Do Businesses Need an IT Czar?
By Chris Curran
With the NFL playoffs in full swing, most of the league's teams are on the sidelines thinking about how to get better for next year. Most of the introspection involves evaluating coaches and players.
One new front office hire that is particularly interesting is Cleveland's recruiting of Mike Holmgren as its new president. He is known as the architect of very successful Green Bay Packers teams (75-37 record) and the cultivator of a high quality coaching tree, which included Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, and John Gruden.
What is interesting about Holmgren's hire is that it is modeled after Bill Parcells role at Miami - "The Football Czar." He's not the head coach and he's not the GM (who usually handles personnel). Instead, he is something else.
It is a role that leverages his expertise as a position coach, a head coach and a GM. One that sees the bigger picture and is able to evaluate players AND coaches from a fresh and more independent perspective. It is a position created to drive the "rebuilding" of a program - something Miami and Cleveland badly need. In Parcells' case, he took an 1-15 team and got it into the playoffs the next year with an 11-5 record. Part of the Parcells formula is to bring in a core of coaches and players that he trusts and who know his systems, both offensively and defensively.
What could all of this mean to an enterprise and specifically, to the information technology function?
The IT Czar
The default IT organization is some derivative of the "apps, ops, other" model, in which one group (or set of groups) deals with building and maintaining business applications, one groups deals with computer operations and support, and one group (or a few groups) deals with everything else, which usually includes IT planning and budgeting, enterprise architecture training, HR and measurement/reporting. Of course, more complicated and/or sophisticated organizations deviate from this, but most have this basic lineage.
One of the downsides of this model is that the CIO is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team ("the coach"), the personnel ("the GM") and the executive roles of strategic planning and alignment. As I've detailed here, I believe that some people are just not cut out to wear all of these hats at once. But, with the team's collective strengths in mind, a CIO can build a leadership group capable of succeeding across the market and business cycles.
What if we apply the Football Czar model to IT? What if we think about the traditional CIO role as really two roles:
1. IT COO - runs the IT organization day-to-day, apps and ops
2. IT Czar - technology strategist and representative in senior business leadership discussions, IT COO reports to the IT Czar, along with planning, architecture and measurement/analysis
While they don't call it anything like a "czar," one of my financial services clients is structured in a similar way. In their case, the IT COO and CTO report to the CIO. The model has promise in their organization but has caused the CIO to become too disconnected from the IT organization and their issues.
But, maybe that's the point?
Chris Curran is CTO of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants and the author of the CIO Dashboard blog, where this post originally appeared.