Not every company is lucky enough to have its own IT manager. Instead, they hand off the task to an unlucky executive who suddenly has to juggle technology operations with their other job. According to McKinsey, this executive is often the financial director. 38% of them are also responsible for IT, the consulting company says, meaning that IT workers report to them. When a problem occurs in IT that affects the rest of the business, the buck stops with them, yet they probably have little technology experience.
How can you manage IT properly when it’s only one hat you wear? The first step is to understand the two important roles for any IT department. The first is mundane but hugely important: to keep the engines running and the lights on. This aspect of IT management ensures that the network stays up and running and that the servers and software are available to give employees access to their email and files. It protects the infrastructure against cyberattacks and other disruptions.
This aspect of IT management needs a solid team to carry out daily operations. Infrastructure (network and server) management, end-user support for endpoints and software, and cybersecurity are among the basic roles and responsibilities here. These fall under the control of an IT manager who reports to the person filling the role of an IT director. The IT manager may handle many of these technical functions themselves.
An alternative is to outsource those services to a partner that can handle the heavy lifting for you, providing economies of scale and a level of expertise you’d be unlikely to find in a small team.
The second part of the IT director’s role is one that a CFO or other executive can be more creative with: strategic thinking. Whereas engine-room IT management focuses on keeping things running properly, strategic IT management will think of ways to turn IT into an asset for the company. It will mull questions such as “How can technology help improve our customer experience?”, or “Could we use mobile computing to improve staff productivity, and if so by how much?”
Stress the positive
Unlike the engine room side of IT, strategic thinking is an area where a CFO or other executive can turn adversity into advantage. They can reduce friction using their dual responsibilities. One example is in financing. A CFO often has a far better understanding of the company’s financial position than a technology-focused IT director, which makes it easier to put strategic IT decisions in context.
A dual finance/technology role also makes IT budgeting far easier. You get to create and prioritise the budget with both roles in mind and then fund it afterwards without debate. That saves time, confusion, and conflict.
Finally, a financial or operations director also has many other relationships in the business that an IT director would need extra effort to cultivate. Having those board-level relationships can give IT a louder voice in board-level meetings, making it easier to build a case for strategic IT efforts that can elevate the function within the company.
So rather than viewing a non-dedicated IT management role as a liability, think of it as an opportunity. If you play it right, you could end up offloading the everyday stresses of an IT operation and using the combined role to your advantage. It could even be the key to promoting fresh new thinking about how technology could transform your company.