digital transformation

Dorothy Venable knew as she viewed the computer screen that she was on to something big.

Venable, a budget analyst in the Engineering Support Office at Marshall Space Flight Center, was watching a demonstration of a new data processing tool during a teleconference with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in December 2019. The Johnson-developed tool automates labor-intensive steps in the creation of purchase requisitions – documents used by employees to order products and services for their organization.

“I knew that if we could get it to do what we needed it to do at Marshall, it was going to be a huge time saver and it was going to improve accuracy,” said Venable, who joined Marshall as a contractor in February 2017 before becoming a civil servant in April 2019.

Venable piloted the tool with the Engineering Services and Science Capability Augmentation contract held by Jacobs Technology of Tullahoma, Tennessee, testing various aspects in January and February before putting it to full use in March. Previously, loading the project data for the $1.2 billion contract took 25-30 hours each month. Venable modified the tool to meet Marshall’s requirements. The result? The error checking and loading time decreased to 2-3 hours per month.

“Contracts the size of ESSCA require working with large volumes of codes and data, and this new tool simplifies the entire process,” Clark Boaz, supervisory budget analyst in the Engineering Support Office, said. “Dorothy and everyone involved with implementing the tool did amazing work that could ultimately provide benefits for offices across the center.”

The tool – which Venable’s office dubbed the “Automated PR Tool” – uses scripts in Microsoft Excel to catch errors. Venable said that the traditional process for creating a purchase requisition in the SAP software often proved to be cumbersome. She explained that an analyst can manually put in nine lines of data at a time. But if there is an error in any of those lines, the analyst isn’t alerted until after completing the entry. If an error was found, the analyst would have to restart the process.

“The tool goes around and automates that; it bypasses some of those restrictions,” Venable said. “The tool will flag anything that is an issue and, right off the bat, find where there’s a mismatch. All of that is seen before you ever start to put it into SAP.”

Venable’s ability to customize an existing product and use it to augment Marshall’s processes is an example of digital transformation – using powerful digital tools, such as data analytics and personalized information and interfaces, to dramatically improve how a process is accomplished. NASA’s Digital Transformation strategy, approved in spring 2019, aims to harness evolving digital technologies to advance agency missions, enhance efficiency and encourage a culture of innovation. The initiative has eight goals, with Venable’s efforts falling under the “Increased efficiency and effectiveness of business processes” category.

“Digital tools and processes have the potential to dramatically enhance NASA’s mission impact by reinventing ways of doing business that save time and money, and foster enterprisewide collaboration,” Preston Jones, Marshall associate director, technical, said.

Venable is teaching others how to use the tool, which In turn is helping her learn more about its capabilities. The tool will continue to be used on the Engineering Services and Science Capability Augmentation contract and there are plans to use it with other contracts at Marshall, according to Randy Silver, lead budget analyst in Marshall’s Budget Integration and Analysis Office.

Editor’s note: Daniel Boyette, an ASRC Federal/Analytical Services employee and Marshall Star editor, supports the Office of Strategic Analysis & Communication.

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