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IT Strategy: Master the challenge of working with your CFO

Even to this day, the name Gordon Gekko sends shivers down the spines of stock traders and brokers alike.

Most of us know the legendary corporate raider as the cold-hearted snake who ruthlessly pursued money and famously boasted “greed is good” in "Wall Street."

He lived by the mantra, "What's worth doing is worth doing for money."


But if we separate Gekko’s insatiable money-grubbing ethos, the power suspenders, pomaded hair, and no-mercy machismo, therein lies a master of the deal.

One who understands that in buying and selling, you must understand your opponent and not rely on guesswork.

In the IT world, discerning between your opponents and your allies isn’t easy – even when they are sitting right in front of you.

Take for instance the relationship between the CIO and CFO. Given the critical role that IT plays for any organization, the two sides need to see eye to eye on many business interactions. But as Deloitte describes, “the CIO-CFO relationship can be fraught with miscommunication, misunderstandings, and misaligned expectations.” 

CFOs expect CIOs to come to the table with IT project proposals that show clear priorities, costs, and ROI. And CIOs expect CFOs to be more realistic with their expectations.

How would the master of the deal handle the challenge facing CIOs?

He’d recommend that you start thinking more like a player and less like an IT service provider who “keeps the lights on.” 

Here are four lessons from the master himself on how you can become more of a player and show the CFO that you can create value for the business.

Gekkoism #1: “I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things.”

Never make an IT decision until you have all of your facts together.

As Robert Comeau, a principal with Deloitte pointed out in a recent interview, CFOs expect CIOs “to align IT projects and spending with company strategy and value creation.”

Simply throwing darts at options and hitting a solution that may not work with your organization’s current strategic goals is no way to get a foot in the door.

Gekkoism #2: “You stop sending me information, and you start getting me some.”

Everybody has access to the same data.

But it’s the type of data you find, and whether you found it first, that makes all the difference.

As the CIO, you need to present new ideas and concepts that your competitors haven’t thought of yet.

And the information you present to the CFO needs to be accurate and clearly show all of the financial underpinnings.

According to David Axson, managing director for Accenture Strategy, “From the personal standpoint of the CFO, one of the biggest issues is that their finance teams are relying on inconsistent – or worse, inaccurate – data to develop insights and guide key decisions.”

Gekkoism #3: “If you're not inside, you're outside!”


Know your value as an integral part of the C-suite.

You’re not just thinking about IT as a standalone piece.

You need to show how IT drives the business forward.

That means understanding the business, how it operates, what part IT can play in your organization’s goals, and how IT aligns with those goals.

“CFOs expect the CIO to be a business leader on IT and to guide them through high-priority technology issues,” stated Comeau.

Gekkoism #4: “The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated…”

Where are the bottlenecks in your organization? Find them and solve them. No CIO wants a project to fail.

Think about how your project aligns with the business and how the IT department and the rest of the business can work together to create new opportunities. As Gekko pointed out, if you don’t do it right, the CEO will find someone else who will.

During a key scene in "Wall Street," Gekko schools his young protégé, Bud Fox, and quotes Sun Tzu to drive his point across.


“Every battle is won before it is ever fought…think about it.”

To get more insight into how you can win over the CFO, click below for your own copy of "The Art of Persuading a CFO."



Written by IBM BP Network