NASA, Chief Data Officer and Deputy Digital Transformation Officer: Think Globally, Act Locally

NASA, Chief Data Officer and Deputy Digital Transformation Officer: Think Globally, Act Locally

(US and Canada) Ron Thompson, NASA's Chief Data Officer and Deputy Digital Transformation Officer, talks to Leonard Maganza, Syniti's Chief Customer Officer, about the agency's digital transformation journey. Thompson refers to data as the manager of NASA's rocket fuel.

Thompson shared that, like other kids his age, he aspired to be an astronaut, to land on the moon, and be like Neil Armstrong. What drew him at an early age was the appealing nature of what space exploration, or human exploration, is, as a human doing new things, seeking knowledge, addressing ancient questions, and challenging oneself. He recalls watching grainy images of the moon landing on his small black and white TV.

He discusses the digital transformation initiative at NASA and how it is reshaping work, the workforce, and the workplace, with data at the heart of the transition.

He emphasized that his role as NASA's CDO is to turn data into an asset for the agency by making information transparent and accessible in order to improve hindsight, insight, and foresight, ultimately boosting the value of NASA mission results. He emphasizes data as a transformative innovation and explores digital transformation at NASA, as well as many other federal agencies, companies, and commercial organizations.

Thompson believes that his responsibility is to assist in cataloging, identifying, and creating an anthology through which NASA may collaborate as an agency. The NSA has gathered a massive amount of observation data over the last 60 years, and he believes that this data was collected for a reason. Some of the data is in electronic format while some, like engineering data, is still in paper format, which they are working on digitizing, cataloging, and making findable.

He believes that it is critical to supply data that a domain expert can drill down into and to create datasets that are large enough for people with skill in other areas to extract useful insights from. He also emphasizes work silos and usual work patterns in which departments might become specialized and as such, might not recognize the patterns that a broader perspective might provide. Digital access to decades of NASA's data can provide that perspective. However, NASA's work domains are quite complicated. From the standpoint of culture and change management, he advocated for thinking globally and acting locally. He believes that their approach is to categorize the datasets and enable search and visualization on the data platform, as well as good interoperability standards.

Thompson is a staunch supporter of the need to consider the future generation of workers. The younger generation expects transparency and access to information to advance their work.

He says it's not simply about cataloging and making information available; it's not just about scanning paper forms; it's about ensuring data sets are available for various uses, because it's unclear what kinds of queries will be answered with these diverse datasets. The important thing to remember, says Thompson, is that all of this must be done in a very secure and safe manner.

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