In Search of the Lost Art of IT Management

I get a steady trickle of “Friend” requests on Facebook.  As a rule, I don’t accept requests from people who I don’t know or with whom I have no mutual friends.  But, then I got such a request from Otto Adams.  The name didn’t even ring a bell.  A few clicks and I discovered he was in my graduating class at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC.

It may or may not be surprising to know that out of a graduating class of 141, I barely remember anyone.  Mostly, I remember the brass section of the band and a few clarinet players.  So, I looked at Otto’s friends to see who they were to get some clues.  Then I saw, Chris Belcher.  Humm…his photograph showed a 50-ish man with gray hair and an ever-so-slight beginning of male-pattern baldness.  But, the amazing thing was that the photograph, which was so good and it captured the essence of his personality, it caused me to remember a quiet blond teenage boy who always walked around by himself with his camera on his shoulder.  Yes, good photographs do that.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to find a string of visual arts students on Facebook, but that’s what I found. 

Next, I came to Francesca Scott.  She was obviously a professional photographer.  No picture of her, but I had a vague memory of a short girl with long beautiful hair that walked around by herself with a camera on her shoulder.  A browsed her gallery.   I hadn’t seen such beautiful pictures in years.  And quite frankly, had forgotten what beauty a talented photographer could produce.

And then I thought of what is going on today with Information Technology.

Today, just about everyone has a camera on their phone.  This along with the ease of use and popularity of digital cameras makes it easy for just about everyone to be a “photographer”.  Furthermore, with the video capabilities that exist now, just about anyone is able to record “what’s on the scene” of most newsworthy events that happen. Now everyone is a videographer.

Today, just anyone can have a blog.  It’s easy and it’s free.  Information is everywhere and anyone with a blog site can now become a “journalist”. 

The same situation exists with IT.  No one can deny that there is a proliferation of IT.  At NASA, we spend somewhere around $1.5 billion per year on it.  It’s everywhere.  And here, just like everywhere, the proliferation, the ubiquitous nature of it, and the increased ease of use forces IT, as well as cameras, to be considered merely tools.  It is because of the notion that IT is merely a tool, that we have lost the notion of a discipline that is actually associated with the management of IT – the artistry that is associated with the use of the mastery of tool.

Well, what does this “art” look like? And why is it important to find it again?

Truth.  Now that anyone with a blog, can be a journalist, what is left for the journalist to do? To, coin a phrase, information, information everywhere and nothing to think about.  The journalist’s role can add value by helping readers validate information and convert information into knowledge.  With IT, the CIO must now evolve from being the deliverer of IT, because now most people can get that, to helping organizations use that information to get the knowledge they need for mission success.

Beauty.  I don’t know if I can tell you what made Francesca’s photographs beautiful, but they were.  The beauty was not in the tool she used, but it was in the results that were produced.  And perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  Similarly, the beauty in the successful management of IT will be in the eyes of those who are served by it.  There is no beauty in IT tools, but the beauty can be observed in the outcomes that are produced as perceived by the people who are served.

Love.  Love inspires passion which breathes life into what we do.  Long hours in a dark room, dancing until your feet were sore, or practicing your horn with a tired embouchure, require passion to fuel and sustain artists.  Similarly, the CIO, or any leader for that matter, must have passion about their work and about the mission to sustain execution of activities that can ultimately breed success.

Love, beauty, truth … What does that have to do with space exploration? Getting back to the moon? Or getting to Mars? I’m not sure how to really explain what that “looks like” relative to IT Management.  But, considering how important IT is to NASA’s mission and how much we spend on it, recapturing that lost art of IT Management is needed to use these mere tools as effectively and as efficiently as we can for the masterpiece of mission success.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

13 thoughts on “In Search of the Lost Art of IT Management”

  1. Respected Linda,
    Very nice article as usual.Glad and privelege to read it..Hope you will continue give awesome blog articles..

    with warm regards

    Sooraj Prabhakaran

  2. Respected Linda,

    Very nice article as usual….Glad and privilege to read it..I Always read your informative articles..Expecting the next one soon..Keep giving awesome blog articles.

    warm regards

    Sooraj Prabhakaran

  3. It is one of the great ironies of the information age that if I wish to send a document to a member of Congress, the President, an organisation like NASA, a NASA official like the Administrator or even the author of this blog, it has to go snail mail.

    Government is not prepared to accept electronic mail for fear of attack and fear of the volume I presume.

    Linda, you care to turn your mind to this issue.

    Peter Egan

  4. wow! Thank you so much for the wonderful comments!
    Photography is indeed a form of art, well worth investigating and experimenting with. I have thoroughly enjoyed photography over the years and credit Ellington for making it happen. Would love to have you join us at one of our future reunions!
    Fran Scott Ellington class of ’78

  5. I think the common misconception is that everything we need to do great IT already exists. You drew the parallel to photography, but maybe there’s even a closer parallel to space science. A lot of people think we’ve already reaped the rewards there, and that further endeavors are a frivolous use of tax payer money. While space science and IT have impressive capabilities today, the twinkle in the eye your blog says to me is that we’ve only scratched the surface. The best is yet to come.

    The big advance we need in IT is the pervasive ability to get our hands on the right data at the right time. Like photography, it can be done today with enough expertise, the right tools, and properly placed passion. But it still requires amazing amounts of computer science depth, extensive planning and too much precious time.

    So, I think the point is that as good as things are today in computer science and space science, or any science for that matter, there is plenty of room for advances beyond all our wildest dreams.

  6. Linda I love this post! I live by the addage that technology (tools) serve no purpose unless they diminish a limitation.

    I loathe the misuse of the word art to denote a fuzzy or non deterministic set of skills. I see art as a result of mastery of fundementals and a dedication to approach with a solid goal in mind.

    You are a true artist in this regard!



  7. Great work Linda,another great post from you.Thanks for this and hope to hear more from you.

  8. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  9. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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