As CFOs Embrace Data, CIO Partnership Grows

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The role of the chief financial officer is evolving to include a greater emphasis on technology and more collaboration with CIOs and IT departments at Federal agencies, said Federal CFOs and CIOs during a webinar hosted by FedInsider.

“For years, the CFO community has talked about how to move from backroom to boardroom, but now, this is not just talk,” said Michael Wetklow, deputy CFO at the National Science Foundation (NSF). “The traditional CFO role is shifting from reporting, compliance, and financial statements to a new approach where CFOs help agencies derive strategy, value, risk management, and providing overall financial management leadership to the organization.”

As the CFO role changes, many of the new innovations rely on new technologies and access to data. That’s why collaboration with the IT department can be so crucial.

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“I see that the CFO office has become a leader and an innovator in adopting new technologies as they arrive,” said Dorothy Aronson, CIO at NSF. “I think all people are becoming IT-ish. As IT infiltrates all the parts of our world, everyone has to upskill in that area, and (Wetklow’s) group is leaning forward on that,” she said.

Aronson described how the different business units worked to align their missions, which enabled better collaboration and overcame the mindset of belonging to different organizations. “My relationship with … the CFO at NSF is critical to NSF’s modernization initiatives, not only in the financial area but across the board in other mission areas as well,” she added.

“It stems back to the relationship of the CFO and the CIO. At SBA [the Small Business Administration] in the past, when I first joined SBA, it was two separate organizations and a lot of distrust between both,” said Tim Gribben, CFO and associated administrator of performance management at SBA. “We always thought the CIO’s budget was a black hole and we didn’t know what we were getting for it. They thought we were holding back, and they didn’t know the financial picture.”

However, Gribben described how that distrust has been left in the past while working with CIO Maria Roat. “We have embarked on a technology platform together to help drive SBA forward into the next three to five years,” he said.

Many of the modernization efforts for CFOs revolve around data, and how to access it, use it, and share it.

“Our deputy secretary came from the private sector with no public sector experience, and he went to a meeting at the Department of Defense and was expecting the CFO to have that single source of truth,” said Mark Easton, deputy CFO at DoD. “That senior leadership commitment has been very, very important, and so our CFO is evolving,” he said. He highlighted the Pentagon’s first third-party audit as an example of some of the changes in the department, and cited the National Defense Strategy tenet around reforming the business side of the department.

“I tie everything back to the DATA Act,” said Gibben, citing the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014. He noted that the chief data officer at SBA sits under the CFO role, unlike many agencies where the CDO is part of the IT department, because it keeps the CFO’s office responsible for the reconciliation and transmission of financial and award data.

“I think … that NSF is going to continue to have more cross-functional teams and a diversity of skills on those teams,” said Aronson. “I think we’ve been excellent at doing that, and I think we’re just going to keep going.”

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