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Creativity and innovation the hallmarks of CIO's IT centralization

Eric Hawley, CIO at Utah State University, knows that creativity and innovation are vital to IT centralization -- as is a fully baked cookie analogy.

Eric Hawley, CIO, Utah State UniversityEric Hawley,
Utah State University

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.

For Eric Hawley, CIO at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, creating unified IT services in a decentralized higher-education environment was a matter of trust -- and the use of what proved to be a highly effective baked-goods analogy.

Centralized IT services can be a tough sell at universities, where academic and administrative departments are often accustomed to having their own IT staff. Hawley helped sell colleagues on the benefits of IT consolidation by comparing the concept to a cookie -- the kind baked in an oven, not stored on a browser. Would they be more likely to accept a free cookie from somebody they didn't know or, just as dicey, pay for an expensive cookie from somebody they did not trust? Or would they feel better eating a free cookie that others have already sampled and liked or, even better, consuming a cookie they baked themselves?

The Hawley philosophy is that the first two scenarios involve "forcing cookies" on people without first building trust -- an ineffective strategy that can damage relationships. Instead, he aimed for the third and fourth scenarios: He broke down boundaries between various IT interests by showing them that shared services, done right, are built on standards (or time-tested recipes) that have become standards for a reason. That, in turn, engendered a culture of voluntary participation at the university. Because of the trust he established among the once-disparate staff, university users now want to work with IT, rather than be forced to engage with it -- or worse, avoid it altogether. And that makes Hawley one smart cookie.

An excerpt from the judges

Great example of how a CIO should become an enterprise leader, well beyond simply an IT manager.

Read more about Hawley, a finalist in the cultural innovation, business value, IT engagement and IT Leader of the Year categories in this year's SearchCIO IT Leadership Awards.

Revenue: $574 million

Number of employees: 3,175

Number of employees in IT: 93 full-time, 124 student or part-time staff (around 145 full-time equivalents total)

Educational background: Bachelor of science degree in computer engineering, with minors in math, computer science and Portuguese, from Utah State University, 1999. Master of science degree in business information systems from Utah State University, 2002. Ph.D. in education, with a specialty in management information systems, Utah State University, 2008.

First job: Mowing lawns and working part-time at Radio Shack in high school. First IT job: Saying I knew how to install a Novell NetWare server when knowing I really meant, "Well, I can read a manual. How hard could it be?" 

LinkedIn: Eric Hawley

Twitter Handle: @erichawley (sorry, I don't tweet much!)

What's the best advice you've ever received? See all those people around you? They might have a point!

In the movie of your life, who would play your character? Me. (No one else has my nose.) Though I do quite like Emma Thompson.

If you could have just one superpower, what would it be and why? Seeing into people's minds to understand what they are trying to achieve. Getting anything done for the benefit of the person, the group or the society requires an understanding and appreciation not just of what others may be thinking, but what they are hoping to accomplish!

What's your favorite app on your smartphone or tablet device? Just one? Oh my, there are so many. If I must pick one, it's Yelp. Finding good food at a moment's notice, both spatially and socially connected. Mmmm … I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Where do you fall in the iPhone vs. Android debate? Choice, baby, choice! I fall on the side of both remaining vibrant and wildly successful. We MUST have a strong competitive marketplace to drive innovation and efficiency!

Describe the best technology decision you ever made. Forcing our university's first foray into SaaS [Software as a Service]: Google Apps for Education, fully implemented early on in May 2007 (before it was cool). We had to break so many traditional IT fears and models to make that change. It shook people's world at the time -- forced us to reconsider security, staffing, culture, services and skills, [and] opened up resources and opportunities. Was there pain? Yes. Even turnover. But the restaffing and rebuilding of culture around service and breaking the "Not Invented Here" syndrome is something I will never regret. It opened up a world of progressive, fearless opportunity and reinvented our IT and collaborative culture!

Was there ever a technology that you thought was a gimmick but now couldn't live without? Facebook. I swore that thing would be the biggest waste of time. But I am amazed at the level of connection and social knowledge it can afford! (How would I talk to my children without it?)

What's the biggest challenge you face in IT today? Creating a culture of change. (People, me included, tend to get stuck in our ways to our detriment. Change is awesome! Get addicted! Be afraid of stagnation.)

Which role and/or internal partner do you rely upon the most? CFO. Hug your CFO!

What's your prediction for the next big technology? Singularity! OK, just kidding -- sorry, Mr. Kurzweil.  Instead, I better go with "augmented reality" -- even more ubiquitous data access about and around us and our world, presented more simply, and embedded more profoundly close to us, than ever before.

What's your favorite nonmonetary benefit or perk of your job? Working at a research university allows for exposure to staggering breadth and depth! Lectures, classes, research, TEDx, students, youth, energy, campus, community! CAN'T BEAT LEARNING!

Excerpt from the nomination

[Leadership] is about developing individuals and organizations. It is about leading people to build an enduring system that delivers the desired results. Eric does exactly this, without drawing attention to himself. Instead, he gives others the attention and praises their performance. I can think of few people I would be as enthusiastic to recommend as Eric.

What is the biggest problem you see with corporate cultures today? Command and control. The stifling of innovation. Growth at the expense of responsiveness and flexibility.

What are "rookie mistakes" that you see in up-and-coming IT leaders? Focusing on the servers and wires instead of the people and processes around us and the nontechnical "human" objectives we should be trying to achieve.

Describe your leadership style: Help PEOPLE.

Hire and trust others. If we are doing something someone else could do better, we are not doing the unique and differentiating things only we can do! 

Get answers to these five questions all the time:

1.            Whom do we serve and what do they need to do?

2.            What services do we provide so they can do what they need to do?

3.            How do we know we are doing a great job?

4.            How do we provide the service?

5.            How do we organize?

And then five more: Substitute do with should.

Let us know what you think of this story; email Wendy Schuchart, senior site editor.

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