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When the CIO is also the CFO

Mary K. Pratt | March 14, 2011
IT exec Jeremy Hopkins has a bit more on his plate these days than some of his colleagues in high tech. Hopkins is the CIO at World Telecom Group in Malibu, Calif., a job that keeps him hopping.

So Joe Money's leaders created the CIO job, and Box took on that position's duties in addition to his existing CFO responsibilities. Box and other company leaders decided that a combined role was the right choice because the company is small (about 70 employees) and has limited financial resources, which can decline during the winter months when construction work slows down.

As Box explains it, Joe Money Machinery needed the strategic thinking that a CIO brings but it didn't need someone doing that full time.

Executive summary

The dual CIO-CFO: Benefits and drawbacks in a nutshell

Box had studied computer engineering while earning a bachelor's degree in business, and he had some experience with technology, but he admits that he still faced a learning curve.

To overcome that, he says, "I set about training myself to become a CIO as if that were my only job."

That training included a good deal of independent study -- reading up on IT management and technology trends in newsletters, books and magazines -- as well as work toward certifications, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) credential. His goal? To be able to completely understand any IT project before he approved money for it.

Today, Box has six IT staffers who report directly to him; one is the IT manager who ran operations prior to the creation of the CIO job. The wide-angle view of the company afforded by his dual role helps him craft better solutions, he says.

As CFO, he had been frustrated that his company was unable to recoup costs of rental equipment that was broken when customers returned it, because there was no way to prove that the customer was responsible for the damage. As CIO, Box was able to implement a document-retention system that stores before and after photos of rental equipment along with details about the equipment's condition. The system provides a time stamp that's admissible in court.

The dual CIO-CFO position: Benefits and drawbacks

Benefits

* No more arguments over funding. Jack Wilhelm, the CIO and CFO at Emerson Hospital, says there's never enough money to fund everything on the wish list. But as CIO he's able to prioritize what's needed and as CFO he's able to fund it -- without debate.

* Better insight into the organization. Because CFOs must have their eyes on every department, they're able to carry that insight over to the tech department and better align IT with business needs, says Ron Box, CFO-CIO at Joe Money Machinery Co.

* Better understanding of the company's current and future economic situation. "You have a connection to the financials that other CIOs don't have," says Jeremy Hopkins, CFO-CIO at World Telecom Group, and that allows for better short- and long-term tech planning.

 

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