When the CIO is also the CFO

Is it smart management or a recipe for disaster when one executive is both CIO and CFO?

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At that point, executives -- Wilhelm among them -- saw a need for the hospital to focus more strongly on IT, which had been plagued with problems such as a 28-hour outage.

Wilhelm, who built his career in hospital finance departments, where he often had IT reporting to him, says that he believed taking on the CIO job would be the most efficient way to get IT on track.

Emerson Hospital President and CEO Christine Schuster says she and other executives knew that Wilhelm understood enough about IT -- and how to build a strong team -- to get the job done.

"We were in the middle of a lot of critical projects, and I felt like I really couldn't put those projects on hold, that we couldn't miss a beat," she says, adding that it typically takes months to find a new CIO and bring him on board. "In our case," she says, "I do think it was the right person, and the timing was perfect."

Doing double duty requires some adjustments -- both for Wilhelm, who oversees a 37-member IT department, and for those who report to him. Wilhelm says he doesn't have the time to attend as many conferences, webinars and other events as he'd like to in order to learn about new technologies. He relies on his staff and outside consultants to handle tasks requiring deep technology expertise as well as some financial duties. "It means the people underneath me really have to be able to run with the ball" -- more so than staffers in an IT shop with a dedicated CIO, he says.

Does Finance have the upper hand?

Those in joint positions acknowledge that the dual role can create some confusion in the executive ranks.

"The weakness is truly that the CFO part of the job overshadows the CIO part to a large degree," says Hopkins. The CFO role prevents the CIO from being overly biased toward IT -- which might not always be the best thing for IT, Hopkins says.

Once the CIO takes on financial responsibilities, he or she must embrace "turn the crank" operational responsibility, make decisions about capital expenditures, and remember that his job is to invest dollars throughout the organization, not just in IT. "It's difficult for me to champion dollars for IT infrastructure when as CFO I'm involved with the politics of dollars spent in marketing, advertising, operations and so on," says Hopkins.

For his part, Joe Money Machinery's Box acknowledges that having dual responsibilities means that he can be unavailable to IT staffers who want to discuss technology issues. And because he came up through Finance rather than IT, some IT employees don't see him as one of their own.

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