IT Reform at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The NASA IT community has worked diligently during the past year to implement meaningful IT reforms to better serve our Agency’s mission and the American people. These reforms represent the start of a journey that affects our very culture by changing the way we do business, innovate, and use technology to the benefit of our diverse customers. Improved investment management practices, the use of cloud services when appropriate, and the use of shared services as a provider and consumer are core tenets in our IRM Strategic Plan released in June 2011. To underscore the importance of this shift, I identified a Deputy CIO for IT Reform, Gary Cox, in 2012 to provide an integrated focus on IT innovation and service delivery to ensure that our services are effective and efficient from our customers’ perspectives.
In the area of investment management, we collaborated across NASA during two TechStat evaluations in the past year. The TechStat for the Integrated Collaborative Environment (ICE) in March 2011 resulted in actions that improved the governance and usability of the robust management software capability for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. In April 2012, we held a TechStat for our IT Enterprise Service Desk (ESD) to ensure that the requirements were aligned with Agency business needs and that the investment should continue as planned. The outcome was that the critical capability should continue but more focused governance and performance measures were necessary to improve user acceptance. Two Center-level TechStat investment evaluations are being planned for later this summer.
Our use of cloud technologies has benefitted NASA as well as the public. To engage the American people in space exploration, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) loaded 250,000 pictures of Mars into a Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform. This “Be a Martian” initiative has been very popular, serving over 2.5 million data queries from crowd-sourcing applications and proving that the cloud can be a terrific way to reach and engage the public and support STEM activities in our schools. NASA is the midst of deploying SERVIR, a project in partnership with USAID, to a cloud-based geospatial information technology infrastructure. SERVIR integrates satellite and ground-based data with forecast models to monitor environmental changes and improve world-wide response to natural disasters.  Finally, NASA shifted to a new web services model that uses Amazon Web Services for cloud-based enterprise infrastructure. This cloud-based model supports a wide variety of web applications and sites using an interoperable, standards-based, and secure environment while providing almost a million dollars in cost savings each year.
We have also implemented several other major reforms. During the last 18 months, we laid the foundation to streamline and improve transparency into our IT operations by deploying centrally-managed end user services, communications services, web services, and enterprise application management and development capabilities. We also launched a central business office and working capital fund to support several major IT contracts and we have been integrating the industry-best Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) process guidance into our service frameworks. In parallel, we have closed 20 data centers to date as we continue optimizing our computing capabilities.
We also implemented new, innovative technology to support our scientists and engineers so that they can work from anywhere, any time.  Our Chief Technology Officer for IT, Dr. Sasi Pillay, is also working with industry partners to expand our mobile strategy and improve our ability to attract young employees by allowing them to use their own technology devices on our networks.  And, our Center for Internal Mobile Applications is developing mobile applications that expand our employees’ ability to develop new scientific and engineering breakthroughs for the nation’s space program.  
Finally, while I serve as the co-Chair of the CIO Council’s Strategy & Planning Committee to facilitate improving Federal IT management, I am committed to ensuring that NASA is an avid consumer of idea sharing and best practices from other Agencies. For example, NASA’s Strategic Investments Division (SID) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Treasury to implement Performance Measure Manager to drive efficiencies by facilitating the input of Agency performance data and providing a consolidated archival capability. Only by working together, collaboratively and in an open environment, can we continue to achieve long-lasting Federal IT reform.
Linda Cureton, NASA CIO

Sourcing Strategies and Innovation – Diversity and Inclusion Create Big and Strong Organizations

We mostlythink of diversity and inclusion issues as it relates to people andorganizations.  The benefit of thinkingin this dimension comes from bringing in groups of people with a broad range ofexperiences, styles, and approaches to solve organizational problems increative ways.  

The sameapplies to sourcing strategies for plugging in outside organizations with ourown.  This is relevant to contracting,partnerships, and strategic alliances. Sourcing strategies give us the opportunity to reflect on the strengthsand challenges of our organizations and be intentional about what kind ofoutside company can provide the biggest advantage.  These successful strategies are key tobuilding an organization that is constantly learning and organicallyinnovative. 

ClaytonChristensen in “Innovator’s Dilemma: WhenNew Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” talks about the factors that affectan organization’s ability to be creative and innovative.  These three factors which “…affect what an organizationcan and cannot do [are] its resources, its process, and its values.”  He goes on to say that large companies usuallyreject promising opportunities because smaller companies are better positionedfinancially, culturally, and process-wise to pursue them.  

Many of usspend a lot of time bemoaning the fact that it is so difficult to innovate orleverage technology in government because of how we budget, procure, and bureaucratize. But is it really that bad?  

The Officeof Management and Budget (OMB) put out an intriguing memo.  For those non-bureaucrats, we live and die byOMB memos – we even give them names and numbers.  It’s sort of like when your mother tells youto do something – always listen to your Mom. This memo is commonly known as Mythbusters. Here, myth #10 tells that tells us tothat getting broad participation from a variety of vendors is good for us.  If we do this, we’ll grow up to be big andstrong – Mom, uh… I mean OMB has a point here. Here’s the fact: 

”The government loseswhen we limit ourselves to the companies we already work with. Instead, we needto look for opportunities to increase competition and ensure that all vendors,including small businesses, get fair consideration. “

Successfulleaders will create an ecosystem where strategic partnerships exist in whicheach partner or vendor has an important role to play.  Consider a shipping analogy – after all, forthose who know me, it’s all about cruising. 

Large shipstend to be slow and difficult to maneuver. They are like agencies or large companies with entrenched culturaltraditions and a heritage of processes. These ships need the help of pilot boats or tug boats to help them maneuvertight channels or clear reefs in order to have a successful journey.  These smaller ships are like smaller agenciesor small businesses that are able to go into places the big guys can’t fit andare nimble, quick, and flexible.  Finally,we have yachts and other small pleasure boats that can run circles aroundeveryone – like the tender boats that ferry people back and forth to shore muchmore effectively and safely than the big guys can.  

Whether you’rea Harvard Business School professor, a Mom, or a frequent cruiser, the value ofthe variety and capabilities that we apply to sourcing work in organizations isa key to success.  

LindaCureton, CIO, NASA