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The Hero of NASA’s Digital Transformation: Chief Data Officer Ron Thompson

From space exploration to maintaining satellites, Ron and Charlie sit down to discuss how modern data is bringing digital transformation to NASA.
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Unknown: For generations hearing the word NASA or seeing its iconic logo caused spirits to soar, starting with satellite exploration to the moon landing. from Mars to the outer reaches of space, NASA has never failed to amaze and inspire. All of these endeavors have been monumental data mining missions,
gathering massive libraries of information and images to expand our understanding of the universe. What we discover in space holds potential to save our planet and humankind. solutions to sustainability, water supply, and habitability on Mars may be hidden in new information NASA gains hour by
hour. exploring what we've already gathered is every bit as exciting as New Horizons we've not yet reached and NASA's capabilities continue to increase. The launch of the Webb Space Telescope will send the most powerful instrument yet into space, we're able to increase NASA's data collection
needs by five times. Pure Storage is proud to lend a hand in NASA's digital transformation, anticipating many more breakthroughs for generations to come. NASA is not only an iconic brand, but it's a global inspiration. And I'm sure that everyone here has a fond memory
or two of NASA. Whether you've watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, or you've watched perseverance, touchdown on Mars this past February, we've all been awed by NASA's leadership in science and exploration, I have to say that my entire life's course was shaped by the space program. As a kid, I
watched every single Mercury, Gemini and Apollo rocket launch in the 60s and 70s. And I continue to follow NASA routinely. I was so enamored with NASA, that I applied for, and had a summer intern internship program with NASA's Johnson Space Center, working on the computers and the
electronics that ran the space shuttle simulator in Houston. Then much later, I was able to reprove and lead the team that launched the first internet router in space aboard an Atlas rocket. So needless to say, I'm a huge fan of NASA. And I am delighted to introduce to you Ron Thompson, who is NASA's
chief data officer, and Deputy digital transformation officer. Ron, we're honored to have you with us. Thank you, Charlie, and thank thanks for having me out today. Really appreciate the opportunity. And as you mentioned, you know, for decades, NASA has been on the
forefront of discovery and exploration, you know, really extending the human frontiers and achievements in air and space. You know, they, you know, currently now the nation's pursuing even bolder missions, as you alluded to, you know, with Mars and the perseverance landing, and an ever increasing
hyper connected world, where it's fast pace, and the competition is just fierce. to power this future, NASA has embarked on a digital transformation effort that really transforms our work, workforce and workplace. And data is at the core of that transformation. So you mentioned
my role. You know, as CTO, I serve as the agency official to ensure that our data is a strategic asset for the agency. It is transparent and accessible, to improve our hindsight insight and foresight, and thereby increasing our value to our mission outcomes. So data is really the innovation of
transformation. And this conference is a perfect time for us to talk about how to accelerate data for NASA. Well, thanks, Ron, your career is a walkthrough of many well known agencies, including Treasury, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, and many others, very impressive.
But there were two stops on your career journey that really stood out to me. You had a few early years in your first job at HP, and then serving in the army. And I want to thank you for your service in the army. I was hoping that you could share a bit about your professional experience along the way, and
what's brought you to serving as the Chief Digital Officer officer at NASA. So thanks, Charlie, um, you know, I go back and sort of reflect where I've been and, and the opportunities that I have and just really thankful for each and every one of them. You
know, as I progress through, it wasn't part of a grand plan or anything that I sat down and scripted out as, as a young individual just finishing college but these opportunities arose and part of my my core is thoses is really serving others and giving back. You know, that's why what attracted me to
serve in the army very early on. And that's what attracts me for public service. So that serving get giving back ethos is extremely important as a leader. And the mission of each agencies I've worked with is, was extremely important, you know, mission, mission outcomes are why organizations exist, right?
So if we think about that, in serving those missions, or, you know, in some agencies, it's very concise, and to the point, some agencies are very federated, and, and really, just different different portfolios they actually have within there but, you know, I think all all really the Common Core is is is
you know, the people that that serve and why they're there and giving back so that's, that's really a common court in the federal space. You know, my time it Compaq and HP, I wouldn't trade that for the world either really, learning the commercial world really seeing how, you know, profit and loss works in
that area. So really, just just blessed to have all these opportunities arise. And, and I will tell you this, Charlie, it is a blink of an eye how quickly time really goes by? Because it is it is kind of frightening, and especially during during times of COVID It seems like our clock is, you know, days are
short yet months or you know, so it's really a sort of a time warp thing. So, it you know, it was it's kind of surreal, how time is really ticking by for us right now. You know, it's really been true this past year, Ron's like, no other. Right. And it really impacted every organization. How
did the last year really impact NASA? And, and and your role at NASA? Yeah, so everything sort of aligned is a perfect storm, you know, the the role of the CTO and the government is, is it relatively new role, you know, in industry, it's, it was sort
of a longer, you know, focus on on data as a strategic asset or data as an important asset for the bottom line. But in the federal government, it really didn't solidify until about 2018, where we had our evidence act for decision making actually, was signed into law. So that established each agency,
a chief data officer, we're really focused on data as a, you know, as an important role for the agency as important asset. So early in the pandemic, I'll tell this quick story is, we realized that we really didn't have a way for decision making on when to close our centers down went, where the population
live, we really needed to see capacity of cases at the time. So across the government, this, the Federal CDO councils sort of put a lot of effort into how we're defining cases would what how many, how we're defining how many beds are available in the hospital, so so that, that that community across multiple
different agencies got together and defined, you know, how we were going to measure, you know, starting averages, how we're going to look at longitudinal data over time, and then how we were going to share data between agencies so so that that, you know, that crisis in in just just go back a year, a little
over a year ago, we really weren't sure where you know how the impact really was. So we made a decision based on data that we we actually stood up and visualized for our key decision makers to to move our agency out into a virtual space. We're very fortunate, our CIO had the foresight to actually have very
good capability for teleworking and working remotely. So so we eased into the decision was made on a Friday, the next Monday, or Monday, we eased into that virtual space. And, you know, just were very productive in a very uncertain time. Our most important thing, Charlie was to protect our people, and make
sure they were safe during the pandemic, and that is still the utmost important. Oh, that's fantastic, Ron, now, Ron, you're speaking to, you know, 1000s of innovators in our audience right now. And NASA is definitely known for spurring innovation. So they all want to
hear about what new technology is being developed at NASA that will excite the industry in the next few years. And which projects are you like personally passionate about? Well, I see great advancement in in our digital twin. We've taken our, our engineering side of our house and if you look at NASA,
we are a a community of engineers. So we're taking historically the way we were designed, let's say a new aircraft. I'll pull out we talked a lot about space earlier. So I'll pull on the aeronautics threat. So in the past, we would we would design empirical models, and build them
and put them physically in a wind tunnel. So you would go down to the engineering v all the way through the, through the lifecycle of, of, you know, building these things empirically testing these things, go back and revise the model. So I think there's a wonderful opportunity for our
model base, but we're calling our model based everything part of our digital transformation, to do digital twins, for everything we do, before we cut any metal, you have a digital twin in the cloud, you know, so we can, you know, we can tie in, you know, cloud based offerings and then our analytics and and,
and our capability to project before we actually make a physical model of a particular aircraft, a wing or element in an aircraft, we're absolutely able to test, validate and verify before anything so. So that is something that really excites us. And, and, and technologies like, what is
available through pure Pure Storage, it's very attractive to us. So that way of working is is is different. So we have a culture and workforce aspect of this, we have a technology aspect of this. I believe there's there's many advances in technology that we can bring to bear today. But the largest
hurdle is doing something different differently than we have done in the past. So getting over that, I think do the space, the technology space we live in is is very much advancing almost daily in enhancements here. And then lastly, currently, I'll mentioned artificial
intelligence and machine learning that is an area where we see great promise you mentioned, the perseverance rover, but did you know that used artificial intelligence to land that actually took the it wasn't controlled here by a on the earth, this was actually autonomous, robotic vehicle that
landed on its own through artificial intelligence, and it learned and it still is continuing to learn while it's Omar's and in and we're hoping many, many years of lifetime of discovery THROUGH THROUGH THROUGH that mission. But but that area, in in, in artificial intelligence and machine
learning is, is just one that we're just scratching the surface on. Robotic Process Automation is another where we can really, that's a more mature area. And we're very excited about that, because we can elevate what our talent is using right now manual processes, and really look at bringing in
robotics process automation to automate and take the human out of the routine task and elevate them to more cerebral work that we need to do is required. That is so cool over Ron now, you know, not all of us have the opportunity to advance space exploration as part of our day
job. But we can all relate to advancing our organizations. What are some of NASA's key goals for the transformation over the next couple of years? And how is that going to drive change and improvements, you know, for the organization as a whole.
So I'll sort of riff on the theme of this conference accelerate. So part of part of what we're doing is accelerating our time to market and we do have a goal that we want to increase in the next three to five years, everything NASA does, and our work workforce and workplace, we want to accelerate
everything we do by 25%. So we've gotten together over the past nine months, and work with our, our core missions and our programs of the agency to go and and get behind actually developing enterprise wide capabilities that will advance and accelerate everything that NASA does. So we're behind this,
this is an all in effort. This is something that's absolutely quantifiable. It is understandable across all of our domains and NASA. And absolutely, we have the buy in not only from the senior leadership, but from the rank and file as well.
It's really fascinating to Iran to hear how the modern data experience and application experience of that data is changing so much at NASA, we pure have been very focused on delivering storage as code, what are the keys to driving a successful transformation like that?
So I again, it's really the mindset change is really doing things differently. You know, that's probably the largest barriers we see. I would say, a key to this Charlie is really the understanding of what the offering really is, and the applicability within our programs and missions. That that
that is really the key. If you can imagine a world truly and this is an art not to distant future, we're going to need capabilities like what would pure can deliver on the moon, on Mars. So imagine this is an offworld. You mentioned, you've worked on the router in space. And thank you for that, or, you
know, on the iOS, thank you for that. But just think of a day, and then not not too distant future where we do have computing storage capabilities on outside of the earth outside of our planet. One last question for you, Ron, the themes that accelerate this
year are breakthroughs and finding your own superhero, can you share a breakthrough that you've had, that is either professionally or personally this past year? So I think the one of the breakthroughs we have is resiliency, learning how resilient we are as individuals
learning how resilient we are as people. I was amazed again, and this is just my agency perspective, but amazed actually, across all government, how we were able to be actually resilient, you know, we've been talking about remote work for quite some time in the federal space, you know, the commercial
space, have been doing it, you know, industry has been doing it for years. But for for for for the federal government and for the world. Just think of the scope of our of our living right now. And how productive we really are in this virtual environment and how how we're doing it safely and protecting,
you know, protecting ourselves and our families, and, you know, the community. So I not that it's a breakthrough. But I'm amazed how quickly, What is surprising to me was how quickly and resilient we actually became in that short period of time. Yeah. Well, thank you, Ron. It's been a real pleasure speaking
with you and about the universe of possibilities that you and NASA will explore with your data. Thanks for joining us today. Thank you for having me, Charlie. And I just want to just mention to the participants in this year's conference, I wish I
could be with you in person, we all wish we could be together in the near future looking forward to that. But do enjoy the sessions and and, you know, do enjoy the time together. Be happy to to, to chat with anybody that wants to follow up or has any questions for me, but enjoy the conference and, you
know, accelerate. Thanks, Ron. Stay well. You too, Charlie. Thank you.
  • Artificial Intelligence
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From Mars to the outer reaches of space, all of these missions have been data mining expeditions, learning more about the Universe we live in. As NASA's capabilities continue to increase, so too will their data storage capacity requirements. The James Webb Telescope is expected to increase data collection needs 5-fold. In this presentation, Ron Thompson, Chief Data Officer (CDO) at NASA, and Charles Giancarlo, Chairman and CEO at Pure Storage, discuss the role data storage infrastructure plays in bringing digital transformation to NASA. Discover how data plays a central role in NASA innovation from robotic process automation to artificial intelligence.

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