The CFO is not the enemy: Keeping spending down is an important part of a company's success

Expert says the CFO is ultimately responsible for the money spent on technology, so CIOs and CTOs need to see the CFO as an ally and integral part of the business.

Tech budgets can get out of hand, so CIOs and CFOs should learn to work together

TechRepublic's Karen Roby spoke with Tim Horoho, CTO at Zylo, an application management software company, about the relationship between CIOs, CTOs and CFOs in organizations. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: This is a partnership that I don't think we've talked enough about, but it's becoming so much more important now, especially coming out of this pandemic, and as IT spending has changed, in some instances, gone through the roof. Talk a little bit about the importance of this partnership, and we'll go from there.

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Tim Horoho: The CIO and the CFO, two very important people in an organization, that are overlooking an important part of the budget, the IT spend. IT spend has really skyrocketed through the pandemic and through 2020. We just saw enormous growth in SaaS spending. So, it's a shift from on-prem to SaaS spending. And that partnership between the CIO, who's responsible for not only delivering IT to the business and making sure the business is successful, but also the employee experience. Making sure that your employees have the tools they need to innovate, and having an alignment between the CFO, that person ultimately responsible for those dollars and cents gives those two leaders an opportunity to optimize where those dollars are going and reinvest back in the business. So, the partnership is very critical.

Karen Roby: Yeah, it's definitely never been more important, Tim, than it is now. I did an interview a couple of weeks ago about how other people are spending more IT dollars than they ever have before. So, say, the guy that's in charge of marketing, he's using cloud more now, he's making decisions. And then, all of a sudden, and this is again just with, say, cloud spending, for instance, they realize it's out of control because they're spending more dollars for IT versus just one person doing that. So, it seems like there's a lot more moving parts now than there's ever been before.

Tim Horoho: Absolutely. When we talk to lots of our customers here at Zylo, they're thinking they have 200, 300 SaaS applications within their business. We're seeing across the small to medium business to enterprise an average of 650 SaaS applications within a business. So, what you think you have and what you actually have, quite different. And it comes through all parts of the business. If you think of sales, if you think of marketing, you think of engineering and IT, everybody has those tools that they rely on to innovate and to do the things they need to do in their business. And it just really drives up that SaaS spend. That's why having that visibility is so important. And also the alignment that we talked about.

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Karen Roby: And this is something, Tim, that you've seen or can see, that will get some pushback? I mean, do you feel like this is a partnership that should be obvious? Or is it something that they're going to be like, "Well, wait a second. You're treading on my property here"?

Tim Horoho: I think the alignment between the two leaders, the CIO and the CFO, certainly could create some pushback. However, both leaders have a vested interest in making the customer successful, as well as the employees happy. So, one of them, visibility to where that spend is going, alignment on priorities within the business will really lessen that amount of friction between the two leaders.

Karen Roby: And expand, if you will Tim, a little bit on the employee experience. And so are many talking about, especially in tech, that good talent, it's hard to come by. They'll jump places often, so retaining that talent. So, talk a little bit about the importance of this partnership at the top and how that impacts the employee experience.

Tim Horoho: As you think about an employee joining an organization, having an understanding of what tools are available to the employee, having an understanding of what are the right tools? If you think about the explosion of SaaS and all the new tools that are being created daily, what's the right project management tool that we should be using? What's best for marketers to be using? And that employee experience is driven from a CIO. And also, just ensuring that they're providing the tools that are common in their industry that are best for that role within the organization. And so, the employees that are out there that are expensing software, they're innovating, they're out there looking for the latest and greatest technology to get their job done. And having an understanding of that, and enabling that, but understanding that and controlling it is also an important part, but you want to be able to have your employees just have the best tools available to do their jobs.

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Karen Roby: Let me ask you too, as a CTO, and you most likely talk to other CIO, CTOs, or others in the same realm as you, what are some of the biggest challenges that you think they're facing today? I mean, we hear a lot of them saying, "I'm just exhausted. I mean, just moving my company remote took everything out of us and we're stretched so thin." What are some of the bigger challenges you guys are facing in that role?

Tim Horoho: I think like most companies, being a technology leader being really a leader in the business, just keeping employees engaged, keeping employees happy, creating focus on the customer, and making sure that everybody's marching in the same direction, not too dissimilar to when you're in the office, but when you're remote there are a lot more opportunities for distractions and so on.

But the good news is things are looking up, things are getting better. The morale is shifting. And the customers that we're talking to, other leaders that I talk to were seeing the morale shift and employees are engaging and excited to get back into the office and working together again. But, obviously, it's been a long haul here since early last year.

Karen Roby: That's the understatement of the year, to say the least. Well, Tim, wrapping up here, how do you see over the next, say, 18 months, two years. I mean, things change quickly, but how has the last year, how will that change the way leadership looks in most companies? Do you think because of what we've gone through, and how important IT is now to organizations?

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Tim Horoho: When we saw the pandemic and everybody working from home, we saw this transition to SaaS at home. We saw a 26% rate increase in SaaS from February to, I think it was April of last year, which is a massive growth. And what it did is it required CIOs to kind of understand what the remote work environment really was. Remote work was a thing. Now, it's everywhere. And it's going to be a part of the work balance that we have as leaders within an organization when businesses do open back up and employees are being given options to work from home, to come into the office.

And having a true understanding of how to manage the business and keep everybody happy and keep everybody productive. That's really going to be a challenge for the CIO as we move forward. And then, ultimately, the CFO to make sure that we have the dollars invested in the right areas for the business. So, it's going to be an interesting couple of years, as we learn from the past, and we learn from this year, and also focus on business results, which is also why we're all here.

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