Changing the IT culture at NIST

2013_03_delbrockett NIST CIO Del Brockett (Photo: David Stegon/FedScoop)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is known around the world for its groundbreaking research and innovations. Del Brockett, the agency’s chief information officer, wants the institute’s information technology services to be at that same level.

In an interview with FedScoop, Brockett said he’s been pushing to change the IT culture at NIST in the two and a half years since becoming CIO, aiming to give its world-class scientists a world-class IT organization.


“I want people to start to see the parallel between the two,” Brockett said in his Gaithersburg office on NIST’s main campus. “My primary focus here has been creating not only innovative outcomes, but better alignment, processes and workflows that better support that mission.”

Brockett has a number of high-level projects he’ll be targeting in the coming months:

  • A new cloud-based email and collaboration solution. Brockett said he’s focused more on the collaboration tools and is looking for the ability to improve the way NIST’s scientists interact, not just with each other, but other federal agencies, industry and academia that their work influences.
  • He’s piloting a cloud hybrid environment that will bring together the agency’s public cloud and tie into the requirements it has for a private-cloud.
  • Brockett is exploring virtual desktop infrastructure, looking for technical environments that include minimal to little footprint. He added the agency has had to invest in large desktops to handle the data from projects in the past, and he’d like a solution that will allow him to ramp up and down capability as needed to be efficient as possible.
  • He’s also looking to do a prototype of a mobile architecture to help the agency work be mobile and not just teleworkers, but researchers out in the field collecting data.

All of that comes from the culture change that Brockett has pushed for. One of the key tenets of that change, he said, is an approach to managing innovation risk.

“IT organizations typically are about minimizing operational risk,” Brockett said, “but I want the agency to invite a certain amount of risk with certain IT innovation investments.”


What that means is taking risk on the innovation side of information technology with the understanding that some projects are going to succeed and others not. It is in those successes and failures that the organization can advance its services to a world-class level.

“A lot of organizations struggle with this dynamic between operational and innovation risk,” Brockett said. “What I’ve tried to do is create a different pace and a different success criteria for innovation. It’s a journey and we’re definitely on our way down that road.”

Brockett’s biggest priority going forward, he said, is continuing to focus on service management. He wants to better understand NIST’s internal IT organization, and to have all IT processes and workflows in place so that it can effectively alter the provided services based on what its customers need.

“We want to align ourselves with our customers’ business – to better understand their requirements and bring them IT services that best fit that need,” Brockett said.

Once we are ingrained into NIST’s business model, we can help our internal customers use IT to be transformative to their mission.


“When we embed ourselves in their business model and understand how they approach their own customers, we can drive IT and IT innovation to fit that need,” he said. “Creating that alignment and innovation capability is where our priorities are right now.”

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