The rise of IT

A lot has been written about the evolving role of the finance director. The
role is changing ­ but some things stay the same; FDs have always had a
strategic role in business and long been the trusted number two to the CEO or
managing director.

However, it is true to say that IT has steadily become an increasingly
important element of the role. We commissioned some research recently to try and
find out how much of a priority it has now become and also to understand whether
it is a priority that is welcomed. The results are interesting. IT is considered
important to business growth by 84% of FDs, yet is the number one responsibility
that FDs would like to shed.

There is no doubt that IT is regarded as an important part of the FD role.
The top four areas that are most likely to be focused on, for instance, include:
investor relations (59%), modernising business processes (36%), IT strategy
(30%) and financial management/reporting (30%). IT also makes a regular
appearance in board meetings, with the survey suggesting that it is discussed at
least at every other board meeting.

However, the fact that so many want to ditch responsibility suggests that FDs
resent it. The survey showed they want to focus on the more traditional aspects
like compliance, management reporting and cost reduction.

There is a clear contradiction here given the growing importance of IT in
streamlining business processes to reduce costs, improve compliance, and in the
provision of financial information that provides insight and visibility across
an entire business.

I think part of the problem in most cases is that FDs don’t feel equipped to
deal with IT ­ feeling as if it has often been foisted upon them. Some of the
best run companies I speak to are characterised by the FD playing a central role
in the IT strategy but always with a close relationship with the head of IT who
takes on the day to day responsibility.

It can also be a bit of a career boost. Headhunters expect FDs to have a much
broader skill-set than in the past, particularly for proven strategic experience
and, increasingly, IT experience. Those FDs that have embraced IT and are able
to demonstrate its strategic value are better placed to advance their career
than those who do their best to avoid it.

The message really is that IT shouldn’t become a burden, but it is something
we expect to continue to rise in importance and that FDs will need to embrace.

Paul White is the director of the Dynamics product
group, Microsoft UK

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