The CFO as Captain Chaos


When Eric Berridge, co-founder of Bluewolf Group, suggests the CFO as Captain Chaos he is recognizing that someone has to take charge of the chaos increasingly surrounding us. He wrote recently in his blog that CFOs must learn to harness chaos for a very simple reason: business is becoming more chaotic.

The evidence is everywhere. Hurricanes, hybrid superstorms, earthquake-tsunami combinations, extreme heat, heavy snow in April are just a few signs. Others can be seen in the proliferation of smartphones and BYOD or the deluge of data under the banner of big data or the proliferation of myriad security threats. Even a shortage of sufficient energy can lead to chaos. Think of it this way: chaos has become the new normal.

Can the CFO step up as the new superhero able to overcome whatever chaos to deliver the right value at the right time and guide the organization through today's tumultuous business environment? Sure, and Berridge offers four steps to get you going.

First, don't build stuff you don't absolutely have to build. You want your organization to travel as light as possible. This means reining in IT's tendency to suggest new technology to address every problem and the business units' propensity to continually request new and more in-house systems.

The trouble is when you build systems you are stuck with them. Instead, you want systems you can change as fast as the business changes. That means you need to encourage an agile IT infrastructure, probably one that taps cloud services and turns them on and off as needed.

Second, recognize the consumerization of IT and the BYOD (bring-your-own-device) chaos it sparked. The consumerization of IT -- wiredFINANCE has written about this previously here -- is not something to be resisted but embraced and facilitated in ways that enable the measure of control you need. Figure out how to take advantage of BYOD through responsive policies, elastic infrastructure, and flexible security capabilities.

Third, encourage the organization's R&D group and product development teams to adopt agile approaches to innovation, especially through social media and other forms of collaboration. Even encourage those groups to go further by reaching out to valued customers and trusted partners to participate. Your role as CFO at this point can be to encourage and facilitate interaction, collaboration, and innovation.

Fourth, layer on enough just-in-time governance to enable the organization to manage the collaboration and interaction. The goal is to put chaos to work. To do that you need to help set priorities, define objectives, execute plans, and enforce flexible policies but do it in the context of a chaotic world that is changing in ways you and the rest of top management can't predict.

As CFO this puts new demands on you and takes you out of the traditional CFO comfort zone. However, since there has never been a Chief Chaos Officer (CCO) or as Berridge calls it, a corporate Captain Chaos, you can start by writing your expanded job description. Then, just keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening with the world at large, in business, and with technology. (wiredFINANCE promises to help.) That means you need to identify sensors and monitors that can tip you off as things change. Since you also can't become familiar with every technology you need to identify an ever-changing stable of technology masters as advisors you can call on as needed. And finally, familiarize yourself with the vast amount of resources available in the cloud.

In the end, these last two points -- a stable of technology master advisors and deep familiarity with cloud resources -- will enable you to deliver value to your organization despite the chaos of the moment. At that point you truly become Captain Chaos, the one your organization counts on to deal with today's increasingly frequent, unpredictable change.

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