Subscribe via RSS Feed

A new proposed role — the “IT Czar”

January 26, 2010 1 Comment

My co-author and good friend Ruby Raley pointed me to this posting by Chris Curran over a possible new IT role, that of the “IT Czar”. Chris specifically uses a rebuilding-the-football-team analogy:

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.

Be sure to read Curran’s entire post, plus the robust debate in the comments that follow it.

Of course, Ruby and I also used the football analogy a few years ago in suggesting a radically different approach to IT organization and leadership. As we wrote:

The bad news is that, unlike in football, the business and IT sides of a firm don’t always agree on what constitutes a ‘victory’ (even though both sides can usually agree on what a ‘loss’ is, at least in cases of total or significant project failure). Indeed, sometimes they cannot fully agree on what the game is.

Curran’s IT Czar role could in theory solve that; I like his proposals and approach, and, of course, I like the sports team analogy.

The problem is, it’s hard to see how upper management would treat or perceive it as being any different from the current CIO role. Both as a consultant and as an expert witness, I’ve had lots of opportunity to see just how  constrained the CIO slot can be in large organizations. A lot of the blame for that rests squarely upon the CEO and other CxO leaders, both in terms of whom they select for the CIO job and how they define/constrain that job. CIOs tend to be selected from business-types with some technical background, as opposed to technical types with some business background. Curran’s analogy (e.g., Bill Parcells) suggests that the czar be someone who has been down in the trenches (e.g., position and head coach) and knows what day-to-day IT development requires, but that’s not who usually gets picked.

The closest model to an IT Czar that I’ve seen that has worked were the various corporate Y2K ‘czars’ who were appointed 10+ years ago to save the officers and directors from any Y2K liability, and thus were given lots of power and pretty free rein. (A joke from those times — Q: What’s the difference between a terrorist and a corporate Y2K director? A: You can negotiate with the terrorist.) An IT czar appointed to ‘turn around’ an organization’s IT efforts would have to be given that same power and freedom. That is not likely to happen unless, as with Y2K, the corporate officers and directors see themselves at risk — professionally, legally, financially and/or personally. Otherwise, as noted above, the “IT Czar” would be just another CIO.  ..bruce..

About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Phil Simon says:

    Great post, Bruce. Yes, I agree that it sounds good in practice but the Czar would need more control that most CIOs probably have.

    Parcells, as you probably know, wasn’t happy in New England. To paraphrase him, he was responsible for the cooking but couldn’t pick the ingredients.

    I suspect that most organizations would be loathe to give anyone Parcells-type power.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.