What’s IT Got to Do With It?

I’ve written a few times about the Relevant and the Irrelevant CIO.  It’s rather trite now to refer to the atomic power of Web 2.0 and similar technologies, but what’s not readily apparent is the impact it has on the role of CIOs and other information technology leaders. 

When I was a happy dreamy mathematics student in undergraduate school, I had the dubious pleasure of tutoring some engineering students who really didn’t believe that mathematics was a legitimate discipline.  They believed that it was merely a tool to solve engineering problems.  I trying to explain the foundational theory to one knuckle-head and he said impatiently, “look, just give me the formula”. 

Well, today, as consumers know more and more about IT and as Web 2.0 puts the power of technology into the hands of the end users, the legitimacy of the Discipline of IT may be lost on most and at the very least, the need or relevance of the role of the CIO is dubious at best.  This week, my mother announced to me that she NOW knows what Twitter is and doesn’t need her CIO (and she’s thinking – whatever the heck a C.I.O is) daughter to explain it to her.  And oh, by the way, she heard about it on Oprah.

The following is one of my most favorite CIO quotes:

“Agency executives know that CIOs provide a vital resource to organizations—they just don’t know what it is,” – Dan Matthews, former CIO Department of Transportation and current Lockheed Martin executive

Today, the CIO’s customers only want her to:

·         Make their blackberry work

·         Make sure that email gets delivered

·         Order a laptop or a desktop

·         Just go away


Today, with the advent of solutions like iPhones/iTunes,  gmail/yahoo mail,  and managed laptop services from suppliers like Dell or HP, there’s only one thing left for CIO’s to do: JUST GO AWAY!


So then what exactly is the discipline of IT and what should a relevant CIO be doing?


First, she must understand her organization’s mission needs and goals from a non-IT perspective. If all you think about is email delivery, then you’re doomed. We need to think about delivering our agency’s services.  Oh, but delivering basic IT services is a hygiene issue – if you don’t do it, you stink … but if that’s all you do, you’re ineffective.


Second, she must understand what IT can do. The blocking and tackling must be done. And you’ve got to stay on top of your game — understanding the rules and suited up with the right equipment.


Finally, she must ensure that what the mission needs and what IT can do are aligned and in sync.  This means having informed decision-making processes to do just that.  It also means that the organization has a strategy or architectural roadmap to solve the organizations problems with IT. In IT jargon, this would be the discipline of IT Governance and Enterprise Architecture.


I end with apologies to Tina Turner:


What’s IT got to do, got to do with it
What’s IT but a second hand tool … for sweet old-fashioned fools
What’s IT got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a IT when a IT can be broken


(Repeat and fade)


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

5 thoughts on “What’s IT Got to Do With It?”

  1. Knucklehead? I’m sorry but I don’t need to know how a hammer is made or the history thereof to properly use it to drive a nail.

  2. Read your article and thoughts about Social Networking in the latest issue of Federal Computer Week – great article. Will be very interested in the SpaceBook implementation. I am hoping to incorporate more social networking into our training programs here at JPL. Steve

  3. Please set up an RSS feed that I can subscribe to for this particular blog.


  4. Dear Guest (comment #3):

    I will ask the Goddard Webmaster about getting that done. If you like, you may send a note to the NASA Webmaster listed at the bottom of this page.


Comments are closed.