise, without the aid of a TomTom or a road map of some sort, you’ll
probably never get where you want to go. You’d end up circling the M25. The same
is true of an IT strategy.
So, I think both CIOs and CFOs have to realise they need each other in the
sort of journey on which they are trying to take the business.
How are relations between CFOs and CIOs?
In most organisations, the CIO tends to work for the CFO. But the CFO is
often frustrated by the CIO, because the CIO finds it difficult to demonstrate
the value of IT as an industry.
If you put a pound into the IT department, do you get £1.50 back? Do you get
95p back? The CFO doesn’t know the answer to that, and that frustrates him. The
CIO doesn’t know how to do that, because the industry itself still has some way
IT is there to serve the business, ultimately. It’s not, as some
technologists think, that the IT department is a kind of Toys R Us type of
environment, where they can play with the latest technologies.
We have to look at it from another perspective. How often do you call your
help desk just to thank them for being there for you? My guess is not very
often, and that’s because there’s a lack of trust between the user community,
the finance community and the IT community.
The IT industry hasn’t learned the [lesson] that, say, the medical industry
has, whereby a bad doctor with a good bedside manner can come across as a good
doctor, but a great doctor, with a bad bedside manner, may as well be a bad
IT has got a lot to do to build up the trust levels. It hasn’t focused too
much on that, because it’s busy putting out fires around the organisation.
One of the major areas I encourage IT departments to invest in is their PR,
and reaching out and forming relationships with the company or departments that
buy the service. IT needs to sort out the problem, but I think the problem also
occurs on the user end as well. Finance people need to embrace IT.
Do accountants have sufficient IT skills?
Managing director, Group Business Information Strategy, Haymarket
I come from the media industry, where there’s a lot of talk about
‘convergence’. In the media marketplace, convergence is when is your television
acts as a computer, when your computer is also a mobile phone, when your phone
is your desktop, and so on.
Convergence is the right word for what we’re thinking about here. There comes
a point where it’s pretty difficult to see the boundaries between what’s a
finance function, what’s a business system function, what’s an IT operations
function and what’s an HR function.
The fellow who runs our business systems team within what we saw before as
the IT department is, in fact, a highly qualified accountant. He’s a financial
accountant. But he happens to have developed some serious skills in the systems
So it goes without saying that finance and IT have to work incredibly
closely. But actually, all of them have got to understand that their real
relationship needs to be directly out and business-facing. Without understanding
what the business is trying to do, and what the business’s requirements and
frustrations and opportunities are, the agenda on which those central
departments start to work together will be flawed.
To ensure that at board level, you need proper representation and,
increasingly, a proper understanding of the value of those central services. At
the risk of stating the obvious, the greatest business opportunities and
ambitions in the world can be scuttled by not having the right supports
underpinning the business and technical capability.
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