Column by Stijn Viaene, professor of Management Information Systems
(Source: Smart Business Strategies, May 2011)

  • Professor at KULeuven and Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School
  • Partner at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School
  • Deloitte Research Chair Bringing IT to Board Level

Dear CIO, would you like to report to the CFO?

That’s a relevant question. The CFO isn’t the CEO, you say. But still we should be careful of judging too hastily. For example: What’s so great about a direct reporting line to the top when there’s never any time made for you?

Incidentally, people all too often confuse this question with another one: Are you resigning yourself to managing IT with an exclusive focus on costs? For me, that’s a thousand times easier to answer than the original query. I hope you see it this way too, and, without hesitation, join me in a short, sharp: “No”. Don’t we all have to innovate in order to survive? Then, why rule out IT as a potential source of innovation. Which is what you’re doing with a strict focus on costs.

Isn’t your “no” to the first question really a “no” to the second question?

Maybe you’ve just become the victim of what you yourself so strongly abhor: stereotyping. Just as you are not – by definition – a ‘nerd’ simply because you’re a CIO, so the CFO is not automatically a ‘bean counter’. (Although, we must admit that’s a distinct possibility.)

The point is that people are much more multi-dimensional than the figures we often make of them in our minds. Reductionism rules in a world where we build our assumptions and opinions about colleagues on impressions and images that are never put to the test of a profound interaction between people. Why couldn’t you be the best of allies? Why would you deny yourself an opportunity to capitalise on mutual objectives? Work on those inter-relational skills, I want to say!

By the way, speaking of reductionism: my initial question does have an ‘old economy’ aspect to it. In today’s ‘networked’, ‘agile’ management paradigm, the importance of the ‘chain of command’ has been considerably reduced. Reporting lines are no longer what they used to be. Is that unfortunate?

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