Doorways to 2009 CIO Leadership Strategies

As January approaches, the time comes for many to look back at accomplishments and look forward to set goals for the year. 

Roman deity Janus with two faces looking both forward and backwards

In fact, January gets its name from Janus, a highly-regarded deity in ancient Roman mythology.  He was the god of doorways, gates, beginnings and endings.  He’s often depicted with two faces – looking both forward and looking backwards simultaneously.


As I pen this blog, whose purpose is to serve me as a CIO leadership channel as I serve NASA, I find it difficult to parse out the “pieces” of “me” to discuss.  I’ve often been asked about work-life balance.  This balance is achieved by recognition that I am not 10% this and 90% other … but rather, I am 100% wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, friend, teacher, CIO, leader, senior executive.  And it is through this struggle that I received 1000% richness and fullness in the life that this CIO enjoyed for 2008.  I find it no coincidence that the beginning — my professional career starting at NASA — and the ending — being again at this nation’s space agency at the end of my first half century of life – intersect at this gate of eye-opening self revelation.  2008 was indeed a great year. 


It’s all about the mission and the people.  My 2009 goal suddenly became a 2008 accomplishment.  The Goddard Space Flight Center Director, Rob Strain, signed off on the reorganization of the IT Directorate.  The reorganization formally recognizes several significant changes in how we will manage our IT resources.


We made some significant accomplishments as a directorate in 2008 and I am proud to serve as the Director of the IT and Communications Directorate and the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  We’ve provided mission critical communications services; business essential applications; delivered capabilities through project management rigor; supported desktop requirements for end users; fulfilled the voice, data, and video needs of NASA’s world class scientists and engineers; all enabled by crucial administrative financial, contract, and other support services.  This is no silver bullet, as an organizational structure is just a series of lines and boxes that describes organizations and functions.  It’s the people inside the boxes linked to the mission that makes this a success.


As we look forward to 2009, my leadership team will be suiting up — putting on the whole armor of leadership – needed to meet the challenges ahead.  My organization has been through a lot – and during these times of changes, we all have been through a lot personally.  But, I have no doubt that in 2009 we will continue our relentless pursuit to ensure that our IT services fulfill the mission needs of our nation’s space program.


Process isn’t glamorous, but neither is chaos. In a later post, I will blog about the importance of IT Governance especially as it relates to the challenges of IT security.  In 2008, Goddard Space Flight Center gained momentum in its IT governance processes. 


This is not the evil menacing villain CIO –arch enemy of truth and justice — destroyer of all life forms and networks as we know them today.  Nor is it the super hero Wonder Woman CIO — savior of mankind — enemy of evil hackers (though the bullet-proof fashion accessories might be useful).  If IT Security threats are likened to Goliath, then IT Governance is the slingshot to hurl well-placed stones that can slay this giant IT problem. 


I look forward to shedding my “geek-speak” in 2009 (but I’m keeping Cosmopolitans!).  So, let me practice.  In English, IT Governance is all about how the “collective WE” make decisions about IT.  It is not a unilateral monarchy run by a Queen-CIO; it is a multi-lateral Federation with decision rights, “laws”, principles and processes. 


In 2009, we’ll “provide for the common defense” by planning and developing Network Architecture.  We will “promote the general welfare” through an informed investment management process.  We will “secure our blessings” by making sure that we focus on the things that we need to perform our mission. 


It’s not all about technology. Last, but not least, in 2008 I jumped into this powerful and amazing technology called Web 2.0.  Ok, so I expected to determine its efficacy as a communication medium; and I expected to learn practical aspects of its use; and I expected to get the hang of this transparency stuff.  I didn’t expect to make the people connections that I made that so enriched my life.


I connected with QuarkSpin through Twitter.  He made me look back fondly at my systems programming days of creating REXX routines while on my pot-of-coffee-a-day habit.  Today, though I drink only about 16 ounces of coffee daily, his message of optimism and faith will stay with me and help frame my outlook for 2009.


I connected with Harold on Facebook.  It’s amazing that I’ve known him in real life for years.  As we were both going through what ends up being a routine bout of insomnia, he shared with me through Facebook some seemingly random thoughts.  Random indeed.  He was observing Rosh Hashanah and discussing the idea of asking for forgiveness from those you hurt during the year.  Today, even though I wonder why it took me so long to know the man behind that shy smile and mustache, his message of trying to be a better person — wife, daughter, friend, CIO, etc — will help frame my outlook for 2009.


I connected with RT through blogging.  I read with wonder his fascinating tales of growing up in the Southwestern part of the United States.  His youthful adventures which emanated from his life in the great southwest sure put a different perspective on the life of a NASA CIO, which emanates from southwest Washington, DC.  Perhaps you know him – maybe he held the door for you as you entered the store; maybe you passed him on the street and said good morning; or maybe he walked by as you were pumping gas.  Today, SW USA and SW DC seem to be right next door, and his message of inspiration, courage, focus, strength, and commitment will help frame my outlook for 2009.


I suppose a CIO’s IT Strategy should look at people, processes, and technologies.  It seems that it all boils down to people though — being a good and humble servant to the people you lead, being a better person no matter how you parse yourself it out, and valuing the people in your life. 


 Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

6 thoughts on “Doorways to 2009 CIO Leadership Strategies”

  1. Great start to what should be an excellent Blog discussion. I like many of your references linking the US Constitution to the mission of the CIO office. I also agree with the discussion on Governance it is interesting that military training always starts with discipline and the need to understand and adhere to process. I think with the increasing frequency of change we are all experiencing in IT and in reality International Business as a whole, the ability to react in a disciplined manner will be critical. Processes that take into account the need for rapid adaptation and yet ensure that the basic integrity of the system is not compromised are essential. I recall a speech that you gave at a IAC leadership conference in Gettysburg a few years back where you talked about how Civil War soldiers were drilled incessantly so that when they were under fire they could react in a controlled and consistent manner and this is what ensured their survival on the battlefield. IT Governance in our world of rapid change is the drill that will ensure the safety and survival of our information.

  2. Thanks for your insight Greig. The role of the CIO as a service provider may be directly analagous to the role of soldiers on a battlefield. One must stand, deliver, and of course, dodge bullets. The role of the CIO as a strategist may be similar to those of battlefield generals. Of course, as I said in that Gettsyberg address (I just wanted to say that) … sometimes, the safe role is to be a horse holder. They always survived and were necessary. But courageous leadership and consistent execution is essential in ensuring that our valued assets are defended and protected.

    Linda Cureton

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