Focus: Finance and Governance - Outlook - Just why do finance directors do ICT?

Nearly 70 per cent of the Charity Finance Directors' Group's 1,100 members hold responsibility for ICT within their organisations. Many of them, it has to be said, do so reluctantly.

The question is what, in the absence of an ICT director, makes a finance director the sensible choice for holding this responsibility? Or is it just plain madness?

The dilemma for charities is that they can rarely afford an ICT staff member, let alone an ICT director. According to some ICT professionals, the next best place for ICT would be with the chief executive - sadly, chief executives tend to have difficulty knowing their desktop from their laptop. The most common system-users in a charity are the finance director and the fundraising or marketing director - of the two, who would you trust?

Finance directors have a cross-organisational strategic perspective - they pay attention to detail and they are interested in timelines, value for money and delivering results.

They have also been known to share the ICT crowd's slightly geekish enthusiasm for gadgets, understanding how things work and finding ways of doing things faster and more innovatively. We also often share the coffee breath and lack of exercise that have sometimes been caricatured, but let's not go there.

The finance director responsible for ICT should ensure, first, that the ICT work plan reflects the priorities of the charity's organisational strategy.

Watching the trailer for the new Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd, I hoped that the series would cover the special relationship between a finance director and an ICT team - it's a bit like always making fun of a parent only to look in the mirror and find you look exactly like them.

At my previous organisation, I very much enjoyed a day spent covering the ICT room and was delighted to find that "have you tried switching it off and on again?" got me through many of the support queries. Perhaps the finance director equivalent is "have you checked your formulae/ budget/sundries code?"

But the other reason it makes sense is that through having been given responsibility for ICT for so long, finance directors have come to be the non-ICT directors who know most about it - it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Whether we are actually any good at it then comes down to the level of enthusiasm with which individual finance directors tackle this additional arm of their role. It might well be true to say that, in the absence of an ICT director, it's not such a mad choice after all.

KEY POINTS

- Seventy per cent of the CFDG's 1,100 members are responsible for ICT within their organisations

- Charities can rarely afford even a single ICT staff member, and finance directors are often the main system-users

- They also possess a strategic perspective, pay attention to detail and are interested in timelines, value for money and delivering results.

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