Digital Transformation

At the intersection of mission, technology, and place is NASA’s need to modernize for a digital-forward future. Digitalization, the process of moving toward digital business, is occurring everywhere and remains an ongoing process across the federal government. Digital transformation leads to more informed decisions, increased operational efficiency, and streamlined processes.


Today, we are witnessing the disruption of almost all processes, practices, and industries by digital technology. Digitalization, the process of moving toward digital business (we acknowledge that digitalization, digitization, and digital transformation are often used interchangeably) is occurring everywhere. Digitalization remains an ongoing process across the federal government; in the coming decade, digital transformation is likely to be the most important factor in reshaping government. Yet the government (and public policy) are far behind the rate of change.

Since NASA’s initial digital strategy was developed in 2015, the Agency has continued to work toward “changing the way we do business,” and has become more information-centric, customer-centric, and platform-driven while attempting to balance the pull of security and privacy concerns. Such changes continue to disrupt NASA, enabling new insights and new possibilities.


Digital transformation requires more than accessing the appropriate digital tools. A limited ability to adopt or train on new technology, siloed systems, and restrictive data policies stand in the way of NASA’s imperative ability to prepare for a digital-forward future. Organizations not readily embracing digital-first mindsets or “automate everything” mantras will no longer be compatible with the future, much less the work or workforce. Without taking steps toward digital business, NASA risks losing reductions, resources, and ultimately relevance: digital business reaps reductions realized through cost saving on appropriately managing/refreshing IT investments and automating across organizational processes and digitalization frames resources to more effectively utilize and allocate while eliminating waste. Digital transformation is a non-negotiable to remain relevant in attracting critical talent and keeping pace with competitors and partners setting modernization cadence.


Disruptions through technological breakthroughs and rapid adoption of new technology are requiring the government to respond or be left behind. Truly transforming NASA through digital technologies will be a journey, but one worth taking.

NASA must collectively assess its digital readiness posture; immediate actions may include  developing a more streamlined approach to evaluate, adopt and procure modern technology and activating a concentrated effort to improve the digital user experience for employees by providing a simple, clear user experience, starting with Human Capital services and platforms. To bring this opportunity to life, consider the dramatic change from filling out tax returns before the online, automated, user friendly TurboTax swept the nation. People even called completing their taxes fun! NASA could adopt the strategy that no new service or tool will be delivered to our managers and employees without this sort of TurboTax interface experience.

NASA must also consider the digital competencies of the workforce. Agency investments in the technology and tools necessary for digitalization are only as valuable as the employees able to access and innovate through their use. Any emerging Agency talent strategy must include the necessity for digital competencies—upskilling, procuring, and refreshing these essential talents to continuously propel the Agency forward.

About the Authors

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).


The Future of Work Framework

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO) has undertaken research to understand the disruptors driving the future of work and implications for NASA so that it can evolve talent strategies aligned with the new work, workforce and workplace of tomorrow. The result is the Future of Work – a report and framework, which reveals eight major themes that highlight insights, challenges and tangible opportunities for NASA. The Future of Work acts as a foundational compass as NASA embarks on a new journey toward a future that enables its workforce to be adaptable, resilient, productive and bold.

The eight themes emerged from research findings categorized into four major, overlapping meta forces: mission, people, place and technology. Themes range from fundamentally rethinking the roles of organizations and individuals, to embracing the role technology increasingly serves to augment and enable the workforce. The eight themes are:

Theme 1: Designing for Agility, Focusing on Impact
For organizations to thrive in today’s world, it is imperative to move faster, adapt quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. Work today requires fluid talent to meet ever increasingly complex work, requiring multidisciplinary skills, delivered by teams of people, networked together that have overarching goals tied to organizational performance and productivity.

Theme 2: Redefining Talent
To attract top human talent, organizations must embrace the new dynamic human talent pool that enters the organization through all manner of new work arrangements, (e.g., traditional employment contracts to citizen scientists); and at the same time strategic workforce planning, acquisition and management practices must enable a workforce that is resilient to shifting mission priorities. Redefined talent runs along a continuum ranging from the traditional full-time employee to part time workers and supplemented by machine talent (e.g., artificial intelligence and robotics).

Theme 3: Learning and Developing for a Lifetime
Rising life expectancies and an aging global workforce present organizations with unprecedented challenges and untapped opportunities. Organizations with a science and technology forward mission must highly value and provide learning and development for its workforce to ensure continued relevance and competitiveness.

Theme 4: Deploying Talent, Mobilizing Careers
Success depends on providing employees with experiences that inspire and challenge them throughout their career. Organizations need well trained, experienced leaders and professionals that can be matched with mission needs through the use of temporary assignments, internal rotations, reassignments and reinstatements, details in place and external engagement.

Theme 5: Embracing Modern Workspaces and Collaboration
Work can now be conducted anywhere and anytime through making information, data and tools available to an increasingly mobile workforce. Workplaces must also adapt as the work and workforce evolves. Modern workspaces are being redesigned for flexibility, autonomy and collaboration and to enable an increasingly remote, agile workforce.

Theme 6: Designing for Sharing and Security
The ability of organizations to leverage data to drive insights to action is critical. Yet data access is often prohibited due to the underlying tension between sharing and security. An enterprise data management strategy and modern, common data architecture is critical to securely share information and data.

Theme 7: Prioritizing Digital Transformation
Digital transformation that leads to more informed decisions and operational efficiencies is occurring in every industry and remains an ongoing process across the federal government.

Theme 8: Unleashing Automation, Analytics, Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Advances in technology will allow organizations to better organize and distribute work tasks to qualified individuals, replacing or outsourcing others and generally augmenting the existing workforce. As machines start to think and act humanly, organizations will be able to more efficiently assess real-time data, assign responses, allocate tasks based on assessment, streamline knowledge driven processes, and enable more objective decision-making.

Each theme includes insights gleaned from the research and analysis, and highlights corresponding challenges and opportunities based on NASA’s position today. Upcoming blog posts will focus on the eight themes in more detail.

Nick Skytland | Nick has pioneered new ways of doing business in both government and industry for nearly two decades. He leads the Future of Work initiative at NASA and is the Agency Talent and Technology Strategist in the Talent Strategy and Engagement Division within the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer (OCHCO).

The Future of Work: An Introduction

For the last 60 years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully attracted the innately curious, the relentless adventurers to explore the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Our workforce has achieved the impossible, from the unforgettable feats of the space race and Mars rovers to lesser known inventions like a reimagined hearing aid enabling people deaf at birth to hear for the very first time. These accomplishments are the results of lasting inspiration and enduring commitment.

As NASA contemplates the next 60 years, we recognize that the environment we operate in today is significantly different from that of past decades. We live in a world dramatically affected by the rapid pace of radical change—organizational, demographic, structural, and technological. Technology is impacting how, when and where we work, as well as the work itself, and how we think about talent and careers. Critical talent is getting harder to attract and deploy. Industry and organizational borders are disappearing, challenges transcend boundaries and are more complex, and solutions no longer belong to one organization or nation. Our workforce is navigating a more complex, fast-paced and interconnected world where work is less geographically-based, organizational structures are flatter, responsibilities are matrixed, and work structures are more complex.

NASA has taken noteworthy strides to ensure the Agency remains well-positioned to hire, develop and motivate the very best and brightest talent. With the introduction of teleworking policies and flexible work schedules, a culture of keeping current and retaining stature in technical fields, and the maturation of world-class leadership development programs, these actions exhibit future-forward steps. However, the Agency recognizes the dynamic landscape of the future requires not only continuous evolution, but in many ways, the reinvention of NASA’s Human Capital program.

NASA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer is rethinking the talent continuum and leading the way to understand the future of work, its challenges and opportunities.  This blog serves to share our insights and introduce new approaches for developing people, launching new platforms to match people with opportunities, and embracing technology and digital transformation to modernize human capital service delivery.

We hope you will follow us over the coming months as we discuss the disruptors driving the Future of Work and key insights that are informing our own human capital transformation.  Together, we will continue to explore how we might evolve our talent strategies and unlock a new frontier for the workforce of tomorrow.