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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Box addresses those concerns by making sure staff members know that he's available and can be interrupted at any time to discuss critical issues. He also says that he makes "no pretense of being anything other than what I am." Since his IT role is primarily strategic, rather than being focused on day-to-day operations, he reasons that it's not a real liability that he hasn't spent years dealing with some of the operational issues his department faces.

"If the staff feels that they are appreciated -- and they certainly are -- then I believe most of the drawbacks perceived from a staff level can be managed."

Short-term stopgap

Given that the job descriptions of these dual positions are tied very specifically to the individuals filling them, it's not surprising that the companies don't see combined titles as permanent.

In fact, Hopkins says he took the World Telecom job knowing that it was a temporary assignment. "I believe wholeheartedly that you can't have this position unless it fits the individual and where the company is in its life cycle," Hopkins says.

He figures his job will expire in about 12 to 18 months, once he has gotten World Telecom's IT infrastructure and related processes through his envisioned quick-paced upgrades. At that point, he says, the company will need a full-time CIO to keep it moving ahead, along with a full-time CFO who can focus solely on financials.

Gomolski says combining positions often makes sense when the company is undergoing some major transformation, such as a significant business process initiative, that an executive with dual roles can help manage efficiently and effectively. She doesn't see a combined job as a smart long-term solution because companies need the expertise, experience and time that dedicated professionals can bring to their chosen disciplines.

But Gomolski says it's possible that it might become increasingly common for the CIO's job to be combined with other executive positions, particularly at small and midsize companies that put more and more applications into the cloud and thereby move various IT management functions outside the corporate walls. (For more on the cloud and IT employment, see "As cloud grows, IT hiring flatlines.")

Such scenarios may materialize sooner rather than later. Schuster, for example, says Emerson Hospital's leadership team will evaluate the hospital's needs when Wilhelm decides to retire, adding that she hasn't ruled out keeping the CFO-CIO job as a single position.

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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