The CTO and the CFO aren't natural best friends in any organization. They are typically separated by a huge gulf of perspective; neither understands or appreciates what the other thinks or does. The best thing for any organization is when the two of them can truly take the other's perspective, and change what they do as a result.
What's the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) about? He or she had better be the best technical person in your organization. The one who understands the details, the big picture and everything in between. The one who actually understands all those computer acronyms, can sling them with the best, can pick the best and harness them for the good of your organization. At best, the CTO can rally the tech nerd employees to the cause and also convince the suits that everything is good.
What's the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) about? He or she had better be the best financial person in your organization.The one who understands every line of every statement and report, what's behind it, what led to it and where it's going. The one who understands how all that mass of detail relates to company tactics and strategy, and plays a key role it making them align. At best, the CFO can handle the big picture and the details, issues and people inside and outside the company, all to advance the company towards its goals.
CTO vs. CFO
When not at their absolute best, the CFO and CTO can have a chilly relationship.
The last thing the CTO wants is for some nosy bean-counter to mess with his stuff. Even simple questions are suspect: why is he asking? what's he looking to cut? Go away! Most CFO's seem like clueless idiots to even average CTO's. All they can possibly do is waste time and, through crass stupidity, make things even harder than they already are.
CFO's often see the whole tech group and the CTO in particular as being a bunch of whiney, spoiled, self-absorbed brats. They're anti-social, talk among themselves in their private language, get huffy or all-too-patient in response to even the simplest of common-sense questions, and seem perversely intent at avoiding anything that increases revenues or profits. They're perpetually late, reluctant to commit to anything, always complaining about lack of support, but still manage to have an attitude about pretty much everything.
Most of the thoughts I've had about computing that are worth anything took me years, often decades, longer than they should have to penetrate my thick skull. But one of the earliest realizations I had remains both true and rarely discussed: to the extent that computers are applied well, they cut jobs, and therefore (usually) costs.
This isn't the pretty way to put it. Most people prefer to think about how computers enhance people's efforts. And they do -- meaning you can get the same job done with fewer people. Or you can deliver more with the same people -- to deliver more without computers, you would have had to hire more people. Any way you cut it, the more widely and effectively computers are used, the fewer people you need to get a given job done.
Put all the gobble-de-gook aside, and what computers come down to is simple: cut costs, do more with less, get it done faster, etc.
Now what does this sound like? Could it, perhaps, sound like the kind of thing CFO's are supposed to worry about? Hmmmm....
Maybe there's some middle ground here. At the heart of the matter, there is no skill set in an organization better suited to helping a CFO meet his goals than the CTO's. And when a CTO who is really good in nerd terms wakes up and realizes what his job is really about, there is no person better suited to be a company-maker than a bottom-line-oriented CTO.
Put in the most basic terms, a good CTO can make things happen:
- Better, and
Faster, better, cheaper. That's computing in a nutshell, and when computing is applied to an organization to greatest effect, that's what happens to the organization. It does what it does faster, it does it better, and it does it cheaper. FBC. Wouldn't it be nice if we could have a Chief Faster-Better-Cheaper Officer?
In most organizations, there is a spectrum of leadership. At one end of the spectrum is the nerdy CTO. At the other end is the what's-your-handicap CFO. If you're very lucky and very deserving, maybe you have someone at the center of that spectrum who combines the best of both extremes in a single individual. The CFBCO. The CFBCO combines ultimate nerd-power with dollars-driven vision and insight, and makes the relevant numbers better in a way that even the dullest and most distracted board of directors can understand and appreciate.