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CIOs Stunted by CFOs, says Tech Heavyweight

IT executives need more corporate clout. Who's holding them back? Guess.
Lisa YoonMarch 24, 2003

Call it Revenge of the Nerds, Part II.

Despite the dot-com bust, many chief information officers say technology has never been more important to business. In fact, one well-respected IT expert insists that tech managers would play a larger role in corporate decision-making — if not for the meddling of CFOs.

Indeed, Paul Strassmann, NASA’s acting chief information officer, thinks CIOs’ dependence on finance chiefs for funds is cramping their style.

Strassmann’s solution? Put CIOs on equal footing with CFOs, reports Federal Computer Week.

Addressing members of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association last week, FCW reports that Strassmann predicted the CIO role will evolve. Just as CFOs have developed from bean- counters to business strategists, so too will next-generation CIOs take on a strategic importance. According to Strassmann, technology managers will move beyond the mere management of hardware and software — and instead will become the stewards of corporate knowledge.

Not surprisingly, Strassmann says that new role calls for more clout for CIOs in the C-suite.

According to FCW, Strassmann noted that CIOs are hampered by insufficient leverage in the “power politics” that the CIO job has become. “The game is not technology any more,” he said. “From now on, it is a game about budget.”

But, reports FCW, Strassmann thinks few CIOs can win the in-fighting — in part because of their limited control over budget allocations.

And who does control the purse strings? CFOs, of course. Strassmann pointed out that because of finance chiefs’ accounting and certification requirements, they’re in on all budgetary decisions. Strassmann would like to see CIOs join CFOs at the big table.

That’s not all. IT is becoming such a crucial part of commerce, says Strassmann, that one day CIOs will co-certify financial statements.

“The CIOs must start viewing themselves as general officers whose purpose is to maintain the overwhelming lead of the United States of America in the applications of [IT],” he told the audience. “The legitimacy of the political power of strategic CIOs is therefore a matter of national importance, not exclusively a matter of personal career.”

Strassmann based his talk on his experience in both public- and private sector IT, reports FCW. At the Pentagon, he was adviser to the DOD deputy secretary and, later, director of Defense information. He also served as CIO for General Foods Corp., Kraft Foods Inc., and Xerox Corp.

CFOs on the Move

A CFO joins the war: Hospital operator Triad Hospitals Inc. announced that CFO Burke Whitman was recalled to temporary active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps to participate in the war with Iraq. During his service, finance staffers are sharing Whitman’s duties with chairman and CEO James Shelton. Controller W. Stephen Love, treasurer James Bedenbaugh, and finance and investor-relations director Laura Baldwin will also split finance responsibilities.

Duke University finance chief Mike Mandl is leaving to join Emory University as COO, where he will replace John Temple. Mandl, a former KPMG accountant, has worked at University of Pennsylvania, and also in the private sector as a finance staffer at drug company Glaxo Pharmaceuticals Inc. Temple is retiring.

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