Digital Transformation at NASA

A Case Study

As one of the most iconic organizations in America, how does NASA is embracing digital transformation? Once dominated by government's strategic initiative, the space industry is now going through a rapid and fundamental change. Private firms like SpaceX and Blue Origin are playing major roles in conducting routine space explorations, while NASA and other country's space agencies are focusing on more long-term space explorations. As the competitions on private space explorations hit up, how should NASA leverage the growing power of digital technology to continue to provide strategic leadership in the space industry?

In order to embrace this change, in 2020, NASA decided that they should embrace agency-wide digital transform. They first ran a campaign to educate its internal stakeholders that digital transformation is "employing digital technologies to change a process, product, or capability so dramatically that it is unrecognizable to its traditional form."

To implement its digital transformation vision, NASA established the agency-wide digital transformation community that include following roles:

  • Digital Transformation Thrust Team: Early adopters across NASA who follow digital transformation trends and explore new ways to apply digital technology to attack various barriers to NASA's organizational transformational goals.
  • Digital Transformation Champions: Senior leaders from every NASA organization with authority and influence to adopt and align digital transformation to enable organizational transformational goals
  • Digital Transformation Steering Committee: Chaired by the Associate Administrator of Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) and advised by representative senior leaders of the agency to ensure that NASA's digital transformation efforts support the agency's priorities of being responsive to the American public.
  • Digital Transformation Users: NASA's employees who are the ultimate internal customers of digital transformation efforts by playing a critical role by being open to new ways of working and new opportunities created by the digital age.
  • Digital Transformation Partners: External organizations who have a shared interest and co-invest in enabling aerospace community to work seamlessly together at the global pace of 21st century business.

Together with the establishment of the agency-wide digital transformation community, NASA is taking a three-pronged approach in implementing the agency-wide digital transformation efforts.

To convey the goal of digital transformation, NASA had to paint vivid and concrete pictures of the future of work at NASA. It shows how a NASA scientist carries out her scientific work in support of a digital assistant who can alert her on new scientific discoveries related to her work and automatically integrate the new finding into her own model. It also shows how the future of collaborations at NASA will involve artificial intelligence and creative one-day virtual creative jam session. Finally, it also shows how NASA engineers will leverage digital twins and IoT sensors to maintain mission-critical equipment.

NASA's digital transformation has three key strategic goals. First, it aims at transforming the way NSAS works. This involves complex decision-making process, speed delivery, increasing interdisciplinary innovation and increase public and stake holder engagement. Second, it aims at transforming the experience of workforce. This can be done by enhancing employee engagement, expand employee capabilities and maximize employee productivity. Third, it involves the transformation of the agility of workplace. This requirements the improvements of operational readiness and agility, making learning easier and rearchitect processes which work together.

In order to mobilize the digital transformation processes, NASA identified early adopters to support data-driven decision making progress using interoperable and reusable data. Then, they started an initiative, dubbed as model-based anything (MBx), to harness the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment human intelligence in addressing increasing complexity, scope, scale and uncertainty. Finally, NASA seeks to transform its products and processes to maximize efficiency and effectiveness to enable bolder mission faster. NASA launched 24 "early wins" projects and organised "Transformation Tuesdays" where these early adopters were given a podium to discuss and share the things they were working on and their learnings from the projects. Furthermore, they started digital academy and swarm innovation where the employees who were working on digital transformation projects could go to the academy and learn more and update themselves. The big aspiration is how they transformed their data, they piloted the EDP and got commitments from big organization to migrate big data sets and further to which they added in intelligence search capability and expanded analytics.

  1. Paint Digital Transformation Vision
  2. Define Digital Transformation Strategy
  3. Mobilize Early Adopters

Examples of digital transformation:

The example to transform teaming is MICS (modern and inclusive collaboration spaces), it is an example on how they digitally transform the way they collaborate.

Transform facilities are known as smart centers where they use digital tools to manage facilities better that involves three things:

All of these would be powered by digital technologies like IOT and edge computing, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and cloud platforms.

Transform engineering is a process in which multiple physics work together and are coupled together. NASA is looking forward to human landing on Mars and one of the technologies they are looking at is supersonic retro proportion. The proportion should be accurate enough for simulation and hence the digital engineering environment would help in this multiphysics modelling.

Transform reviews are known as smart reviews in NASA which creates 2D charts, live drill-down dashboards with analytics. It's an AI powered PM digital assistant. It helps to drill down any form of concern, further to which the digital assistant can cross check the problems that get unnoticed during manual intervention.

  • Transform teaming:
  • Transform Facilities:
    1. Foundation in health monitoring
    2. Research going on digital twins
    3. Autonomous inspection
  • Transform Engineering:
  • Transform reviews: