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Leveraging Data as an Enterprise Asset

By Renee Wynn, CIO, NASA


Renee Wynn, CIO, NASA

Current Technological Challenges and Potential Solutions:

I see two challenges – protection and use of data. For cyber protection, I would wish for tools that alert the users to potential threats, by such means as disabling questionable links, and identifying and isolating anomalies within a network. NASA has a massive amount of data. I’d also like tools that make it easier to share and experiment with that data, including tools that can be used by lay users.

360 Degree View of Customers:

NASA is organized by missions and programs that each collects their own, unique data sets. Inventorying data, as you would any other asset, and determining where data requirements intersect and/or overlap is a complex and complicated endeavor.

This year, we hired NASA’s first ever data scientist to help do this across the enterprise. One of his top projects, which we refer to as “Mapping the (NASA) Data Universe,” will require tracking down all data across the agency and with our partners, such as those in academia. From this effort, we will develop ways to refine our methods of collecting, storing, analyzing, sharing and archiving our data as an enterprise and as an asset.

Creating Competitive Edge:

NASA’s mission pushes the boundaries of science and technology, from the capabilities that support our astronauts aboard the International Space Station 250 miles above, to those we’re developing for future deep space missions, including our journey to Mars. The job of the office of the CIO is to ensure that we’re providing IT support that meets the needs of our engineers and scientist, so that together we can make great discoveries happen.

Advancement in Technology and Future Trends:

There are two work related items that can rouse me from a deep slumber – my people and protecting NASA’s IT assets. I also worry about whether or not my people are inspired.  It’s important to me they have what they need to succeed. I want them to know they are valued and I want to give and receive good feedback.

It is important to me to make sure our work is constantly improving our security posture. We also need to ensure we are applying the most current and stringent security criteria to potential IT investments. And we need to measure the right things in order to evaluate our effectiveness in terms of the agency’s success.

The greater mission of NASA – to advance space exploration and technology -- is driven by data. Beyond the world of policy, our effectiveness is largely determined by our ability to share data internally and with our partners.

To that end, we have created a Data Analytics Lab to address the most pressing data challenges. We see a big trend in developing data tools that deliver solutions in hours or days, not weeks or months.

In regards to Internet of Things, NASA has a loT Lab that it uses as a sort of technology petri dish. As we introduce potential “bacteria” into the dish, we can learn more about how it “infects” the other devices. The lab is our testbed for earning how secure devices are, as well as how to secure the devices that may have security weaknesses.

The Lab lets us connect and network technology in a contained environment to detect vulnerabilities before we plug the technology into the NASA network.

Changing Role of IT:

NASA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer is seen as a strategic partner rather than merely a provider of IT devices and software. CIOs must ensure excellence in all aspects of organizational IT, from infrastructure to helpdesk support, as well as business leadership and guidance. I am learning, as quickly as I can, how to enable the mission of NASA and serve as a trusted advisor to agency leadership on the direction of information management and cybersecurity.

Elevating IT’s Relationship with the Business:

Our role is to enable NASA engineers and scientists to do their job -- to enable ground-breaking discoveries. We keep an eye on technology trends in industry that we can apply as prototypes to demonstrate proof of concept for specific needs in the agency. Once we gain traction on an appropriate solution, we infuse it back into NASA.

NASA researchers also need opportunities to prototype their solutions. Our Technology and Innovation Labs gives them a chance to compete for internal funding to create a prototype to demonstrate relevance for further investigation in-house. As a government agency, we don’t compete with industry; but if we can’t find what we’re looking for to move our mission forward, we’ll create it or partner with industry to bring the idea into reality.

“The greater mission of NASA – to advance space exploration and technology -- is driven by data”

We currently are working on a data project we call “Doc in a Box,” a technology that will provide an extensive medical knowledgebase capable of helping the crews of long duration missions with almost any medical issue, rather than waiting for an answer from doctors on Earth. The benefits of this application on our home planet could be incalculable. We also have set up physical and virtual labs to further research into promising technologies.

Role of a CIO or CISO as an Ombudsman between IT and Business:

The role of NASA’s CIO, with the support of our Senior Agency Information Security Officer (SAISO)/Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), is to ensure that the agency has the information needed to meet all of our business and mission requirements. We are part of the business so I don’t see us an ombudsman but, rather, a partner. Quite simply, CIOs are responsible for delivering information when it is needed, where it is needed, regardless of device, with known quality and appropriate protections. To do this, we must act as and been seen as a partner.

Security Issues:

Security always has commanded full time attention. What’s changed is that more people understand why it is important. Security is the responsibility of everyone in the organization – it’s everyone’s business.  It’s not only the job of the CISO.

Advice to Future CIOs:

The advice I would offer to other CIOs joining a new organization is to be open minded and be willing to accept suggestions and be in a learning mode. Give employees a voice. Work with others to establish sound goals and a vision for your organization.

All new jobs have a learning curve and this one is no different.  I’m energized by the opportunity to work for NASA and learn how best to serve the mission.  I will draw upon my 25 years at EPA, especially those spent as the deputy CIO and acting CIO. I am honored to serve as the CIO of NASA and look forward to serving my NASA colleagues in my new capacity.

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