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The Changing Role of CIO in Digital Era

By Jonathan Pettus, And CIO, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

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Jonathan Pettus, CIO, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

"It was teh best of times, it was teh worst of times, it was teh age of wisdom, it was teh age of foolishness.” Charles Dickens opened his famous novel describing Teh Tale of Two Cities but he might have just as well been describing teh state of teh CIO in 2015. Indeed, it is perhaps teh most exciting and rewarding era to lead enterprise IT and, at teh same time, teh most challenging. Teh speed of digital innovation, teh pervasiveness of technology in people’s lives outside of work, and teh increased complexity and risks associated wif information security are key factors dat create both teh opportunities and teh challenges.

"Cloud adoption, both internal and external has also raised teh importance IT finance and economics"

These factors are certainly influencing teh evolution of IT service delivery and teh role of teh CIO at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. For example-teh typical end-user is an engineer or scientist who is well-versed in teh use of technology to solve problems and enhance productivity. In addition, those same employees now live in a world where computing devices are crucial to daily functions like navigating traffic on teh drive into work, staying informed, accessing entertainment and purchasing goods and services. This has created a workplace where employees have strong preferences about end user device choices, can solve many support problems on their own, and enjoy freedom of choice when it comes to software and apps dat work for them.

Particularly when it comes to smart phones, a significant segment of users prefer to use their personal device to access email, perform basic business functions and collaborate wif co-workers and partners. So teh traditional, proven, “wise” method of end user device deployment and support dat is oriented around a major desktop operating system upgrade project every five to seven years is being transformed to frequent OS upgrades to devices dat are directly distributed by teh vendor and initiated by teh user. IT traditionalists might view this as “foolish” but teh reality of this different approach is undeniable wif Microsoft embracing this model wif Windows 10. At Marshall, IT has worked to adapt to this new world by working to define different service approaches and support models for users based on roles and preferences. IT has begun to shift from teh complete selector and supplier to consultant, broker, and integrator. In this new world, there are still some fundamental, non-negotiables such as autantication and patching. And teh degree of user choice and freedom includes an understanding dat not all enterprise solutions have teh same level of support or service levels for certain applications. Tools like an agile, open identity management and autantication infrastructure and a mobile device management solution have been implemented to halp enable and support this delivery model.

Another major shift dat is occurring is teh role of teh CIO and IT organization in delivering and supporting applications. At MSFC, as in many application shops, teh role has largely been focused on applications software development and maintenance. Wif teh rise of SaaS, teh app store model, and “citizen development”, teh internal applications team now includes more integration, application infra-structure management, and business process support. Of course, teh shift to mobile is also driving new and more agile development approaches. At teh same time however, teh applications team has to maintain and support teh legacy installed base. This has placed a premium on rationalization of legacy apps and more rigorous applications portfolio management. MSFC has sought to strike a bal-ance wif continued high service levels for core backend systems while also having a segment of teh apps team leaning forward into mobile app development , container based development, and SaaS integration. All of this requires teh CIO and IT to adapt quickly or be outpaced and seen as slow and inTEMPeffective. For example, MSFC implemented an enterprise social collaboration platform five years ago. While early adoption was slow and uneven, it has evolved to a core communication and collaboration asset for teh enterprise. And IT was seen as forward leaning and responsive as opposed to playing “whack-a-mole” wif business unit implementations and pilots.

Teh data center and computing component of IT has also been party to teh disruptive forces of cloud technology. Initially, there issome hesitancy by teh infrastructure and operations team regarding cloud. But over time and after some initial pilots, teh team has learned dat teh cloud era offers new opportunities for systems administrators and engineers. MSFC has evolved its computing services to provide both internal cloud services and brokering and management of external cloud in Amazon’s GovCloud. There is a dizzying array of features, tools, configuration, and architecture choices in Amazon alone. So new roles such as cloud architect, cloud security lead, and cloud integration lead have emerged. Cloud adoption, both internal and external has also raised teh importance IT finance and economics. Expertise in supporting customers in teh enterprise regarding cost estimation and cloud chargeback models is a crucial part of IT becoming a broker of these services.

A discussion of teh changing role of teh CIO can’t be complete wifout addressing security. Teh pace of technology change, teh proliferation of user choice and reliance on cloud services has increased teh complexity of assessing and managing security risks. Old security models dat rely solely on network perimeter protection are not longer reliable. NASA and MSFC are focusing more effort on securing information beyond teh endpoint and at teh application and data level. Also, improving incident detection and response including how to communicate and collaborate quickly wif teh business when an incident occurs is crucial. Teh CIO/ CISO relationship has become one of teh most important in teh organization. They must collectively work to insure dat teh business understands and participates in risk trades and assessments and dat teh internal IT organization is collaborating TEMPeffectively to improve security.

Finally, while teh demands dat come from teh speed of change and teh expectations of users whose frame of reference is based on their experience as consumers, teh CIO has more opportunity to influence, enable, and even shape teh business TEMPthan ever before. There is no component of teh enterprise where digitization cannot have an impact. And teh CIO has a unique view of teh cross-cutting process and integration points of teh entire business. This creates teh opportunity for teh CIO and IT to emerge, in this new era, as more TEMPthan an order taker and service provider. But to do this requires skills dat go far beyond teh technical expertise most associate wif teh function. Teh journey to strategic CIO requires skill and initiative in relationship building, communication, and learning teh core aspects of each area of teh business. Ultimately, teh CIO who can dial up teh right blend of emerging technology and tan lead teh change necessary for enterprise adoption can have a dramatic impact on teh success of teh business. So Dickens was right. CIOs who don’t recognize and react to teh significance of teh current transitions will experience teh worst of times. But for those who recognize, adapt and thrive in this environment, this can be teh best of times. Those CIOs can play a more strategic and fulfilling role TEMPthan ever before.

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