CFOs and worst-in-class IT services

Here I am in another introductory meeting with a long-tenured CFO who views IT as a line item on the ledger, not a value-added department. Two questions in, I know this meeting will be just like all the others. This is a CFO who is happy, overjoyed even, with substandard, worst-in-class IT results. Why is this so common? Simple: Most CFOs just don’t know any better. The old adage “you don’t know what you don’t know” applies here.

Let’s discuss how most of us make decisions when something goes wrong and compare it to the CFO approach. When our car breaks down, most of us go to the mechanic we’ve trusted and used for years. Probably the same mechanic or shop our dad used. The same is true with CFOs and IT. They tend to inherit a provider, either an outsourced IT services company or an in-house staffer, and stick with it unquestioningly.

Business CFO considers IT changesThe question is, if your car keeps breaking down because of the same issue, do you continue going to the same mechanic? Most people do not. They make a change. They don’t keep blaming the part or the user; they look at the mechanic and decide, “This is the last time.”

In this meeting, the CFO is saying that it’s not the vendor’s fault his company continues to experience downtime. Or viruses (in this case, the same virus three times). Or problems with performance. This CFO—like many CFOs, more common than I would have guessed before I started speaking with CFOs every day—continually blames the end user or problems out of the control of the vendor. The issue here is misinformation.

Back to the mechanic: The mechanic wants to create loyal customers, but loyal customers want a car to work and not need repairs. The quandary is, how does a shop stay open if its mechanics fix the problem and never see the customer again?

IT vendors are the same. They want to have a reason to come back and bill you for time. They want you to call when your hair is on fire, so they can get your systems running again, and then do it all over again the next time it happens.

In my meeting, this CFO indicates his vendor hasn’t offered a reason why the issues are happening, nor provided a long-term solution to prevent the problems from reoccurring. (That pattern of poor vendor communication is also more common than I used to think possible.)

If your mechanic answered your questions with, “Well, things happen,” and didn’t give you preventive ideas, you probably wouldn’t trust him. How does this logic escape the CFO? (The CFO, who is typically the most logical of all business leaders.)

It’s frustrating to see such brutally inefficient contentment. Common sense questions that lead to illogical, irrational answers. Is there a smarter CFO out there? Some days, I struggle to find one. (If you can enlighten me why so many CFOs just don’t seem to get it, please share your thoughts in the comments.)

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