Over the course of my career I’ve read numerous books and have attended seminars and classes on developing talent and leadership skills. These classes have ranged from developing one’s own personal “brand”, to conducting performance reviews and even how to become a “thought leader.” I’m sure during the course of your career you’ve also had similar experiences.
Now from what I’ve gathered from all of this training is that each of us has unique skills based upon our backgrounds and chosen professions. In a light-hearted tone I like to refer to these unique skills as special needs. I’ve also learned that if you don’t think you have special needs, you do – it’s just that you don’t know it yet. In looking back at my experiences as an IT analyst, leader and mentor to other analysts, there is definitely a unique set of skills that facilitates adding value to financial support within IT organizations.
Finding an individual to perform routine financial tasks and create nice-looking Excel spreadsheets is easy. Identifying an individual who can provide value-added input to your IT management team is a different ball game. There are not many universities and even companies who train individuals how to apply their financial skills to IT operational financial management. Therefore it is incumbent upon IT organizations not only to identify quality financial management talent but to provide training on IT-focused financial management strategy and practices.
I’ve always believed that IT financial management is a smart and rewarding choice for young finance professionals beginning their careers. For starters, they are usually assigned to executive IT teams to provide financial and administrative support. As such, they quickly gain invaluable experiences on leadership dynamics and how decisions are made. I recall early in my career being the lead financial analyst on an executive IT leadership team at a Fortune 50 organization. We hired a new executive who had just retired with the rank of colonel from the U.S. Marines. The executive vice president called me into his office and introduced me to this new leader and proceeded to tell him that I would review his budget, his key initiatives, and also provide him with insight into his new team. Now I was a full 25 years younger than this newly-retired colonel and he had this perplexed look on his face while I was reviewing his budget and organization. After a while, the colonel looked up and said, “I get it – you’re the bosses S-L-J-O” (pronounced: Slow-Joe). Puzzled, I inquired what a SLJO was. I quickly learned that my corresponding position in the armed forces was fondly referred to as the “Stinky Little Job Officer”. Actually, another word was used instead of “Stinky” but I’ll leave that to your imagination. Now my point is that at a relatively young stage of my career I was given the invaluable opportunity to participate and be a key member of an IT leadership team, albeit in a “junior” but important and strategic capacity. Not only did it allow me to utilize my financial skill sets, but it also allowed me to adapt those skills in a new capacity while learning what I found to be the interesting world of running a large Information Technology organization. I found being accepted as a full-fledged member of the IT organization that I supported the single best training that I could have received early in my career.
On the flip side of my own personal experience, I’ve seen many IT organizations look to their financial support as overhead that is required only to provide corporate financial planning, with little more than budgets, monthly accruals, and variance reports. In these instances, the relationship is typically somewhat contentious and the individual providing financial support is often unable to articulate the IT drivers in their analysis and they become little more than accountants and end up moving to another job fairly quickly.
By now you’re probably wondering if you need to develop an entirely separate training program for the group or individual providing your IT organization with financial support. Might be surprising, but the answer is no. As part of your team, they should be required to participate in your IT training programs. Now, I’m not talking about your financial analyst becoming certified as a Cisco CCIE or a Microsoft Windows administrator. I’m referring to having your financial support attend and participate in IT service delivery and project management programs. Two that come to mind – which I strongly recommend – are
- The ITIL Foundation Certification and
- Project Management Institute “PMI” courses – and possibly even obtaining the PMI certification.
Of course, there are other programs such as Six Sigma that are also relevant and would be a good choice if your organization is adopting these or similar management methodologies. All of these offerings and others are relevant to financial professionals and teach invaluable skills on translating IT terminology into financial and business relevant terms.
In addition, don’t overlook your company specific certification or training programs. For example, at one organization all employees and contractors are required to attend a half day class before conducting any type of work in the datacenter. The purpose of the class is to educate the individual(s) on why the datacenter is mission critical to delivering services and providing an appreciation for all the processes in place to ensure a high availability and error-free environment. It was amazing how the one half day of training gave non-IT professionals an appreciation for the IT organization as a whole. However, as a partner in a firm called Datacenter Trust, I must clarify that I don’t condone people frequently walking through your datacenter for training and tours. At the same time, it’s always a kick seeing those datacenter engineers who don’t get out much impressing people with what they manage. You know who you are…
These may appear to be obvious suggestions on developing your IT financial management talent, but more times than not I’ve seen the finance support organization recognized as a separate unique function. The key word to remember regarding developing an effective partnership with your financial resource support is ‘inclusion’. When developing your meeting agenda’s, identify a regular time to review the financial results compared to budget and forecast and any business cases or ad-hoc projects. As appropriate, your financial support should attend as much of these meetings as possible to gain an understanding of the operational aspects of the organization. Finally, elevate your IT financial support even further from the effective resource – or “SLJO” stage to a true technology and financial knowledge partner by having them actively participate in your IT-specific training programs.
—This article is contributed by Brian Superczynski, CFO and Senior Partner at Datacenter Trust. Brian has extensive experience leading and advising information technology companies on financial and business operations strategies. His combined financial management and operations background allows him to follow the development of strategic initiatives from system design to detailed implementations