How To Budget for IT Like A CFO
by Michael Huber, Director of Business Development
with Joan Rundle, Chief Financial Officer
For anyone leading a business or department, finances can be a critical component with unique challenges. As managers, you must be able to address immediate concerns — like financial health, operational needs and the well-being of staff, in addition to maintaining a longer-term, strategic view.
Recently, I was able to sit down with Joan Rundle, Huber & Associates’ Chief Financial Officer to get her perspective on not only how to budget like a CFO, but also, how to strategically partner with your own CFO for better returns on your investments.
Whether you’re forecasting expenses for the year ahead or planning for special purchases, your CFO should be integral to those decisions. In fact, as an IT leader, your CFO can be one of your most mutually beneficial relationships to help you drive business goals and improve efficiency. We’ve all been tasked with doing more with less, and as some CFOs can be very risk-averse, our first instinct may be to refrain from spending. However, by providing the right data, at the right time, a business can reap larger rewards from strategic investments.
Joan Rundle, Huber & Associates’ Chief Financial Officer
How should an employee approach their CFO with a budget request?
Anytime a CFO can be convinced of an efficiency that can be gained and a long-term return on that investment, that’s something that’s going to catch their eye. If you are going to approach your CFO with a request, don’t just come with, “we need this.” Be prepared to answer these three questions:
- Why is this item/service/software needed?
- How is the company going to benefit in the long-term?
- How long is it going to take for us to see improvements or efficiencies from this spend?
A lot of times, employees and managers don’t come with that information in their request. A simple response of “This is really cool, and I want this” is a quick way for a CFO to not see the value in your request and not support the investment.
The better approach, for instance, if you’re looking to invest in an automation software, is to present a case for how much of a person’s time you would save and reallocate to other tasks by not having to do a process manually. For investments in services, examine the cost benefits of the service provider against the potential investment needed to match those services by hiring additional specialized staff. For example, if you are going to partner with Huber & Associates as a co-managed service provider, you’re going to receive an entire team of technical support without having to internally hire these resources. As a static amount, month-to-month, that’s easier to budget for than having a major technology hiccup where you may have to quickly hire outside assistance or consultants that were unplanned for.
What other questions should an employee be prepared to answer when proposing a new technology or service to their CFO?
- Does this work well with our current systems?
Some systems don’t “talk” well to each other, forcing companies to use third-party connectors that can ultimately corrupt data and take even more time/investment. These connectors also need to be upgraded or reimplemented when the systems they connect get upgraded, which can greatly slow the adoption of upgrades.
- Which other vendors did you consider, and how did you come to determine this was the right partner?
- What are this vendor’s reviews or references?
New technologies can often be startups, which can be a riskier investment. Does that company have a good track record with their clients or other products? Don’t forget to consult your network of professionals who have experience with the product and vendor in question. Colleagues, professional groups and other, perhaps unconventional, contacts can provide valuable insights.
Why should an employee make the CFO their ally?
Like the CEO, your CFO has a 30,000-foot view of the business. We are in a unique position to be able to see data from multiple departments or areas of the business that not everyone has access to. Globally, your CFO can see requests across the company, seeing a wider view of strategies and business processes. While you may be inclined to collaborate solely with your IT department, a technology-minded CFO may also be able to align technology tools across divisions, making it a more attractive investment. Without these open lines of communication and collaboration, your business could end up having multiple technology upgrades consisting of a bunch of different systems that don’t talk to or align with each other. At the end of the day, no business or CFO wants to spend copious amounts of money to maintain these separate, disparate systems when there are efficiencies that could be gained.
While spending alone won’t necessarily lead to better financial or IT performance, when an investment is motivated by a business’s strategic and operational goals, everyone can benefit. If your approach your budget with this mindset, as our CFO Joan Rundle has shared, you will be able to build a better working relationship with your own CFO and be in a much better position to negotiate your requests.