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NASA Leads Talk Journey to Digitalization

The combination of vision and senior leadership along with goal setting leads to a transformed business.
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NASA Leads Talk Journey to Digitalization
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Before taking the first step in a digital transformation strategy, federal agencies need to develop a clear vision to truly enabling a digital business, noted NASA tech leads.

“What do we need to transform to? If you don’t know what change you are trying to bring about then your digital strategy will be more of a digitization than a true digital transformation strategy,” said NASA Digital Transformation Officer Jill Marlowe during a recent ATARC summit.

Marlowe and NASA Chief Data Officer Ron Thompson are co-leading the agency’s digital transformation initiative, which was formally launched a little over a year ago.

The first thing Marlowe and Thompson did was meet with senior leaders to learn how NASA needed to change. Then they established three main goals for their digital transformation plan:

  • Transform the way NASA works by improving complex decision-making, forming better partnerships, speeding delivery and increasing interdisciplinary innovation to create breakthroughs.
  • Transform experience of the NASA workforce by enhancing employee engagement, expanding capabilities including new digital skillsets and maximizing employee productivity.
  • Transform agility of the workplace by addressing aging infrastructure, learning how to be effective in a hybrid work environment, and rearchitecting NASA processes that work together.

“We want to make sure that what we are doing is truly digital transformation and not just digitizing the work we’ve always done,” Marlowe said. “Transformation is the goal. And digital is the lever to help get us there.”

NASA’s CIO wants to ensure digitalization is a “lever” for transformation to ensure efficient mission delivery, Thompson noted.

According to Matt Dosberg, digital transformation lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, data transformation is an essential part of the agency’s digital transformation.

Dosberg is a member of the “Smart Review Board,” which is an executive dashboard driven by data.

“Getting to that authoritative source and bringing that data together, does that mean we bring all of that data together in one central place? Maybe, maybe not,” Dosberg said. “Getting access to that data for the decision-makers to have in near real time as they’re looking at a mission program or project — that is critical and we are going to be focused on that.”

NASA also plans to keep artificial intelligence and machine learning at the top of its list for 2022.

“NASA is going big on this and has been doing AI/ML, but you need the data there to do machine learning,” Dosberg said. “It’s foundational to all of those different use cases and that’s why it’s going to be a top priority over the next year.”

Digital transformation efforts are also underway at other federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Developing some innovative tools for doing immigration enforcement mission, starting up a body-worn camera program to monitor activities in the field, also working on various tools to improve the enrollment of non-citizens,” said Ken Clark, ICE’s assistant director for information governance and privacy, during the virtual summit.

Leaders from ICE and NASA also say having a strategy in place for digital transformation can have positive impacts for data efforts down the line when accessing and protecting data.

“The data strategy and transformation strategy — those all were derived from the broader strategic plans for the agency, so that way you can see a direct tie and correlation of your projects to the mission and focus areas that the agency has,” Clark said.

NASA will measure the progress of its digital transformation initiative in two key dimensions.

“We at NASA are taking the light, steady consistent approach. We are not coming in and having a heavy-handed compliance aspect. Compliance is important, but there’s a way.  For us we need that steady drumbeat, the culture of NASA is an engineering culture, a culture of openness, we like to be transparent in what we do, but that takes time,” Thompson said.

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