May 03, 2010, 10:52 AM — Just about five months ago, management consultant Don Rekko posed this question to CIO Forum members on the social-networking site LinkedIn: "What makes a CFO uniquely qualified to be heading up IT?"
At first glance, the question might sound rather generic, seemingly trodding upon an age-old topic unlikely to unleash a furious debate among the various CIOs, IT professional and other forum members. It's kind of like asking: Why are there so many potholes on the streets of Massachusetts in February? The answer is that it just kinda happens, you can't really do much about it, and that's the way it'll always be in Massachusetts, though it's not necessarily that way in other states. (Insert shrug of shoulders.)
Rekko is managing director of METRI, a boutique management consulting firm that works with large European user organizations and system integrators. He's seen lots of "strong CIOs" and plenty of "weak CIOs" over the years, and this question has proved eternally interesting to him. Which is why he asked it.
"What I can't fathom is why, particularly in the 'weak CIO' scenario, the person ends up reporting to the CFO," Rekko says via e-mail, in early April. "After all, a COO would be a more logical choice: Running a data-center has more in common with, say, running a plant or other shared services operations, than with finance, accounting and controlling." He also posed the question because he was curious how a global audience--the CIO Forum members--would react.
In response, a few of the early commenters harangued him about the relevance of this "tired" discussion: Why dredge the topic up again? The virtual conversation could have died there.
But this one had some legs. Several months and more than 200 comments later, the question and answers have proved to be a revealing, protracted and insightful debate about the modern-day CIO reporting structure. Impassioned yet reasonable give-and-take played out, even surprising Rekko a bit.
"I know from my daily practice that the subject is a great conversation starter with CIOs, and so I wasn't surprised by the quantity of responses, especially because I formulated the question in a provocative way," Rekko says. "What surprised me was the high quality and polite tone of the conversation: This has not devolved in a shouting match. And over 80 percent of the responses were very insightful, written with craft and well though-out by LinkedIn members with very impressive backgrounds."
But for all of the discerning discussion and online back-and-forth, one simple, broadly applicable answer was not to be found.
Why the CFO?