In this four-part series, CampusLogic CEO Gregg Scoresby and Utah State University CIO Eric Hawley talk about tech in higher education, from a CIO’s perspective. Hawley explains USU’s early adopter mentality, gives insights on how IT departments work to partner with business units, offers tips for technology vendors, and shares his top 5 vendors. Read on for part one: early adoption, SaaS, and simplicity.
Associate Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Utah State University (USU), Eric Hawley focuses on strategic, comprehensive restructuring of information systems, services, and policies to improve the use and reputation of technology in achieving human goals. But he prefers being known simply as Eric, a happy father of five, who just happens to be able to explain a lot of acronyms.
Gregg: You’re an early adopter of software as a service (SaaS) and SaaS products. What’s in Utah State’s DNA that enables you to innovate so quickly, and to be open to younger companies?
Eric: One of the pieces that makes it possible is if a product is so good, or if a process is so good—so clear, so well-designed, simple, and obvious—that it blows up the complications of the past, people see it. When we were selecting our learning management system, we put it in front of our faculty and said, ‘Okay, look at how you set up a course, how the Gradebook works, how discussions groups work.” They checked it out, and said “Huh. That actually makes sense.”
Pretty clearly, a lot of these new ways of working are almost intuitively preferred. Once users see a product or process that is intuitive, easy, and focused, companies start to put a lot of support behind those vendors. You obviously have to vet the security, stability, and the vendor’s ability to deliver for new pieces, but if you introduce things in the right way, and if you find groups who do intuitive, easy, and focused well, I think people see that and adopt it in the same way they would a consumer product.
Gregg: Sounds like you’re a fan of simplicity.
Eric: Absolutely. When you come from a world where software has grown and inflated itself over the years causing it to lose simplicity, when you regain that simplicity people respond. Today, in both our business and personal lives, things can feel cloudier because of technology, more muddled and noisy. When you see something simple, but that works, it blows you away.
Gregg: What are your thoughts on SaaS?
Eric: SaaS really opened up the field in terms of buyers who could influence technology purchase decisions, beyond your typical IT department. Today it’s common for departments, business units, and individual stakeholders to approach IT with a solution they’ve found that solves a problem they have. In the new world of SaaS, people can go anywhere they want, find anything they want, start working with it, testing it out. It heightens the level of transparency and accountability within IT roles, because we know that if we aren’t finding better solutions and using those solutions, people will go other routes.
Gregg: Final question, what’s your favorite spot to eat in Logan, Utah?
Eric: It depends. If you like Indian food then you have to go to Tandoori Oven. It’s the best Indian Cuisine ever, and it’s in a gas station. If you tell me you don’t like Indian food, I’m taking you to Subway.
Watch for part two of this series where Hawley gives insights on how his IT department works to partner with business units.
Read about how Utah State is tackling PPY & Early FAFSA >