NASA made strides during the first half of this year in key priority areas around digital transformation – including data consolidation and incorporating artificial intelligence tech into daily operations – and for the second half of the year is continuing the focus on digital transformation from a cultural perspective.
Jill Marlowe, digital transformation officer at NASA, explained during a June 28 FCW webinar that there’s a “huge culture thing that needs to happen right under the hood of any digital transformation effort.”
She explained how the agency set up an enterprise digital transformation strategic initiative, which aims to coordinate and synchronize the digital transformation efforts across the agency. After speaking with the agency’s workforce and partners, Marlowe pointed to three top cultural priorities: data, interoperability, and process transformation.
“We have to acknowledge that the very nature of the work we do is shifting and understand how we very rapidly move to provide value to humankind through various missions,” Marlowe said. “We’re focusing on how NASA needs to transform to meet the needs of the public and even the world in the future.”
Regarding data culture at NASA, Marlowe explained that for the second half of 2023, the agency needed to get serious about data governance including the identification of data stewards, critical data sets, and formalizing capabilities and parameters to integrate critical datasets. Integrating these critical datasets from the beginning ensures that the workforce has greater insight when operating in different missions and spaces, she said.
However, ensuring strong data governance is not enough. The agency also needs an “all-around interoperable architecture” to ensure a frictionless environment that allows staffers at the agency to work well together, share information across divisions, and bring in the tools they need to get their job done.
Priority number three is all about process transformation. This, according to Marlowe, means taking an aggressive look at where the agency has paper-centric processes and how to evolve those processes to a more data-centric model. This model, or tool suite, would ensure that NASA can “be more effective and efficient” not just within a single workgroup “but by really thinking about how every workgroup tends to have inputs and provide outputs for other work groups,” Marlowe said.
“So, it’s really about integration across the communities as well,” she added.
In addition, Marlowe explained that in contrast with an IT transformation conversation, digital transformation does not always lead to tech solutions. And while those conversations are different ones, IT and digital transformation remain closely tied.
“It begins with recognizing that we have an enduring vision – to reach new heights, reveal the unknown, and be beneficial to all humanity,” Marlowe said.
“Doing that in today’s world looks very different than it did even 10 or 15 years ago,” she said. “Several drivers lead to the complexity of our missions, the expansion of our partnership landscape, and certainly the technology invention happening today.”