Learning From Disaster | Part Two - Transparently Obvious

Learning From Disaster | Part Two - Transparently Obvious

Months before Enron declared bankruptcy an unidentified employee sent the company's top executive an unequivocal message.

"I think the responsibility - and I think a lot of CIOs see this today - is not just at a systems level, but at a business level and at a cultural level," says PeopleSoft Australia & New Zealand managing director David Webster. "And so when they weave those three things together, they really have a role which is highly influential on any organisation's business outcomes. They're not just providing the infrastructure and then saying: Â'You go and use it.' Their responsibility has got to be: here's the infrastructure, and by the way here's the data converted into information and delivered to the business guy who's making the business decision."

Of course if the CEO wants to behave fraudulently no amount of software will stop them, as Forrester Research senior analyst Jim Walker remarks. Alarms may go off, but will not help if the senior management wants to ignore those alarms. "Here's the bottom line," Walker says, "[financial information] software is good for the CEO and the CFO - C level people - to find out if there's people within their organisation that are playing games for whatever benefit. But at the C level, if they're going to be fraudulent, no amount of software is going to solve that problem."

Still, the Enron experience shows that having the right level of management information available makes it easier for every employee to assume some level of financial accountability to help keep the organisation out of trouble.

"I believe that the reason that some of the information that has come to light in the likes of the HIH and the One.Tels and so forth is because people at lower levels of the organisation called it out," says Webster. "They called out the fact that they felt there were funny things going on with some of the accounting practices and some of the financial measures and the financial management, and that to me is a positive thing.

Webster says that although a company's cultural aspects are not necessarily owned by the CIO, the CIO does have a responsibility to be involved in the culture side of accountability. He points out that growing numbers of organisations are devolving accountability for financial management to levels of management below the CFO. That reflects a new awareness that the responsibility for financial management needs to permeate an organisation; it is not just the domain of the CFO and the finance function.

"The CIO is not just delivering a system for the finance function. He or she is delivering a system and supporting a system for a business that very often encompasses not just the CFO function but all functions. So we see things like self-service. We see things like CFO portals and those sorts of technologies coming into play, where you have role-based accountabilities and responsibilities architected behind the portal, which enable people to get financial visibility at different levels," he says.

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