NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Launches Spacebook



I’ve often said that this NASA CIO gig is pretty tough. But, there are many times … like now … where I am proud to be the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. We launched Spacebook this week. Woo-hoo!

We took a leap of faith and rocketed into social networking this week with the launch of Spacebook, an employee intranet that features user profiles, group collaboration spaces and social bookmarking. This is similar to Facebook, except that it is restricted to NASA’s secure internal network. It’s open to every employee of NASA.

I need to tell you that this whole Web 2.0 thing gives people the willies. We delayed the launch one week to make sure we addressed the very valid concerns raised by our stakeholders. Our legal folks wanted to make sure that we met our policy and regulatory obligations; our IT security folks wanted to make sure that we didn’t expose NASA data or NASA networks to any additional risks; and finally our Office of Human Capital people wanted to make sure that we were all well-behaved and personally accountable.

There are a lot of phobias associated with social networking. I addressed some of them in Time to Face Your Facebook Phobia. I’m sure that many of these concerns were raised about the social impact of the invention of the telephone. Somehow … someway … we worked through those issues. I’m sure that some of those serious issues may appear silly now. I expect that we will look back on the serious issues raised by Web 2.0 technologies in wonder and amazement.

As CIOs we are required to provide lead efforts to improve the competitive advantage our organizations need through implementation of collaborative technologies. Technologies like Facebook and Myspace gives us those capabilities. There are, however, some very valid barriers to entry. Launching capabilities like this on internal networks reduces those barriers of entry. IBM has done this with their internal social networking site, Beehive and MITRE has done this with their internal Twitter capability.

One of the most amazing things about these Web 2.0 technologies and the greatest value to NASA is the ability to help us create a culture of engagement and collaboration that makes each individual employee much more effective. Engaging the public, harnessing the power of crowds, and open and transparent government … as my friend Efrain and fav acquisition professional would say … it’s ALL good Poopsie.

What’s next for Spacebook? There are currently pilots at Ames Research Center and Kennedy Space Center on SharePoint so integrating these capabilities may be desirable. The ability to leverage use of widgets and have use mashable apps is something that we want. We would like to include blogs and a more seamless interface to NASA web capabilities including those potentially offered in the web services sourced by one of NASA’s I3P contracts.

NASA has a strong external presence on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace. Not too many people will “get” this … but back in my heyday, we use to say “IBM sells MVS but they use VM”. Well, now, we at NASA get a chance to actually use more securely and internally the capabilities that we use to communicate to the public. Perhaps these Web 2.0 technologies will make us the bionic agency … will be faster, stronger, better than before. Regardless of the hyperbole, I’m proud this week to be the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Quality in the Web 2.0 World

I took a road trip to NASA’s Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V) Facility this week.  It is nestled in the rolling hills of Fairmont, West Virginia.  Other than an unfortunate encounter with one of my Directorate’s Associate Directors, Carl Johnson … the van he was driving … and an unfortunate bunny rabbit … it was an inspiring and successful journey.

The mission of NASA’s IV&V Facility is to provide services that help provide increased assurance that software will operate dependently and reliably.  The Director of the Facility, Dr. Butch Caffall, took me on a marvelous journey with his pen and a legal-size yellow pad on how injecting quality processes and doing the right verifications in the right point in the software project lifecycle, can result in successful missions, lives saved, and reduced risk for catastrophic failures.  The work that Butch and his organization perform helped me understand NASA’s commitment to quality.   But, he got me thinking about quality in a Web 2.0 context.

Quality is something that many folks are struggling with.  But, what exactly is quality? 

“… quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself”. – Robert M. Pirsig

I spend a lot of time thinking about this as a writer of a blog and as a CIO. As a CIO, I wonder about how we define quality in the Web 2.0 world? For example, how do I judge the quality of my blog?

Is it the number of visits? Well, not really.  In the nearly 3-hour drive to Fairmont, West Virginia from Greenbelt, Maryland, there was a lot of road kill along the way.  Just because this silly girl looked at every yucky thing on the side of the road, doesn’t mean it was interesting and worthwhile.

Is it the number of comments? I’m not really sure about that.  This seems to be more a function of controversy.  Is there life on Mars? Is that why we are emailing Mars?   I got the most comments in my post Email to MARS.  But, most of the comments had nothing to do with the content of the blog! This led me to doubt that number of comments were relevant.  Two other posts, IT Governance in Government and The Goddard CIO Blog: One Year Later probably drew the most “offline” comments (Twitter, Facebook, email, etc) – yet they both had zero comments.  Not quite sure what that means.  

Is it how often it gets quoted, or re-posted, or re-purposed? I think not.  This is what I call the “Joe-the-Plumber” effect.  Just because everyone is talking about you, doesn’t mean you’re worth talking about.

Alexander Wolfe, in his article, In A Web 2.0 World, Quality Is Irrelevant, notes that the best bloggers know nothing about the qualities of good journalism.  Yet, they create quality blogs.

Using Twitter, the goal is brevity, telling a story in 140 characters.  Here’s an example of poetry, in 140 characters or less in the poetic styling of Pam Baker in The Poetry of Changing Presidents.  Federal Computer Week ran a contest to create a 140-character job description in Rewrite Your Job Description as a Tweet (listen up HR Specialists!).

Crowdsourcing suggests quality is derived from collaboration and collective wisdom of the crowds.  It suggests that we can derive innovation from amateurs or volunteers as opposed to a team of experts.  This may be counterintuitive, but there seems to be evidence that this is true – Wikis are an excellent example.

Wolfe goes on to say that in the Web 2.0 world “…quality is now measured out more in engagement — videos, pictures, short and pithy commentary — than in llooooooonng, boring blocks of dense text. Which nobody reads anyway!”

Does this mean that quality in a Web 2.0 doesn’t really exist? I think quality exists, but it’s in the corner of your eye. If you look right at it, it goes away.  It exists in the periphery.   

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


The Goddard CIO Blog: One Year Later

One year today, I made my first blog post.  Today, I want to pause and discuss my experience, my learning, and my path forward.  This will not be a sterile reflection of the efficacy of this Web 2.0 technology, but rather, this will be an expression of what this experience meant to me as a CIO, a leader, and as an individual.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

A friend (I will just call him K) convinced me to start blogging in October 2007.  He was passionate about it.  He told me I would absolutely love it. I said ok, but he said, “No, you have to promise!”  I said, “OK!”  I decided that I would make it my New Year’s Resolution.  It was on the list right before “stop procrastinating”.  Thus, I didn’t get to until May. 

I’ve had earlier posts discussing Why I Blog. Loved ones expressed concern that caused me to be just plain afraid of doing this in the discussion Is Web 2.0 Worth the Risk? One year later, my conclusions are yes, it is worth the risk.  You can’t get innovation or any significant return without any risk; you can’t have risk without uncertainty or doubt; and you can’t have courage without fear.

One of my favorite leadership books is The Leadership Moment, by Michael Useem.  Life is made up of an infinite amount of moments.  Some of those moments in a leader’s lifetime are significant and some of them are learning moments.  May 30, 2008 started what is to date a series of at least 50 monotonically increasing learning moments which converge on the lesson that the only way to truly embrace Transparency and Naked Leadership to be armed with the confidence of faith,  the audacity of courage, and the competence of experience.  Then, and only then, can you face with humility the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that transparent and authentic leadership truly requires.

Oh, The Pain … The Pain!

One of my favorite TV shows used to be Lost in Space.  One often-used quote from one of the characters Dr. Smith was, “oh the pain…the pain”.  There is pain associated with this. 

I am reminded of an incident that happened when I was in the 8th grade.  There was a girl down the street who I did NOT know – she told my sister that she couldn’t stand me.  It made me cry because I didn’t know her at all.  How could I have that effect on someone I don’t even know? My little pubescent feelings were hurt.

One commenter called what I thought was a cool post nonsensical dribble.  Another time, I got an anonymous letter from an employee informing me that I was the worse leader on the planet, an embarrassment to my directorate, and laughing stock among my fellow NASA CIOs. Boy, how quickly I reverted back to the 8th grade.

Pain is not necessarily a bad thing.  Pain helps us protect our fingers from a hot stove; it protects our soul, spirit, and character when we do the wrong things; and new life springs forward through the pain of childbirth.  The pain reminded me to be careful; it reminded me to be humble; it reminded me to learn; and it reminded me of my purpose in the nation’s space program, in this profession, and in this life.

The Final Conundrum

One of my blog readers, RT, likes to challenge me intellectually. One of his favorite quips is … “Oh, the questions we ask … the answers we seek”.  In life, sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking we find solutions in great answers when in fact, we find solutions in life’s great questions.

I gave a leadership talk to the Society of Information Management Regional Leadership Forum. I talked about Power, Passion, and Purpose.  One student asked me if I found my purpose.  I told him I wasn’t sure. He told me he thought he knew his purpose, until a traumatic divorce.  Then he realized he found his purpose only through continuously searching for purpose. He wrote this comment card, which I kept:

Purpose — you have it — keep on searching for it. Thank you … Tony

So, in my original purpose for this blog … I wanted to be relevant, to reflect my true self, to communicate, and to learn.  And in searching to satisfy this purpose I learned of puzzles to life’s great questions – to inspire is to BE inspired; communicating your ideas means listening; the teacher learns from her own instruction; you find your purpose by searching for it.

I once made a remark to my statistics teacher at Johns Hopkins.  Though I intellectually understood the concept of “random” and it’s foundation to statistics, I didn’t really believe in it.  He looked at me in a knowing way and said, “Of course you don’t.”  I will leave the rest of his comment unstated. But, he was right.

I find it no coincidence nor a random event that learning what I have from these past 12 months happened at this time of my life, at this agency, and in this manner. Perhaps Web 2.0 was created just to be critical in the implementation of this Administration’s technology agenda; perhaps it was created just to enable collaboration at NASA within the science and engineering community; perhaps it was created just for me. 

The last time I saw my friend K was November 2008.  We had the opportunity to speak a few weeks after that.  I was passionately recounting my 6 month’s worth of blogging experience.  He told me he noticed that I changed. I was more extroverted.  Well, he was sort of right.  But, I’m still the same shy little girl that doesn’t want to come out and play … but now, I’m outside in a world of discovery and learning that amazes me every day.

And that’s what I learned from 12 months of blogging.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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

Implementing Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) in the Enterprise

I recently participated as a panelist on this subject for Women in Technology.  It kills me sometimes when us folks in IT are asked the question … how do we implement <insert technology du jour> in the enterprise?  In preparing for the panel, I spent a little time preparing for that inevitable question.

First, let me define SOA – in plain language and not Geek-speak.  It’s a way of developing software by grouping together software functions that perform loosely coupled services or activities.  Examples of such activities might be online booking, guidance and navigation, or online application submission.  NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center successfully utilizes this architecture in its GSFC Mission Services Evolution Center (GMSEC). The advantages are increased scalability, reusability, and flexibility in IT systems.  This can result in better solutions at lower costs delivered faster compared to traditional development methods.

So, like I said, it kills me when CIOs are asked … how do we implement SOA in the enterprise? It’s the wrong question really.  SOA for SOA’s sake is just plain stupid.  The essential questions are strategic.  What are the needs of your enterprise?  What is your current state from a technology perspective? Can SOA do a better job of getting you where you want to go? Then finally, assuming the answer is yes … how?  CIOs almost always look at three areas when thinking about the answers to a “how” question: People, processes, and technology.

People.  The workforce needs to be trained to understand the suitability, value and benefits of this technology. It is often said if all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.  SOA is just one tool in the technologists’ tool belt.  One must have more and discern when and how to use them. 

Contractors who provide services to the organization must be incented to use this technology as appropriate.  The typical “level-of-effort” contracts incent the behavior of 18-month software development cycle of monolithic systems.  Contractors have to have incentives to utilize the right tools in their tool belt to deliver value and mission success to agencies.

There’s also a “not invented here” culture that may prefer to development home grown code rather than utilizing pre-existing code.

Processes. One big advantage of SOA is the ability to deliver cross-agency services.  Governance talks about who makes decisions; when we make those decisions; what are the scope of things that are decided; how do we inform those decisions; and how do we make those decisions.  But, how do we develop good processes or procedures for doing all that? Who has decision rights? How do we manage service levels? How do we perform release management and configuration management? What do we do if something breaks? Who is responsible for fixing it?

Technology. This could be one of the easiest areas assuming that governance is addressed adequately. We need to think about standards and we need an architectural framework that informs our strategy after synthesizing were we are as an enterprise, where we need to go, and what is the roadmap for getting there.

Yeah, SOA what! I like neat technology just like the next girl.  It’s cool and snazzy, but if it is not solving a problem, we’re probably implementing technology that may not have mission value.  The potential here is great, but first we have to pause and reflect on what particular problem we are trying to solve. And finally, we need to implement approaches that address the people, process, and technology dimensions.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Cloud Computing in the Federal Government: On a Cloudy Day How It Will Astound You

I had the privilege of tutoring incredible lady in college Algebra the same week that I had to be on a Cloud Computing panel at FOSE. First, I must say that though we both got very little sleep, I’m so happy that Shakeba did well on her final. But it occurs to me that the advice that I gave to her to coach her through her astounding moment … just take the next step … is the same advice that Government IT Leaders need to follow with respect to leveraging value from this astounding technology. 


Gartner, Inc. did some recent research to discuss the outlook for Government participation in Cloud Computing.  The research, Cloud Computing for Government Is Cloudy (Jeff Vining, Andrea Di Maio), lays out some key issues.:


  • [T]here is little or no evidence of government agencies being ready to move beyond this and move mission-critical datasets into the cloud as part of an enterprise-wide strategy.
  • Government cloud-computing environments have common IT risks in areas such as data privacy, portability, access, loss and security as well as fears of vendor lock-in.
  • Because of cloud computing risks, federated government-owned/controlled cloud computing arrangements may have greater chance for short-term viability.


The emphasis above is mine, but the readiness, fears, and risks belong to each decision-maker.  James Staten, from Forrester writes in Is Cloud Computing Ready for the Enterprise?:


Forrester spoke with more than 30 companies in this market to determine its worthiness for enterprise consideration and found that it provides a very low-cost, no-commitment way for enterprises to quickly get new services and capabilities to market that entirely circumvents the IT department. Infrastructure and operations professionals can try to ignore it as it is just in its infancy, but doing so may be a mistake as cloud computing is looking like a classic disruptive technology.


I’d like to say it a little more bluntly.  If CIOs don’t get ready, manage fears and manage their risk, they will get run over by this disruptive technology.  Your organization is doing it anyway – without you!  So do something!


You don’t have to move your entire enterprise into the cloud, just take the first step and look at some appropriate datasets.  This doesn’t have to be an all or none decision.


When making vendor choices, go in with the end in mind.  I guess no one likes to enter into a marriage with a prenuptial agreement in the event of divorce, but then after all, this is your enterprise.


Don’t confuse control and ownership with security and viability.  And for crying out loud, please make sure that you have a healthy – ok … semi-healthy governance process.


This tracks nicely to the advice I gave Shakeba about her final:


  • Don’t be afraid, but don’t be a hero either.
  • Make sure you have a good sharp pencil with an eraser.
  • Follow sound mathematical principals, and you will always be fine.


CIOs should not run and hide.  The great possibilities in this disruptive technology merit us taking the next stops.  Those of us who ignore it, will fail or be left behind.


Linda Cureton, CIO NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Consumerism and the Irrelevant CIO

iPhone, uPHone, we all scream for iPhones.  The NASA CIOs just had a CIO-like conversation about iPhones.  And so, I can check email and get reservations at Ruth’s Chris on the same end user device.  Wow. But what does that really mean? Is there really room for this consumer device in the Enterprise?


Consider Consumerism and the use of Web 2.0 technologies.  At Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Best Practices Council we posed, what I affirm, is a bar room question, how do we harness the power of Web 2.0?  Harnessing Web 2.0 is analogous to taming a wild mustang.  You can do it, but it would be wrong.  How can you tame the untamable?  The power Web 2.0 is atomic and it’s viral.


My brother-in-law, Eric, was complaining about his IT Department.  He needed a snazzy little application that would help his productivity in meetings.  Of course his IT Department wanted written requirements, an IT security plan, and a risk management plan.  So, I said, look on the Microsoft Template Gallery, you’ll find something.  And he sure did.  By the next day, he had what he needed.  Surely any Federal CIO will tell you how important it is to meet requirements, ensure security, and manage risk.  But, how do we get to YES faster while still tending to the things we need to tend to in a responsible manner?


During this Thanksgiving holiday, I noticed an interesting image.  I have a kitchen table that sits six people in the breakfast area.  I was sitting at the table with my two sisters, and my two brothers-in-law.  We were all working on our laptops.  Gee, five laptops — I had a data center in my kitchen.  Oh, and everyone had RSA tokens hanging around their neck, so we were a highly secure data center even.


As CIOs and IT service providers we are used to managing technology.  But what does it mean to lead technology?  The tempo of consumerism moves like a speeding locomotive down a railroad track.  CIOs who jump in front of the speeding train and pretend like they are leading will get run over.  CIOs who lay track that moves the train towards their organization’s goals have the right leadership stuff. 


In a CIO.COM  article, User Management – Users Who Know Too Much and the CIOs Who Fear Them, Ben Worthen challenges CIOs to still think about security, manageability, scalability, and Federal regulations but to do so strategically, not draconically. 


The employees in your company are using consumer IT to work faster, more efficiently and, in many cases, longer hours. Some are even finding new and better ways to get work done. CIOs should be applauding this trend. But when you shut down consumer IT, says William Harmer III, assistant vice president of architecture and technology of financial services company Manulife, “You end up as a dissuader of innovation.”


Growing up as a mainframe systems programmer, I still remember my IT “childhood” when the IT Department became irrelevant with the advent of client server computing.  We were called dinosaurs.  Those of us who didn’t adapt became extinct. I suppose we all learn things from our childhood.  Consumerism is the comet that threatens the Jurassic CIO.  The fittest CIOs are the ones with the right amount of courage, creativity, vision in their leadership DNA.


So is there room for iPhones?  The right answer for the Relevant CIO must be yes, just give me a few seconds to get to yes … but next time, I’ll anticipate your question.  Do I *have* to endure an eighteen month development cycle?  Well, no, here are some resources we can point you to.  Oh, and before you even ask, let me tell you about the atomic power of Web 2.0.  And finally, let me introduce us, we are your Relevant CIOs.


Linda Cureton, CIO/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Turning Ideation into the Greatest Nation in the World

This week, I attended a meeting of Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Best Practices Council.  It was a fascinating week of learning about how old organizations are using new technologies in new ways.  Not surprisingly, there were many conversations about Web 2.0 technologies.  There were also several discussions on the process of creating ideas, ideation.


My Myers-Briggs type is INTP. So, assuming one believes in those instruments, I am suppose to be an idea-generating machine who “… starting with only a vague intuition, can construct a whole new world of ideas.”  But this notion of ideation had been bugging me for a while, but I really couldn’t put my finger on why.  I was reading a passage in Judy Estrin’s book “Closing the Innovation Gap” which shed a little light on my irritation. 


“There are a half a dozen words in the English language that are substitutes for substance.  Three of them are innovation, accountability, and leadership,” says retired Intel CEO Andy Grove. “Companies that let people get away with murder talk too much about accountability. Those that don’t have the courage to leave the handrail talk incessantly about leadership. And people who are incapable of changing what they are doing, or even analyzing what’s wrong, go on and on about innovation.”


Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband would tell you that I am probably an impractical true-to-type INTP. But, what good are ideas if they never develop into anything of measured value, use or purpose? Drop back ten and punt? And then again, how do you know whether or not you’re on the very brink of inventing the next wonderful thing? Fourth and short – go for it!


Time Magazine just recognized the 50 Best Inventions of 2008. Two missions from NASA made the list – Goddard Space Flight Center’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (#3); and though not entirely a Goddard Mission, the Mars Science Lab (#18) will carry Goddard’s own microwave-oven-sized instrument suite, Sample Analysis at Mars. I am clearly fortunate to live in what Estrin calls an Ecosystem that has bred such marvelous engineering wonders of the world.  But, how does a CIO create and nurture an Ecosystem that breeds the IT wonders of the world?  It’s all around me and I don’t want to just talk about it, I want to do it.


In looking back at great innovations, they seemed to have come about as a result of the right environment, for the right people, given the right resources.  These people, and their supporting leadership, also had a courage to persist that was fueled by passion and inspired by a nurturing culture. 


Maybe ideation seemed to me to be a mindless paint-by-numbers process.  It’s probably not.  I think it just seemed strange to define a process that was so natural to me.  Whatever.  But, the supernatural part comes in when we understand how to apply the right dose of leadership, passion, power, and purpose to inspire ideas into reality and into masterpieces of innovation.


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center