Why dont IT sand Finance get on?

IT and Finance, squabbling siblings

Overview

As an IT professional I have often pondered why finance and IT don’t ‘get’ each other. I see long suffering finance shake their head with dismay at IT each time we say, ‘oops we need more time/money’. I will set out what I believe are our key features and what steps can be taken. Now I need to declare my bias, so if you are in finance and you feel I have missed the nuances, leave a comment. So lets describe these two siblings in more detail.

Information Technology (IT)

In IT, we know we are a bit of a stuff up sometimes, how many times have you either heard of, or been on a project that has blown out on time and/or budget? So let’s look at what IT does:

  • IT tends to have more project based work than cyclical tasks (i.e. monthly, quarterly, year end reporting) and consequently has a larger number of ‘one off’ tasks (e.g. write a new app, report, integrate a new system). These tasks are inherently less predictable and consequently harder to estimate and manage.
  • In response to the less predictable nature of our work, we have introduced:
    • Conventions like release cycles, code control, code migration through environments, increased documentation, regression testing, BAU, DevOps, etc. These are intended to provide a safety net.
    • Roles and frameworks that include Project Managers, Business Owners, Agile, Scrum Masters, Test Leads, etc. with the goal of making projects more predictable and lower risk.
    • Post Implementation Reviews, Sprint Retrospectives, etc. all with the intent of learning lessons and acknowledging that we are not perfect.

As I list the bullet points above I am surprised by how much has already been done to manage and support IT in their projects.

Finance

OK, I feel genuinely empathy for Finance, after all, they are the ones who ultimately carry the can! They are the sensible first born in this analogy. Their work is scrutinised by regulators and share holders alike, often they are the messenger who gets shot when the numbers are bad! So how do we describe finance:

  • The style of their work is more cyclical (i.e. monthly, quarterly, year end) and has a larger number of regular activities that can be repeated.
  • In response to the need for ethical and transparent reporting, finance have introduced accounting standards to reduce the risk of rogue practices.
  • They tend to bother the business less, in this analogy let’s call them the parent. They manage with fewer business rules definitions, written requirements and test cases.
  • Whilst there are different roles in finance (i.e budgeting, AR, AP, monthly reporting, etc.) the same team often write, enhance and run their own reports. The demarcation of duties is less clear or absent.
  • Despite having accounting standards to adhere to, and being monitored by auditors, etc. finance still fulfil their role without the same high degree of self imposed governance and process.

The Rivalry for Parental Approval.

So given these differences, what would these two siblings say about each other when talking to their parent (i.e. the business)?

Finance

  • Why doesn’t IT deliver on time?
  • Why do we have to spend so much money on them
  • If we can run a business with Excel why is it so hard for them to turn what we do in to a program?
  • Can’t they just get on with their work without all this process and governance, after all, we manage!

IT

  • If only finance took time to understand how complex our work is.
  • Why don’t they treat us like an equal?
  • I wish finance would stop asking for guarantees, how do I know if this tool will be the right one in 5 years time?
  • Why do finance tell us what to do when they don’t understand IT we shouldn’t report to them?

Dysfunction

So what is the consequence of this dysfunction? What I have observed is that IT becomes defensive. We engage in excessive governance, overly conservative estimates, gold platted coding and end up missing the opportunity to add value to the business. Effectively we become negative and petulant second born.

So Where To?

What can be done about this? My suggestions for IT are:

  • Accept that we are service provider, one day we may be an equal, but not yet. Let’s remember that demonstrating our worth is an integral part of our role.
  • Realise that at the heart of what we do are develops and engineers who vary in skill dramatically.  Simply surrounding our devs with more documents, scrums, test protocols, architects, etc. will not make as much difference as putting together a team that have greater skills.
  • If the project has to be large and complex, IT cannot fool themselves into thinking that more documentation and design means that issues are avoided. they can only ever be reduced. We need to accept that despite best intentions issues will happen and we need to quickly recognise and own them when they do. Never soldier on in the hope that the project can be salvaged, the longer it takes to address the issue the harder it will be.
  • IT needs to keep pursuing initiative like DevOps and CICD pipelines and keep pushing to be an agile service provider.
  • Only pursue IT Led Initiatives when we are being pragmatic and the business are able to articulate requirements at a reasonable level of detail. If they can’t tell us what they think they need, there is a strong chance they don’t need it.
  • A cloud native approach has to be the first choice. It helps us: 
    • Avoid large capital purchases that make finance nervous.
    • Help us deal with the fast world of emerging technolgies.
    • Scale up and down without going back to ask for more money to buy new infrastructure.
    • Respond to the business in an agile, responsive manner.
  • Finally, and most importantly, IT cannot use over governance as a means to de-risk projects. We shoot ourselves in the foot and become a liability not an asset.
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