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Technical committee profile: CFIT; Committee on Finance and Information Technology.

This is the first in a series of articles that will profile FEI's eight technical committees. Current information on each is available at FEI's Web site, www.fei.org/committees.

FEI's Committee on Finance and Information Technology (CFIT) overlooks an intersection that has become increasingly important in recent years--the junction of finance and technology. As finance functions themselves have become increasingly automated--and software solutions have introduced products like remote data entry and "dashboards" that allow CFOs to take in financials at a glance--the tools of the trade have become ever more critical to finance departments of all sizes.

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The committee dates back to the 1960s, when it was known as the Management Information Committee. Under its revised charter, adapted in January, CFIT has four principal subcommittees: CFO/CIO, Infrastructure, Performance Management, and Standards, Policy & Regulatory. The committee itself is undergoing some transformation in an effort led by Garry Lowenthal (pictured at right), a longtime FEI member from the Twin Cities Chapter who has held a number of leadership posts at FEI--including Area Director for the Midwest, past President of the Twin Cities Chapter, FEI National Executive Committee and Board--and chaired the CFIT conference in 2003. Lowenthal took over as chairman from Mark Jacobsen last November.

"I've been rebuilding the committee," Lowenthal said in an interview. "I don't care how many people we have if they can do the job. We're trying to reach out to the thought leaders, people like the chief information officers and chief financial officers at companies like Amazon.com and eBay--I'm trying to go to larger and mid-cap companies." While the committee, by charter, can have 35 members, in June it had just 27.

New rules stipulate that national technical committee members must personally attend two of the four meetings in a year, and serve on at least one subcommittee. Members are being asked to pay $1,000 a year in dues to pay for the meetings, and CFIT now allows for alternate members, from the same company as the primary member, if the primary cannot attend.

Lowenthal also points to the model set by prominent FEI members like James Schneider, the CFO of Dell Inc., and John Connors, CFO of Microsoft Corp.--both of whom were CIOs at their respective companies before becoming CFOs. In the big picture, Lowenthal says, "I'm trying to get the IT function and the finance function to be in alignment with the CEO and boards, and that's right in line with what FEI is all about."

One of the four subcommittees, charged with advocacy and working with standard-setting bodies, is chaired by Taylor Hawes, Controller, Global Platform and Operations, at Microsoft Corp. Lowenthal believes that for this subcommittee, in particular, big companies could be helpful in recruiting new committee members.

He also wants to create a "mentorship" program involving CIOs from similar-sized companies. This might involve a "FELIX-type program," referring to the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF)-sponsored online knowledge exchange, as well as local chapters holding joint meetings.

As CFIT itself continues to evolve, its core objectives are largely the same. Members evaluate and respond to proposals from the government, academics and other organizations, and the committee develops content for and hosts an annual conference. Members have also been involved in providing content to TechKnowledge, the monthly newsletter on technology issues written by FERF.

Last year, the committee also identified a key issue--the rollout of eXtensible Business Reporting Language, or XBRL--and contributed a research report written by Hawes and Isaac Cheifetz, a recruiter and then-member of CFIT. That report, "Everything You Wanted to Know About XBRL, but Were Afraid to Ask: A CFO's Guide," was released last September.

This past March, Lowenthal, Hawes and Bob Shepler--the staff liaison to the committee and FEI's Director of Federal Affairs in Washington, D.C.--met with the chief information officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), R. Corey Booth, to discuss the SEC's involvement with the global XBRL initiatives, as the SEC's EDGAR system is "100 percent behind" this new structured financial reporting standard, Lowenthal says. Booth told them that helping popularize XBRL is one of the four principal initiatives this year at the agency.

For 2004, the annual technology conference for CFOs is being "co-located" with the Society for Information Management (SIM) and will piggyback on that organization's annual conference, scheduled for September 12-14 in Chicago. The notion is that FEI members will benefit from being part of a larger meeting with proven content; the SIM meeting traditionally draws as many as 600 people, many of them chief information officers. The highlight of the conference, Lowenthal says, will be a CFO-CIO "tag team" from General Motors Corp. that will discuss their working relationship at the world's largest automaker.

Also at the meeting, a research survey put out by FERF will look at the legacy of information management systems. Lowenthal says that half of the keynote addresses chosen by SIM "were perfect," and address how CIOs and CFOs can work together. He adds that the committee has approached several FEI chapters to help push attendance.
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Author:Marshall, Jeffrey
Publication:Financial Executive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:846
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