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Facing rapid change, CIO adopts shared services model, cloud solutions

Our IT Leader of the Year, Utah State University CIO Eric Hawley, faces rapid changes in tech by leveraging shared services model and cloud solutions.

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Eric Hawley, CIO, Utah State University

Eric Hawley, CIO at Utah State University, has been crowned the SearchCIO 2013 Enterprise IT Leader of the Year. Hawley's success in bringing together centralized and decentralized IT at Utah State -- notably by creating shared services and common standards and engendering a culture of voluntary participation -- made him this year's winner.

In this podcast with Senior Features Writer Karen Goulart, Hawley shares some of his insights on current technology issues in education and across industries, including his move to a shared services model in order to adapt to the rapid pace of change in technology. This is the first of three special podcasts with Hawley.

What was your biggest IT challenge in the last six months, and how are you addressing it?

Eric Hawley: Ah, well, the biggest challenge not just in the last six months, but I think it's going to be in the next six months too, is adapting to the fast pace of change. And they're really not technology problems. Technology, quite frankly, is in many cases the easy part. It's working with people and organizations to make things happen and ensure that the people in the organizations are relevant into the future.

When we talk about shifting into Infrastructure as Service, Platform as a Service or Software as a Service and then sharing those services between institutions, it's fairly common for people to feel threatened both by the change and by the idea that their jobs might be changing.
Eric Hawley

 

For example, we are strategizing here in the state of Utah how to better leverage shared services and the cloud. When we talk about shifting into Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service or Software as a Service and then sharing those services between institutions, it's fairly common for people to feel threatened both by the change and by the idea that their jobs might be changing. Some of the biggest challenges are around defeating the silo, changing the way we've always done it and not being threatened by the future. And so we're taking some baby steps in creating a private cloud in the state of Utah and encouraging our technical staff to get their feet wet in being less involved in infrastructure and more involved in services, eventually getting them to the point where they're more comfortable being systems integrators rather than order-ers and assemblers of hardware -- moving them up the value chain. So we're starting a formal initiative by selecting some of our star systems administrators on the infrastructure side and getting them comfortable with giving up some of the hardware pieces and training and extending their knowledge .

This also extends to the people who will use the shared services, and making them feel comfortable that their data is secure, that their processes are better than ever if we can deploy them in a more cost-effective, centralized shared services scenario.

How is that working out so far?

Hawley: So far, there is nervousness. Right now, we've joined together the technical staff of Weber State University, University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Utah State University -- all diverse technical staff with very specific technical background. These are staff who are used to ordering their own servers, their own vendor relationships in the traditional way of building infrastructure. And we're asking them together and not talk about Cisco versus HP versus Dell -- those aren't strategic conversations. We're essentially [telling] them: You folks come together and we're going to make you stars in the state. Your names are going to be the people behind the first successful collaboration between institutions in IT shared services, so want you to think above the traditional technical fights and start thinking about services [on which] we could work together.

Read more about leveraging a shared-services model and cloud solutions

And there is some nervousness, because it's making them change their thoughts and be less worried about systems administration with Dell, HP and Cisco, and more worried about how we can architect these services in such a way that we can meet the collective needs of our institutions in one particular area and make it comfortable for people. And they're excited about the challenge because they're leaders -- that's one of the core pieces. Give people an opportunity to become leaders and show how it can be done rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into it. And so that's been one of the big successes of this. This is an opportunity to become a star in the system of higher education in the state by showing how we can do it rather than waiting and being dragged into this world of cloud and IT shared-services infrastructure. 

So, the other point behind this big project is not just to help change the mindset of the technology staff, and move them up the chain to areas of higher value; it's also to demonstrate to the state of Utah that we can be more efficient in higher education and work together. Why do we need to duplicate so many services? And so our hope is this will also demonstrate to the state board of regents and our legislature that these are initiatives worth supporting, and to prove that we can work together; so we hope this will turn into funding and turn into cost savings for the taxpayers of Utah while [also] changing our technical staff.

Who wouldn't like that?

Hawley: Those are the goals, and I think we can make it work; there's a lot of opportunity and some pretty low-hanging fruit in this project.

In the second part of this podcast, Hawley discusses the role of IT and the use of technology to create a competitive business advantage. In the final segment, he offers his unique perspectives on mobility and BYOD policies and what he sees as the biggest risk facing higher education today.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

This was first published in August 2013

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Essential Guide

Enterprise IT infrastructure in the age of cloud: A guide for CIOs
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