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Disasters both natural and financial challenge technology innovations

When Chris Kemp joined NASA five years ago as its chief technology officer for IT, he was “in awe of how much potential the organization had to inspire people.” The quote comes from his blog this week about his resignation. After his final day today, Kemp’s future technology innovations will take shape in a garage somewhere near Palo Alto.

The average tenure for a CIO is about six years, according to our own survey and others. So, it’s easy to think that maybe it was a natural course of events, this parting of the ways. But any of us who have had the humbling pleasure of seeing stunning images from space online — the result of a deal Kemp helped broker between NASA and Google in 2006 — owe more consideration to the forces (or lack thereof) of bureaucracy.

Kemp is a dreamer — and producer — of technology innovations who was caught in irons at NASA, if you read between the lines of his blog. Heck, you don’t even have to read between the lines; he says it: “It’s hard to be an entrepreneur at NASA these days.”

It’s difficult to believe, given Kemp’s role in the Nebula Cloud Computing project, which gave NASA researchers instant-on IT infrastructure for rapid application development, deployment and collaboration. Many would argue that Nebula was the cloud that spawned the disruptive industry now transforming enterprise computing. He also spearheaded, one of the first self-service portals for cloud computing services.

But I digress. The point here is why Chris Kemp is leaving NASA. In his blog, he rued his remote situation at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., as being too far afield from Washington, D.C., to gain mind share and funding for technology innovations in a time of continued budget cuts.

“Whereas I thought I had the best of both worlds, being a headquarters employee stationed in Silicon Valley, I actually had the worst of both worlds … no influence when I can’t be in all of those meetings at NASA HQ, with no mandate to manage projects at Ames,” Kemp wrote.

If there is a lesson in Kemp’s resignation from NASA, it is that actual facetime still beats Skype.

That’s something Lalit Panda, whom I profiled for our CIO Innovator series this week, knows very well. Panda, who lives on Long Island and commutes to Mahwah, N.J., spends up to three weeks a month flying around the globe to electronics companies owned by D&M Holdings Inc., where he is global CIO. In less than two years, he has instituted numerous technology innovations, including a global VPN and collaboration tools that allow marketing staff to communicate with customers through easy-to-update websites.

D&M is based in Kanagawa, Japan, so Panda is this week helping to sort through the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami. Our thoughts go out to him and the people of Japan, who give disaster recovery a deeper meaning, as well as to executives like Chris Kemp, who use technology to accomplish their innovative ideas.




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