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).