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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.

Drawbacks

* Inadequate vetting of IT spending requests. Execs caution that CFO-CIOs might be tempted to approve IT projects and spending requests without having them undergo the same level of scrutiny that they would get if Finance and IT were headed by two different people.

* Limited time for each duty. Wilhelm says that even working extra hours doesn't always give him enough time to fulfill all of the responsibilities of both of his jobs. That means he misses out on some activities, such as IT conferences or seminars on the latest technologies.

* A lack of experience in one of the roles. In building a career, executives typically come up through the ranks of a specific discipline; it's rare to jump back and forth between different departments like Finance and IT. Box made up for his limited IT background by earning Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credentials. People with heavy tech backgrounds might have even steeper learning curves on the financial side, Wilhelm says, since they'd have to become familiar with things like accounting standards and legal requirements.

* Limited opportunities to be on bleeding edge of IT. A CFO-CIO's chances of being able to take on the extra work that comes with being an early adopter of new technology are low, since the dual job already has extra responsibilities of its own, Box says.

"So now when [damaged equipment] comes back, we can prove it, and I know the courts will uphold that time stamp," Box explains. The company collected about $100,000 from customers to pay for damaged equipment in the first three months the new system was in place; previously, it would have had to pay the cost of repairing the equipment out of its own pocket.

"It's a very good example of how being a CFO and knowing the issues that are so common to the function spill over to the issues that affect IT," Box says.

80-hour work weeks?

That's not to suggest, however, that the joint CFO-CIO role doesn't pose some significant challenges.

Each of the positions on its own usually takes up more than 40 hours a week, so executives who hold dual jobs face some logistical pressure. Hopkins, for instance, estimates that he's putting in 80 to 100 hours a week at World Telecom. "The people who have both roles have to really have a lot of stamina. I had to do a lot of soul-searching to stick to it," he says, adding that it's easier to tough it out if you have an exit strategy in place.

And each job comes with its own set of specific responsibilities, skill requirements, idioms and tools, creating a tall order for anyone who aspires to a dual position.

 

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