Knowing how it works

As the relationship between an agency's chief information officer and chief financial officer evolves, each official is finding the need to understand the duties of the other.

That is reinforced by a new government trend in which some CFOs are becoming CIOs within agencies as officials apply their skills across the organization, said Lisa Schlosser, associate CIO for information technology program management at the Transportation Department. W. Todd Grams, CIO at the Internal Revenue Service, and Gopal Khanna, CFO at the Peace Corps, are examples of officials who made the switch at their respective agencies.

"I think for so long CIOs just spent money on technology for technology's sake, and there has been no reining in of the dollars," Schlosser said. "By bringing in the CFO with a good understanding of the business objectives, you are ultimately buying technology to support the mission."

The shift seems natural considering that one of the first areas agency officials typically seek to modernize is financial management systems, said Paul Brubaker, chief marketing officer at SI International Inc. "Most business processes in an agency typically have some interaction or touches finance," he said. "If you've got a financial background, it does serve you well, provided you have also done your homework on the CIO role."

Indeed, Grams' tenure as CFO helped him gain an understanding of the organization and the trust of the business units.

"I was the commissioner's right hand when he set the strategic direction and set and measured the performance," Grams said. "I had a chance to work closely with the business unit heads. I walked into the job with that trust relationship."

Similarly, Khanna was able to use his experience as CIO in his role as CFO when the agency was implementing a new financial management system. He was able to communicate to his team the intricacies of system development and deployment and the need for strong program management discipline.

"It saved me," he said. "That helped me bring that knowledge to my team and hasten the move of the system to its completion.

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