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One thing that you’re likely to encounter in any IT department is resentment toward the Finance department. A staffer might be angry because “those bean counters in Finance who know nothing about technology” directed him to buy one product when he wanted to buy a different one. Or maybe Finance approves the acquisition of an application, but it says to get the server version, not the cloud version (or vice versa; Finance’s decisions can seem maddeningly unpredictable). Or it outright rejects a request to replace a system that users consider to be a boat anchor. “Why?” asks IT. Because, says Finance, that boat anchor can’t be replaced until it’s fully depreciated — never mind that that will be several years in the future.

Without a grounding in your organization’s capital structure and financial practices, such decisions can make Finance appear arbitrary — a description that would amaze most people in Finance, who think of themselves as methodical, pretty much the opposite of arbitrary. In most cases, Finance has practical reasons for its decisions, but to IT leaders, they can seem to defy logic because they are completely unrelated to IT concerns.

If you want to be an effective IT leader, one whose funding requests are usually approved by Finance, you need to take the time to understand your enterprise’s accounting practices. Here are some of the things that tend to drive Finance’s decisions but can seem rather opaque to IT leaders who don’t bother to study their company’s accounting practices:

  • An aversion to balance sheet write-offs. Most Finance departments will capitalize major systems or other investments so that the cost is spread over several years. Finance wants to please the stock market, which likes predictable earnings, so minimizing charges to earnings in any one year is, for them, a no-brainer.

Once an asset is on the balance sheet, accountants and management really dislike writing it off early because write-offs are viewed as failures by the stock market. That’s why Finance may make it difficult to shut down a failing program or to replace a system that is not yet fully depreciated. Letting depreciations run their full course is such an engrained part of the Finance mindset that it takes a very strong political coalition and a highly compelling business case to shake it.

  • A commitment to strengthen the balance sheet. For Finance people, a weak balance sheet means they are failing the company. Startups and other companies with weak balance sheets have difficulty borrowing money, and paying bills as they come due can be a struggle. Any company in that situation wants to conserve cash as much as possible. That puts most capital…