To Serve Our Customers

To Serve Our Customers


When I first became the CIO of NASA?s Goddard Space Flight Center, I noticed that our tagline was, ?To Serve Our Customers?. 


I chuckled to myself when I recalled one of my favorite TV shows, The Twilight Zone. There was an episode titled To Serve Man.  It was about seemingly friendly, humble, and servile aliens from outer space that wanted to be helpful.  It turns out they really wanted to serve ?man? for dinner. We don?t eat our customers alive, do we? Of course not! However, it made me think — what does ?serve? really mean in the customer context? Do we assist them or do we consume them?

Big scary alien getting ready to eat another customer


In Nucleus Top 10 Predictions for 2008, this was supposed to be a tough year for irrelevant CIOs.  Today?s IT customers are savvier.  With the widespread availability of things like wikis, blogs, and other on-demand applications, their need for the IT department has greatly diminished.  They will have their needs satisfied whether or not the irrelevant CIO likes it or not.  A 2007 IDC survey, Are CIOs Irrelevant to Enterprise 2.0, shows that for business use of Web 2.0 tools, nearly two-thirds of the tools used for business purposes were NOT managed by their corporate IT organization.  CIOs can take their 18-month software development cycle and shove it!


So is it better to be irrelevant or forgotten? Let?s look at being forgotten for a second.  My model here is the Maytag Repairman.  I love the commercial where the Maytag Repairman is in the office and someone gets a little nervous about the possibility that the fridge is down.  But, the repairman is fixing the copier and notes that they will need toner soon.  Delivering quality, which is in the eye of the beholder, gives us a chance to get into the head of our customers and find out what they really need.  Quality is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient. So thanks for your 5 nines Ms. CIO, what else do you have?


Discussing the impact of Software as a Service (SaaS) in Why SaaS Could Make Your IT Skills Irrelevant, CIO.COM challenges irrelevant IT organizations to behave more like IT Special Forces rather than IT Infantry ? we insert ourselves with surgical precision at the right place at the right time ? we get in and get out ? leaving a job well done ? on to the next mission.


Maybe Janet Jackson got it right, ?What have you done for me lately??  True service to our customers requires customer empathy not just sympathy.  We have to get into our customers? heads to understand and experience what they feel.  The need for a relevant CIO or IT organization won?t go away, but we will be challenged to continue to evolve and possibly operate in new ways to ultimately serve our customers.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Partnerships in Space

Last week Goddard Space Flight Center was treated to a visit from Joe Klimavicz, the CIO of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and 25 people from his office.  I must admit, that I’ve always had a soft spot for NOAA.  That’s where I had my first job as a civil servant – as GS-2 Student Assistant Cartographer.  That’s also where, after ruining another nautical chart, wiser veterans pried a pen out of my ink-stained left hand and banished me permanently into the purgatory called Information Technology. NOAA CIO Joe Klimavicz


Bobby German, Acting CIO of NASA, and I gave a brief overview of the IT challenges at NASA. Joe with concurrence from his crew remarked that he could have given the same overview – except instead of saying NASA or Goddard, he would say NOAA.  Remarkable? Not really.  As I type this, I am on my way to the Department of Energy (DOE) CIO Conference.  Sadly, because of weather delays, I missed the opening remarks from CIO, Tom Pyke.  But after doing a gig myself at DOE, I know that he could have given the same overview that Bobby and I gave – except instead of saying NASA or Goddard or NOAA, he’d said DOE. 


So, I wonder, in the words of Rodney King, “why can’t we all just get along?”  In other words, ineffective IT governance is the Garden of Eden for almost all of the IT problems that we have – How we make decisions? Who makes decisions? How we inform those decisions? Seems like an easy thing to figure out, right? But I suppose if it were easy, we would have already done it.  It also seems point to another Garden of Eden conundrum and boil down to individual accountability and that free will thing again.  Sure we need policy to tell us what is right and wrong, but policy won’t protect us from individuals who, whether from ignorance or defiance, make the wrong choices from a security perspective.  But, we do we continue to struggle as a collective don’t we????


As I muddle through this blog, I’m sitting next to Bob Carter, VP of Federal Sales from a company that sells security technology to government.   Like me, he was on his way to the DOE CIO Conference.  I told him what I was blogging about and asked his opinion after cautioning him to please not try to sell me anything. While he assured me that technology was a necessary component of the solution he cautions that throwing a bunch of technology at it wasn’t the answer either. I chuckled to myself ironically wondering if his assertion will still provide them a viable sales pipeline – but mercifully he was candid, a cool dude and a straight shooter.


Who knows, but we need to be able to pull together and figure it all out.  And if as Bob suggests, technology is the first line of defense, maybe we need to also look at people – partnerships and individual accountability … and processes – governance and risk-based strategies. 


That’s why I was excited about meeting with NOAA and why I was excited about the DOE CIO Conference.  Maybe we can work together where all of us are smarter than each of us.  Perhaps collectively, we can find a way for IT to help our respective missions better serve this country … even this planet.

108: Preparing for Glory in NASA’s Information Technology Program

People always ask me why I blog.  And I have my standard answers: (1) to learn about one of the many amazing Web 2.0 technologies; (2) to utilize diverse communication media; (3) to focus my leadership thoughts and hone ideas; and (4) to be transparent.


Some have suggested I have ridiculous and selfish reasons like entertaining the public or promoting myself.  So, be warned you may want to skip to the next item in your RSS Feed because this blog is for me – for my selfish purposes.  This is just a conversation.  Perhaps no purpose and perhaps no value to you … but of value to me and maybe to the 108 men and women who work in my organization. 


Something didn’t go my way recently … boo-hoo.  No more whining.  Whining (as well as sleeping) is for wimps! As I stood on a sidewalk outside of the Las Vegas McCarran Airport, I got another discouraging email from my Deputy, Mark.  Since I was already preparing for glory by putting my life savings on #11 black, I told him to schedule an All Hands Meeting.  I’ll tell the staff the bad news myself – if I come back. 


As young managers, we spend a lot of time understanding new and unique ways of motivating our workforce.  As seasoned leaders, we find ourselves in a position to lead and motivate even more people to do greater things and yet must somehow … someway … find the inner strength, courage and stamina to motivate ourselves even in the face of a setback or a defeat or even death.


So I stayed up until 1:30 am preparing a power point presentation for my All Hands Meeting.  All the right motivational words; the right context; restate the IT vision for the future (for the 5,000th time).  I’ll spell check later. Time to say my prayers and try to get a little sleep.  By the time I woke up in the morning, my thoughts drifted to the movie 300. So I decided to throw away the power point, but now, I had no clue what I was going to say to keep my folks motivated and engaged. Poster from Movie 300 - Prepare for Glory


The movie is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae circa 480 B.C.  In the movie, 300 Spartans, united with courage and fortified with geographic advantage, take a stand and are barely defeated by a Persian Army of over 100,000.  This battle buys enough time to create political support for the creation of a Spartan-Greek alliance that eventually defeats the King of Persia.


Just 300 Spartans.  I thought of the 108 employees in my Directorate.  I hate to even call them employees – I work for them instead. I think a better term is to refer to them as the 108 Spartans in my Directorate.  300 Spartans facing death? 108 NASA men and women facing change? Different yet non-trivial events.


Change and death.  Most change management professionals will tell you that people resist change because of fear.  And fear of death is similar to fear associated with change. As we go through change, as individuals or as organizations, we must be prepared for flesh wounds or setbacks.  Leaders must prepare themselves and their organizations for change. 


There was a great scene in the movie where a Spartan soldier got his eye gouged out.  His leader asks if he will be ok with that little scratch.  The soldier says, no problem, I have a spare.   As leaders prepare themselves and their organizations for glory, we all must be prepared for the inevitable little scratches. 


Yeah, this blog’s for me … and the 108 brave Spartan men and women who work in Goddard Space Flight Center’s IT and Communications Directorate.  Today, we prepare for glory.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Being Stung By Leading Organizational Change

This blog is inspired by a book of poems and drawings called Falling Up by Shel Silverstein.  Here it is:


Three Stings

George got stung by a bee and said,

“I wouldn’t have got stung if I’d stayed in the bed.”

Fred got stung and we heard him roar,

“What am I being punished for?”

Lew got stung and we heard him say,

“I learned somethin’ about bees today.”


I remember as a child not really wanting to go outside and play because of all of the dangers there compared to the comfort of the fortress of solitude of my bedroom.  One of the things I was always afraid of was being stung by a bee.  And then it happened.  I finally got stung.  At first, I was like George in the poem … “I never should have gone outside!” But, then something else happened – once I got stung, it just wasn’t that scary anymore.  Oh, it hurt, but it didn’t kill me.  Humm, sounds like IT Transformation to me, or more generally, leading organizational change.


Destiny brought this poem to me on the heels of getting stung pretty badly while leading IT change at Goddard Space Flight Center. Something didn’t go my way. I reacted like Fred this time – what am I being punished for when I am doing what is being asked of me? What did I do wrong? So, I simply did what any seasoned and mature executive would do – (1) cried; (2) drank cosmopolitans in large quantities; and (3) went to Las Vegas for the weekend.


I recall a wonderful panel of CIOs that I had the pleasure of listening to.  Two of the CIOs had both left the government, but had been CIOs of the same Department.  They were talking about the bane of every CIO’s existence – consolidating email infrastructure.  The first CIO said, that as he looked back to see what his successors did, he wished that he [got out of the bed] started that initiative knowing that it needed to be done.  The second CIO said, yes, he started it, but he got treated so badly by the Department for doing what was asked of him [he was being punished] and was weary.  I admired their candor and admired that they shared their leadership lessons.  And I learned about bees that day.


So, I’ve dried my tears, sobered up, and didn’t hit the jackpot, but I learned another lesson about bees and I was reminded of something I learned about change leadership.  It stings. 




Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The Learning Organization: CIO as Paleontologist

Not too long ago, I experienced a personally upsetting but organizationally valuable workshop on Race, Power, and Privilege.  Sometimes, I just can’t help thinking that many of today’s leaders think of diversity in the workplace as just about making someone like me, an African-American female, feel good.  And we’ve all checked the box and understood what human resource specialists have been saying.  That is, an organization’s competitiveness and success depends on its ability to embrace diversity.  But, this is just one of the many attributes of Learning Organizations.


Most traditional organizations are designed for efficient performance.  And this is fine during times of stability and certainty.  However, during turbulent and uncertain times, where adaptability and fluidity are needed, the Learning Organization is more effective.  As leaders and as citizens, we have certainly seen the evidence of turbulence and uncertainty.  Furthermore, many have been asked about how to promote creativity and innovation in government – said another way, how do we create learning organizations in the federal government?


I’ll offer two thoughts for how leaders can do this in today’s environment and how CIOs can help.  (1) Unleashing right-brained thinking in the workplace; and (2) using technology as a strategic asset that can promote collaboration.


Right Brain versus Left Brain.


The left part of our brain is usually associated with: facts, analytical thought, exact numerical calculation, verbal functions, vocabulary and grammar, and logic.  The right part of our brain is usually associated with: big picture thinking, intuition, empathy, numerical approximation, verbal emphasis or intent.  Gordon MacKenzie, in his book Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, writes about how to promote and nurture creativity and innovation in the workplace.  In it, he says:


If we are to make ourselves more fully available to the unfathomable potential of our whole mind, we must unmuzzle the genius of the right [brain].


Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, wrote in his blog some thoughts about what seemed to be an inability to predict the recent financial crisis.  In his blog piece Too Many Left Brains Spoil the Pot, he writes:


 I have a theory that people who find themselves running major-league companies are real organization-management types who focus on what they are doing this quarter or this annual budget. They are somewhat impatient, and focused on the present. Seeing these things requires more people with a historical perspective who are more thoughtful and more right-brained — but we end up with an army of left-brained immediate doers.


IT as a Strategic Asset versus IT as a Commodity


It’s probably better said that we need to have information as a strategic asset and for IT to help enable people as strategic assets by promoting information sharing and collaboration.  In traditional organizations, information is used a power.  As the amount of complex information in an organization grows, formal systems are established that help detect deviations from standards and goals.  In learning organizations, information helps promote an environment where employees have complete information so that they can act quickly.  Information is used to promote open channels of communications and create opportunities for discussion. 


Clearly the actions of an empowered workforce in touch with each other, their customers, their suppliers, and even their competitors help identify needs and solutions needed for success.  Collaborating with our competitors can help us learn and adapt and thrive.


Here’s where Web 2.0 technologies thrive.  The opportunities are immense.  We can’t lose sight of the need to measure and comply, but we have to evolve past that and apply these technologies strategically.


I will conclude with an ironic situation that I was in.  I met a person that was an advisor to one of my colleagues.   He had fabulous ideas about implementation of Web 2.0,  but here’s the irony – he was a Paleontologist.  I thought of the dinosaurs, and how we can learn from them and their inability to learn and adapt and subsequent extinction.  Such is the future of organizations that fail to do likewise. 


Maybe government organizations don’t die, but worse things can happen, such as:


  • They fail to engender trust in stakeholders and constituents
  • They have a demoralized and devalued workforce and struggle to attract and retain talent
  • Worst of all, they become irrelevant


As government leaders, we can’t let this happen.  We have to promote learning not only in our organizations, but in ourselves as individuals. 


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Did You Hear the One About the NASA CIOs?

So, here it is.  Q: How many NASA CIOs does it take to change a light bulb?  A: None, it’s a hardware problem.  If you like that, here’s a better one.  Q: How many NASA CIOs does it take to change NASA?  A: All of them.  Just look in the picture here and count them.NASA CIOs and IT leadership team at Face-to-Face meeting at Ames Research Center


Much has been said and written about the state of IT at NASA.  And I have said before that the road to “you-know-where” is paved with well-intentioned and capable NASA CIOs.  But, for all the well-meaning suggestions and plans, it all boils down to three things.


Working together through good IT governance.


I’ve only been at NASA a meager three years, but I already have a gut feeling not of 10 healthy Centers, but 10 poor strugglin’ Centers.  As we work together through a Federated Governance, we will be able to unite to develop our common defense, promote our Centers’ unique capabilities, and ensure that IT helps NASA successfully fulfill its mission.


Managing a diverse and complex infrastructure.


Just as workforce diversity helps organizations obtain a competitive advantage, technological diversity helps enable breakthroughs that are needed in a scientific and engineering environment.  And just as 21st century leaders need the competencies to manage and lead in today’s diverse workplace, 21st century CIOs need the competencies to manage and lead in a technologically diverse environment.  One size doesn’t fit all, for sure … and 55,000 sizes don’t fit 55,000 either.  Somewhere in between there are sweet spots that are mediated by good governance.


Leading change and leading people.


IT security challenges, and tight budgets, and mission relevance … lions, and tigers, and bears … OH MY!  We’re in a pickle.  So, what do you do when you’re in a pickle? You eat your way out, right? No, we LEAD our way out.  Leadership skills are the “ruby slippers” that will bring it all home for us.  We will rely on leadership competencies such as courage, vision, and business acumen … just to name a few.  And we will rely on our ability to lead and influence not just the folks we manage, but to influence an entire Agency. 


So, did you hear the one about the NASA CIOs? No, this is not a joke.  It’s a challenge.  And the men and women in this picture are the ones that showed up and will suit up to meet that challenge.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

The Transparent CIO

For some reason, I’ve had several conversations with folks about Transparency in government leadership.  It seems to me that this is one of those terms that everyone tosses around with little common understanding about what that truly means.  True transparency, I believe, comes with some amount of risk.  So, I think I will push the envelop a bit and make myself a little more transparent – I certainly talked the talk lately, so let me walk the walk.


Today, I will blog about how I feel.  For the introvert in me, this is a near death experience – and this is not an exaggeration.  And my purpose is to (1) see what’s up with this Transparency Thing; (2) invite conversations about Leadership; and (3) having faith that Transparency is a good Thing, improve my leadership abilities.


One of my favorite books is A Leadership Moment, by Michael Useem.  It’s an inspiring and tragic account about several well-known leaders and how they prepared and performed during their leadership moment. One story included the leadership and preparation of NASA Flight Director Eugene Kranz and the ultimate rescue of the Apollo 13 crew. 


So, this is what I’m thinking – am I going to be ready for my leadership moment? And this is what I’m feeling – that I have talents that could help me that I’m “saving” for something perhaps less risky? … something perhaps more safe?


Some may be familiar with a parable about The Unprofitable Servant.  In summary, the story tells of a certain master who gives each of his servants 5, 2, and 1 talents respectively.  After returning, he found that he got a pretty good ROI from two of the three who doubled their original investment.  However, the servant with only 1 talent saved his and hid it to keep it safe from harm or loss.  The Unprofitable Servant – sure glad that’s not me … or it is?


I had a leadership moment about 13 years ago.  I was trying really, really hard to hide my talents inside a data center.  I had a boss that would call on me as his little organizational problem solver.  I could always tell, when he was about to ask me.  He gave me this “look”.  I’ll never forget one “look” he gave me.  I just started cleaning my office and waiting for my boss to call.  That call was to work on establishing a Web 1.0 service.  I went kicking and screaming and shed many tears over that gig.  The tears were shed from using talents I wanted to hide.  Yet, I used them anyway in what ended up being a defining leadership moment in my career. 


I find it no coincidence that as I stand at this Web 2.0 point of inflection that I am kicking and screaming and shedding tears about the push to use particular talents that I prefer to hide and not even admit I have.  Like the heroes that Useem writes about, I will need to invest all my talents in order to be prepared for that leadership moment and I won’t know when that moment will come. And all of this makes me feel afraid.


As there are boundaries and limitations to all this transparency stuff, I will not disclose the particular talents, though some of you out there already know what they are.  But as a good steward of this blog, I need to say without question, that a CIO gig is a leadership gig.  Some how, some way, any leader, including a CIO leader, will have to be prepared for her leadership moment.  The self-aware leader will have to be prepared to utilize all of her talents when those moments come.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

CIO of the Stars

In the transformation of IT at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, we throw around what is now getting to be trite IT jargon … “The CIO must be aligned to the business”.  But what does this really mean?  In English?


In English, alignment means that IT resources are optimized to meet the mission’s demand for new and existing technology. But in a Forrester IT Excellence survey of 162 senior IT executives, only 15% declared themselves to be fully aligned. So, if alignment is so important, why are only 15% of folks in this survey there?  It’s no wonder CIO stands for “Career is Over”. 


I’m beginning to think that “alignment” is essentially not so much a place to actually “be”, but rather a place to “try” to be.  With apologies to my favorite Muppet, Yoda who implores young Skywalker:


“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”


I believe the effectiveness of an aligned CIO is in the “try”.  So, assuming that alignment is this mythological place that is approached asymptotically, how does the aligned CIO “try”?


So, as Deputy CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the first thing I wanted to do was shoot a gun.  Never shot a gun before, though I wondered if it’s a skill that might come in handy for a CIO.  After I got that thrill out of the way, I decided that I would stick with organolyptic testing of fermented beverages and “try” a different way.


There are three components to the “try”: effective governance, relationships with the mission folks, and requisite leadership competencies.


Effective governance. How do you make decisions about technology? How do you allocate scarce resources? What are the priorities? What information do you need to make good decisions? Who has decision rights? These are multilateral decisions about IT that ensure IT meets mission needs.


Relationships with mission executives. Said many times being a CIO change agent is a tough gig, and no CIO should expect to win popularity contests.  An effective relationship requires understanding their pain; understanding their priorities; understanding what IT needs to do for them; and understanding the possibilities of what IT can do.


Leadership. Now, Yoda may have had good CIO advice when he encouraged Young Skywalker to use The Force. For the CIO, this Force is leadership.  This includes: strong people skills, to manage an IT workforce; communication skills – to listen and speak; courage to do the right thing; and I suppose, a light saber for technology leadership.


Thus, as the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, I must be aligned with Goddard’s mission to support NASA’s goals in understanding where we came from, where we are going, and are we alone.  I think for this agency, the answer is in the stars.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

IT Governance in Government

A really cool and pragmatic friend of mine, Papa, asked me if “IT Governance” was real or was it just the buzzword du jour.  Then he said, “Lil’ Girl, if it’s real, it’s in Wikipedia.” Yes, Papa it’s real.  Very real.  And it’s a real problem in Government.  Sort of like a similar problem we had in … say … Colonial America. More later on why.


First, Papa, Wikipedia’s definition of IT Governance is as follows:


The discipline of information technology governance derives from corporate governance and deals primarily with the connection between business focus and IT management of an organization. It highlights the importance of IT related matters in contemporary organizations and states that strategic IT decisions should be owned by the corporate board, rather than by the chief information officer or other IT managers.


So, IT Governance, the discipline, is of the business, by the business, and for the business.  In NASA-speak, that translates to being of the mission, by the mission, and for the mission.   So, if there are disconnects between the IT management of an organization and the mission, you can always point the accusing finger at ineffective IT Governance. 


Dave McClure writes, in IT Governance in Government Agencies: Frequently Asked Questions, (Gartner, Inc.) that there are signs to ineffective IT Governance.  Some of them we see are:


         A less focused IT strategy

         Ineffective data sharing

         An inability to capture NASA-wide IT efficiencies (for example, cost reductions, shared services and consolidation)

         Risk elevation that results in IT not viewed as meeting mission needs, nonintegrated systems, elevated security and privacy problems, and lower use of standards.

         The perpetuation of rogue, duplicative IT spending that ignores potential reuse as well as economies of scale

         A lack of real transparency into IT spending

         Sub-optimized IT organizational effectiveness

         Inattention to benefits realization

         Waste of senior executives’ time, “rubber stamping” decisions


Some of the more infamous NASA examples would be email and IT security.  Both issues having their genesis in varying levels of disconnects between the mission and the management of IT.   In wrestling with these issues as Goddard CIO for the last three years, I’ve often asked, “Why is this ok?”  The answer can be suggested by considering the famous quote, “People get the government they deserve” – or rather, WE get the IT governance that we deserve. 


Oh, there she goes again – the CIO that does not take responsibility.  Screech!!! Think again.  Effective IT governance has many forms – centralized, decentralized and federated.  If we had a centralized governance model, or if I were Her Royal CIO-ness Linda the First, I would be Queen of ALL of IT, and make ALL the decisions unilaterally.  Many assume the decentralized governance model is NO governance model, but it could work just fine for the right business strategy – though it is multilateral, it is not anarchy.  In a federated governance model, we have a hybrid of both the centralized and decentralized model where intentional strategic decisions are made about what is managed in a decentralized fashion and what is managed centrally.  The centralized model requires more technical management skills from Her Royal CIO-ness, the EFFECTIVE decentralized model requires more leadership skills from her, and the federated model, favored by this CIO, requires combinations of both. 


Then my Dear Papa said, I have no idea what you just said Lil’ Girl, but I think it was strategic, right?  So, I took another run at it focusing on the federated model and offered this analogy. 


Papa, remember those 13 independent directorates … I mean colonies?  As a collective, they had IT security problems … I mean, border security challenges.  One weak militia could jeopardize the security of them all.  By creating a more perfect union which combined their resources for a common defense, they could be stronger and more secure.  So, they created a Federation of sorts, where common things were managed centrally by the Government, and decentralized things fell under the domain of states rights. 


At the end of my conversation with Papa, I think he understood that value of IT Governance.  But, then he ended the conversation with some quote about if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their [behinds].  It took a while for this city girl to understand what this refined Southern gentleman meant. 


Both NASA in general and Goddard in particular have made significant improvements in IT Governance.  It will however, take more than a few minutes of effective IT Governance to turn around years of ineffective governance.  I think what my Dear Papa wanted me to understand was that this was what CIOs were responsible for ensuring.  And that if it were easy, we wouldn’t have CIO’s with bruises on their body parts. 


The effective CIO is not a horse holder, being close to the battle but far enough to stay safe, but is a battlefield savvy leader with the bruises of experience, the courage of a soldier, and the skills of a hero.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


p.s. Attention Business Development folks: Before you pick up that phone to call or email me, you CAN’T buy good IT Governance, an organization must live it.

A Day in the Life of a CIO

A Day in the Life of a CIO


I have a colleague, Kerry, who I see normally about once per year at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo.  He struck me as having a knack of accurately anticipating what new technology trends might become widely adopted.  The last time I saw him, I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for about three years.  So, I was glad to catch up on hearing his insights into the wonderful world of technology.  He encouraged me to blog and introduced me to Twitter.  He may have created a monster.


Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows you to write very brief text updates that can be published and seen by anyone or by those you designate.  Several Goddard Space Flight Center missions, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) , Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), Dust Mitigation Vehicle (DMV), Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), use Twitter to communicate the experience of “A Day in the Life of …”.  It took me a while to get this Twitter thing.  But, I now understand some of the capabilities that this technology offers and how a CIO can use this in her leadership toolkit.


My mother, Harriette, often asks me, “Lil’ Girl, what the heck do you do all day? I tell everyone my daughter is a CIO, but I don’t really know what that means”.  I told her I give advice to Goddard’s Center Director on Information Technology.  She asked, “What is Information Technology?”. I told her it was about computers.  She said, “Well, why didn’t you just say that?”  I reflected a bit more on her question and offer an exemplar.


*     Leaving home @ 7:45 am 2 make  7:45 mtg w/ my Deputies.  Grab a piece of cheese 4 breakfast; kiss husband; back out of driveway grateful I avoided running over sprinkler head & flower bed. Again.


*     Arriving @ 8:00 am 4 7:45 mtg. Run back 2 car 2 retrieve coffee.  Review upcoming activities 4 week.  Negotiate coverage 4 mtgs 4 week. Raise hot operational issues. Sync up on strategic stuff that we’re working.


*     Jumping in car & arrive @ 8:30 am Executive Council mtg in nick of time. Pretend like I don’t know how 2 debug Blackberry, Entourage, or Outlook problems.  Pretend like I understand what a Cryogenic Radiometer is while I sneak a peak @ bberry . Catch up w/ colleague 2 discuss some important IT Transformation strategic issues.  I talk while he pretends 2 care.


*     Jump in car 2 go 2 staff mtg w/ my direct reports. Encourage them on progress of IT Transformation strategy. Relate high points from exec council mtg. Hear their status on important issues. Pretend like I know more than they do @ debugging Blackberry, Entourage, or Outlook problems.


*     Out of mtg running 2 office for noon telecon. Grab a handful of messages from vendors – New Best Friends (NBFs) – who pretend like they have solutions 2 all my problems. No time 4 lunch.


*     On telecon called by NASA CIO. Some kind soul brings me lunch – ½ chicken salad wrap & bottle of H2O. I inhale lunch; listen 2 issues @ agency projects, acquisition timelines, OMB direction, standardization, security. Multitasking – catch up on Chris Dorobek & Federal Computer Week headlines; read email; schedule mtgs; respond to questions; approve waivers 4 desktop purchases. I have upset stomach.


*     Run 2 ladies room 4 1st time & have ad hoc discussion on status of my procurement. Look @ watch & pick up pace.


*     Jump in car 4 1:00 mtg glad I’m on time. Consider driving over grass to dust person who’s taking last parking place. Let out heavy sigh. My feet hurt.


*     Arrive @ 3 hr strategy mtg w/ executive council. Exhaust undergraduate Latin derivation skills trying 2 figure out what “exozodi” means. Send buddy blackberry msg 2 ask. Didn’t have 2 pretend 2 b interested in this discussion. Star stuff and polar ice caps are cool.


*     Jump in car 2 catch industry grip & grin downtown. Slow down @ photo traffic enforcement zone on New York Ave; wish I could travel greater than speed of light so I could arrive b4 I left.  Get 2 City Club. Talk my way into full parking lot.


*     Grip n grin w/ 100 NBFs. Pretend I remember their names. Dodge ones who called me 2day. Collect biz cards. 4got mine, again. Square cheese and red wine 4 dinner. I’m tired & my feet hurt.


*     Driving home. Sneak peak at Deputies’ emails on bberry at red lights. Call husband to talk on 30 minute ride. Listen 2 how his day was. He asks @ mine. Reminds me I’m too smart to call people stupid. I’m humbled.


*     Arriving home @ 9:00 pm. Read @ respond to “due COB today” stuff. Respond to Deputies.


*     Washing face, brushing teeth, taking sleeping pill.  Twitter, Facebook, Hotmail.  5-star Sudoku and listen 2 news til 11:00 pm.


*     Go to bed. Say prayers, hope I’ll sleep. Eureka, just figured out what to do about Enterprise Architecture.


*     Awake at 2:00 am remembered something I forgot to do. Pray again, and give thanks for being the CIO of the Goddard Space Flight Center and contributing to our nation’s space program.