IEMP Gap Analysis


Last week and this week, I have been going into a fair amount of detail on subjects that will be fairly dry to many. These issues, though — financial management and IEMP — are some of the very important foundations for NASA. As Mike Griffin has said, all elements of NASA need to be healthy because a failure in financial or legal, among others, can be just as devastating to NASA as a program failure. Gap analysis will no doubt appear academic and even boring. But, this issue is actually critically important because one of the primary goals of NASA’s business systems is to provide the type of information that is needed by projects. If not, then projects and programs will feel compelled to create their own shadow business systems and this is inefficient and a waste of money. This was my first concern. The analysis has been broadened from the original concern, so read on to see where this is going.


Over the past few years, IEMP has implemented numerous Agency-wide systems which have fundamentally changed how NASA manages its mission support processes and information. IEMP has centralized and consolidated many of the Agency’s key business functions, and changed how we transact and report financial information, manage our payroll and personnel services, process travel authorizations and vouchers, manage our contracts, and hire new personnel. In 2008, IEMP will be rolling out additional capabilities related to travel management; personnel and workforce reporting; and the tracking and valuation of property, plant, and equipment. Integrating commercial software with existing NASA-unique systems, IEMP has installed a core business infrastructure which will serve our Agency for many years to come.

The introduction of these new technologies and capabilities, however, doesn’t equate to a remedy for all the issues. I’ve heard from many individuals, including our auditors, that there’s more work to be done to fully leverage our business system investments and to better meet the needs of our projects and other organizations. This need is not surprising and, in fact, was recognized early in the formulation of IEMP. Industry analysts have noted that there are typically three phases of business process re-engineering within the life-cycle of major business system investments. First, recognizing a need for significant improvement and change, an organization will re-engineer its existing business processes requirements prior to acquiring and implementing enterprise-wide software solutions. The reality is that commercial software rarely meets all the unique needs of an organization, especially large government entities like NASA. This results in the second phase, which is the organization adapting and changing its re-engineered requirements to align with the capabilities of the software. The third and final phase is when an organization becomes familiar with the new software and its potential, identifies additional requirements and process changes, and leverages the software’s capabilities to effect business process and reporting improvements. For example, when NASA implemented its new financial system (SAP) in 2003, everyone struggled in using the system because it was so complex and different than what we previously used. As we’ve gained familiarity and learned its capabilities (and constraints), we now want to effect many changes and improvements. In doing so, we need to make sure we’re making the right improvements.

Last fall, I asked the IEMP to work with a small number of key NASA projects to identify and characterize where NASA’s management and business systems are not meeting the needs of NASA’s mission projects. Below is a brief overview of IEMP’s approach to conducting this “gap analysis,” the results of this effort, and the next steps toward filling the gaps.

Gap Analysis Approach

It was determined that systems engineering disciplines needed to be applied in performing the gap analysis mentioned above. IEMP coordinated with the Office of the Chief Engineer to identify an experienced systems engineer, Al Motley, from the Langley Research Center, to plan and lead the gap analysis effort. Mr. Motley coordinated with NASA’s Management and Business Systems Integration Group (M/BSIG), which consists of representatives from the mission directorates, mission support offices, and Centers, to help him plan and execute the effort.

Early in the effort, it became apparent that there needed to be a common understanding of the term “gap.” It was determined that gaps would be identified in four areas: (1) data gaps, in which the projects determine there is missing, incomplete, redundant, or incorrect data; (2) application gaps, in which the projects experience an inability to retrieve, input, or modify information; (3) process and policy gaps, in which policy and unique processes are either non-existent, not standardized at local levels, or are not satisfied by Agency-provided systems and, therefore, workarounds are developed; and (4) human gaps, in which the projects are performing non-standard practices, or have inadequately trained staff on use of the system.

Mr. Motley and the M/BSIG selected a representative sample of mission projects in which to conduct workshops. Applying a methodical process using 30 weighted characteristics (e.g., project size, mission area, project phase, types of partners, etc.), five projects were chosen from an initial set of 16 representative NASA projects. The selected projects were:

  • ­ Hypersonic Boundary Layer Transition Experiment (Hy-BoLT/HSA)
  • ­ Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-N)
  • ­ James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
  • ­ International Space Station (ISS)
  • ­ Orion

Mr. Motley established a team which conducted workshops with each of these projects. Results of these workshops are described below.

Gap Analysis Results

The gap analysis team conducted five workshops, interviewed 68 individuals, and identified 150 raw gaps. These were subsequently consolidated and integrated into a final set of 58 normalized gaps. This set was then prioritized, with help from the five participating projects and the M/BSIG, to identify the following 8 gaps as relatively high priority:

  1. Projects do not always receive funding in a timely manner. This is primarily a process issue which was exacerbated at the beginning of this fiscal year due to delays in opening up the financial system, and funding holdbacks related to Congressional budget approvals (i.e., continuing resolution). Nevertheless, it was noted that there appear to be delays in distributing funds to the mission directorates. Further analysis is needed to penetrate problem areas.
  2. Projects have concerns over the integrity of data in the system. A number of factors may contribute to this issue, including charges against incorrect WBS elements, costs being recorded in incorrect time periods, apparent discrepancies when reporting from different systems, and other factors.
  3. Projects are limited by system configuration to obligate and cost funds at the same WBS level. This constraint was driven by system design trades and process decisions.
  4. Projects have difficulty maintaining effective planning and control during the end-of-year closeout period. Several factors have contributed to this problem, including delays in system start-up at the beginning of the fiscal year, changing WBS numbers, pooling un-obligated funds at start-up, re-allocating uncommitted funds, and others.
  5. Projects occasionally need more WBS elements (levels) than are available. Similar to #3 above, system design trades resulted in constraints that have limited the resolution of data that projects can maintain in the system and, therefore, projects have created workarounds (e.g., tracking spreadsheets).
  6. Projects receive conflicting data when pulling reports on the same information but from different systems. This results from similar reporting coming from different systems in which there are timing differences in the data, variations in the reporting formats and data displays, ambiguity on the actual system of record for labor reporting, and other factors.
  7. Projects lack standard systems, processes and reporting requirements across projects. In general, there is a lack of reporting standards across, and sometimes within most Agency organizations. The projects are requested to report data to stakeholders in various formats. Also, projects often export data to Excel or other applications to develop specialized reports and to integrate financial data with other data for analysis and reporting, etc.
  8. Projects report that the integration of WBS, financial, manpower planning, and scheduling data is a problematic and manual process. There is no Agency-wide standard system for integrating schedules, budgets, and actual costs. Many projects have developed there own unique integration and reporting tools to support earned value management and other project analyses.

Next Steps

Solving these high priority gaps / problems, as well as the others, will require much more work. IEMP has hired an Integration Manager, Sandra Smalley, to take over the work and information that Mr. Motley delivered. Ms. Smalley, in concert with the M/BSIG, will be performing detailed analysis of the gaps in order to translate them into a set of actions and requirements. Similarly, she’s working with NASA’s mission support offices to gather their ongoing requirements to compile an integrated set of Agency business system needs which will be factored into an Agency Business Concept of Operations.

In summary, I recognize that closing these gaps will be a challenging task, one that will involve multiple organizations and strong leadership, and will require compromises to establish common solutions. The gaps are complicated because most of them involve combinations of policy, process, data, application, and human factors. Many of these solutions may require funding which will be competing with many other high priority initiatives. Nevertheless, I recognize the critical nature of instituting additional efficiencies in our business processes, information integration, and reporting, and I am committed to making this happen within the constraints of competing requirements and available budget.