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The 2013 IT Leadership Awards: Honoring effective leadership styles

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CIO effects a culture change at Yale with ITIL training

Effecting a culture change in a venerable institution is hard. CIO Len Peters remade Yale's IT services in six months by insisting on ITIL training.

Our SearchCIO 2013 IT Leadership Awards recognize the contributions and innovations of IT professionals at enterprise companies. We put out a call for nominations of individuals who have excelled in six categories: cultural innovation, technological advancement, business value, green IT, IT engagement and customer experience.

Bringing about a culture change is a difficult proposition under most circumstances. Driving change on an academic campus, where top-down directives are often met with skepticism if not revolt, can be an exercise in futility. CIO Leonard Peters not only reinvented the delivery of IT services at Yale University, one of the nation's most tradition-bound academic enclaves, he also did it in six months.

Len PetersLen Peters

The challenge was not trivial. The Information Technology Service (ITS)-Yale University, which employs approximately 800 people, had "no operating model" when Peters joined the organization, according to his nomination. To remedy that, Peters turned to The Information Technology Infrastructure Library(ITIL), a globally recognized collection of best practices for information technology (IT) service management, and mandated that all ITS-Yale employees take basic ITIL training.

The new culture of accountability at ITS-Yale didn't stop with ITIL training. Peters' staff developed a tool for reporting performance that is so novel they're filing a patent for it. Most impressive, Peters seems to have pulled off this revolution without leaving a trail of disgruntled employees. "Everybody in the organization is with him," writes a colleague.

Learn more about IT Leadership finalist Leonard Peters in this Q&A.

Number of years in IT: 33

Company: Yale University

Revenue: Nonprofit

Number of employees in the company: 9,100 staff and 3,900 faculty

Number of employees in IT: Approximately 800

Educational background: Master of Science degree in technology management from Columbia University.

First job: My first full-time job was at Merrill Lynch as a computer operator; my first part-time job was at Boone's Fruits and Vegetables (I was 14.).

Judge's comment:

Driving change in an academic setting is a monstrous challenge. Driving cultural change in a relatively short period of time is extremely rare and, in this environment, possibly unique.

LinkedIn: Len Peters

Twitter Handle: @lenpeters

What's the best advice you've ever received? Trust your instincts.

In the movie of your life, who would play your character? Robert DeNiro

If you could have just one superpower, what would it be and why? Transport (like in Star Trek), so I can cram more in without wasted travel time.

What's your favorite app on your smartphone or tablet device? Meditation App

Where do you fall in the iPhone versus Android debate? iPhone

Describe the best technology decision you ever made: To move from Oracle EBS to Workday's cloud-based ERP.

From the nomination:

There was no operating model when he joined; he brought structure to the organization. We created a new tool for performance reporting, which is innovative, and we filed a patent for it. He has changed the old culture at Yale and he survived.

Which current technology is a gimmick or overly-hyped? I think the term big data is a marketing term. Data has always been big on a relative basis.

What's the biggest challenge you face in IT today? Accelerated pace coupled with organizational change management, consumerization and disintermediation.

Which role/internal partner do you rely upon the most? Too many to mention; they all play a critical role.

What's your prediction for the next big technology? Semantic Web and context awareness.

What's your favorite nonmonetary benefit or perk of your job? Working with amazingly bright and dedicated people.

What is the biggest problem you see with corporate cultures today? I don't work in a corporation. But, generally speaking, bureaucracy seems to slow down change, and with technology you really don't have forever.

What are "rookie mistakes" that you see in up-and-coming IT leaders? An unbalanced approach: IT leaders must be able to operate across the spectrum of people, process, financials and technology. This all needs to wrap around a strong focus on your customers' needs, both expressed and unexpressed.

Describe your leadership style: Approachable, communicative, supportive, engaged with the functional teams and aligned with the mission of the institution. I am a team player and I expect the same from my staff. I am highly organized with an eye toward forward-thinking solutions. In addition to being the CIO at Yale, I am a lecturer at Columbia University and there I can hone my skills as a leader by guiding my students through the rigors of building technology solutions.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Executive Editor.

This was first published in June 2013

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Essential Guide

The 2013 IT Leadership Awards: Honoring effective leadership styles
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Linda Tucci, Executive Editor asks:

Finalist Len Peters turned to ITIL to get his organization in shape. Do ITIL best practices still apply in an era of cloud computing, BYOD and mobile computing?

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