NASA’s digital strategy serves as an example of how agencies can keep the mission engaging and relevant.

Automated workflow rules bring information into a single view, connect programs, & fuel data-driven decisions.

Time to read: 6 minutes

NASA is digitally transforming the Administration, developing a strategy that is helping the team streamline the intern recruiting process, turn inspirational touch points into engaged advocates, and maintain a brand that's as much a part of Americana as it is the Federal government.

And even if you aren't developing the next generation of STEM leadership, hosting shuttle launches, or crowd-sourcing novel ideas to solve challenges like how to remove grease from a potato chip (hint: the answer is about vibrations), NASA strategy still serves as an example for any agency looking to...

  • Recruit and retain top talent
  • Increase engagement from employees and constituents alike - after all, the customer experience often mirrors the employee experience
  • Strengthen relationships with key industry partners

In other words: NASA’s digital transformation strategy serves as an example for any agency looking to keep the mission relevant.

Here's how.

Table of Contents

NASA, ever the trailblazer, turns systematic legacy IT challenges into a call-to-action.

NASA’s work is multifaceted, doing as much here on the ground as it does up in space. The agency manages programs like aeronautics research, various science missions, human exploration, and more — and the various teams behind this work recruit all kinds of interns to support these efforts. As a result, the recruiting process was equally multifaceted with individual teams standing up their own process for collecting resumes, storing PII, recording what an intern accomplished during their time with NASA, mapping that internship role to a specific pathway, and so on.

And this isn't uncommon.

As many program leaders across any number of organizations working on a variety of missions look to improve their processes and operations, they implement whatever system seems to be a best fit for the needs and budget at hand, and that will not necessarily match from one program to the next. The result: different sets of data, collected by different workflow rules, stored in different formats and databases. The impact: more time, energy, and resources spent pulling reports, answering data calls, and maintaining system integrity. Less time, energy, and resources spent focusing on mission-critical innovation.

It’s an expensive, industrywide conundrum — that NASA took as a call to action.


The Federal IT budget landscape

In its recent study on government IT spend, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Federal agencies spend over $100 billion on IT and cyber investments. Of that, an estimated $67.9 billion of that is dedicated to operations and maintenance.

That is 67.9% spent on legacy IT, which (when paired with the $34.6 billion spent on national security and defense) leaves only $17.7 billion available for development, modernization, and enhancement. At best, only 17.7% of budget is spent on innovation.1

This is why NASA’s example is so significant. It shows departments and agencies how they might transcend industrywide challenges, and focus more resources on the mission-critical work, not the clerical work that tends to come with it.


Introducing the STEM Gateway, an intake and case management system in one.

The team launched the STEM Gateway on the FedRAMP-authorized Salesforce Customer 360 for Public Sector, an internship management platform that brings NASA’s multifaceted internship landscape together into one, online community portal. It includes several modules and apps that NASA uses to automate and streamline the way it reaches, resonates, and recruits the next generation of STEM leadership.

Here’s how it works:

  • Intake:

    Prospective interns enter the Gateway through the portal’s Experience Cloud interface, register a profile, browse information about STEM programs and opportunities, and submit an application, marking which roles or areas are of interest. Once an application has been submitted, candidates can log back in to check the status and take action on any next steps (such as submitting employment eligibility records or signing up for onboarding activities).

    The self-service nature mitigates data entry errors as the candidate is guided through the required fields and checkboxes. The consolidated design means one application, one experience, and one source of truth for any number of internship opportunities.

  • Application processing:

    NASA employees leverage the same consolidated design principles in their work on the backend. When an application is received, it is treated as a case and assigned to an internship coordinator via Service Cloud. Here, the internship coordinator can review the application, take notes, tag subject matter experts from any program on key questions, and make offer recommendations. PII is captured once and stored in a central place, (with an additional layer of security from Shield), as are details about which candidates were hired for which program, survey results at the end of the post, and more.

  • Additional opportunities for engagement:

    Internships is just one of over thirty NASA STEM engagements hosted by the STEM Gateway system. Creating a universal application and registration system for these engagements provides a better user experience for both NASA employees and the public as it allows information to be collected once and reused across multiple interactions. Additionally, it is allowing NASA an automated and reliable view into how individuals are participating in multiple opportunities offered by the agency to build and strengthen their STEM knowledge. Over the next year, NASA is moving towards migrating approximately seventy additional engagements into this system and retiring their associated legacy systems and manual processes. Here are just two examples of other engagements utilizing NASA STEM Gateway today:

    NASA CONNECTS is an online community of practice (CoP) that launched as a part of the Gateway; it is a module built in Experience Cloud where educator members can interact with NASA personnel, curriculum, and each other. Here, educators collaborate and discuss best practices, share training resources, and follow relevant educator groups or other educators.

    NASA's STEM’s In-flight Education Downlink application receives online request forms from educators and administrators who want to schedule a time slot for astronauts aboard the International Space Station to speak at school events via live video stream. NASA staff can review the request and schedule a downlink right in the Gateway

  • Reporting:

    Integrated reports and dashboards built using Tableau and CRM Analytics give the team a set of business analytics tools to roll up results, spot trends, and pinpoint catalysts driving the internship program and other NASA STEM engagements. The team uses this to better understand what demographics are missing from the talent pool, trace those gaps back to barriers in the application process (such as if more time needs to be spent with institutions dedicated to minority groups), and report on how many students are preparing to enter STEM careers — with NASA, the Federal government, or industry as a part of the Administration’s commitment to contributing to Federal STEM goals.

    The team also uses this to down-select candidates. In fiscal year 2022, the internship program filled roughly 2,200 internship openings per year across the agency, and the number of applications for a single opening can vary widely. The team has seen as many as 300 applications for a single internship opportunity. So, they built a dashboard on CRM Analytics that pulls up an open role, and filters applicants by GPA, academic level, major, school or academic institution, region, skillset, and more. The team can then remove those attributes before sending a candidate along to a hiring manager to both streamline the review process and reduce the impact of implicit bias. 


STEM Gateway inspires other apps that together create an enterprise-wide platform strategy.

NASA launched several other apps using many of the same design principles as the STEM Gateway, digitizing and automating one program after the next and connecting them on the same platform.

The Guest Ops app is a scheduling and CRM app that NASA uses to manage the process of inviting key influencers to NASA events. Automated workflow rules streamline to-do items like issuing invites, triggering parking passes, and so on. RSVP and attendance data are again added to a personalized profile record in Sales Cloud, which the team uses to nurture relationships with those individuals who have an interest in NASA’s mission. Here, the team can review past engagements, takes notes on common interests, and call the right influencer to participate in future events that help keep NASA top of mind. 

The Subject Matter Expert Speaker Database on Experience Cloud and Salesforce Platform has a similar intake function to the STEM Gateway, collecting digital request forms for NASA speakers to participate in various community and academic events. Staff can review the request form, match the most qualified person to speak on behalf of the agency, and report on the number and type of events with NASA representation using again a similar set of Tableau-based reports and dashboards. NASA employees can also authenticate in, review training materials, sign up for courses, and become a more prepared and more effective NASA speaker.

NASA had a manual request process for adding projects to its Mission Cloud Platform (MCP) — a platform on AWS that has seen more and more demand as interest in Cloud Computing services are on the rise, making it more and more difficult for the team of just 15 people to manage this process using offline spreadsheets, emails, as well as tracking demand for its platform with its ever growing customer base. So, NASA built the Mission Cloud Platform Dashboard app on Service Cloud and Public Sector Solutions - Employee Experience automating the CRM analytics, funding and customer tracking. On the verge going live, the team has scaled from managing 20 projects to 145 projects without adding any additional headcount and this will alleviate workload by automating routine customer interactions as well as new customer onboarding. Some of NASA’s most mission-critical programs are now on AWS because of the MCP, including instruments on the International Space Station for infrastructure and payload management, programs support collision avoidance for low earth orbit, and projects supporting Artemis – NASA’s return to the moon.


NASA’s digital transformation is about more than scale and automation — it’s an example that can be applied to a number of programs, led by a number of agencies, in pursuit of a number of missions.

The STEM Gateway has enabled NASA to support a 143:1 ratio; each internship coordinator can now manage an average of 143 internship applications. The work it took to answer data calls has been reduced by a factor of 15; the team used to have to pull data from 15 different systems and build a report summarizing all of those data sets. Now the team just has to pull data from one system and roll it up on one (real-time!) report.


internship applications per internship coordinator


reduction in systems needed to build a report

Most importantly, these digital apps serve as an example for departments and agencies looking to modernize all kinds of processes, programs, and missions:

  • The STEM Gateway is an intake and case management system. Similar to the high-level process and multifaceted landscapes behind grants programs, benefits programs, ERAPs, and other services that have both an intake and eligibility review or customer service-style action.

  • The scheduling apps are applicable to anything that involves appointments out in the field, logistics and planning, and linear, repeatable processes that could move faster and more efficiently with automated workflow rules triggering next steps.

  • The outreach, engagement, and CRM capabilities offer a set of tools to understand customer needs at a more granular level, see the history and context, and have more productive, collaborative conversations as a result. Think about what this could do for recruiting, public affairs/public relations, developing partnerships, and so on.

  • The data analytics and security layers unlock the kind of transparency and reliability that builds trust in a program from the system level. I.e.: from the program’s foundation. Think about the impact this can have on everything from the employee experience to program support and funding. More accessible data = more inspired employees, better visibility to outcomes (not just events), and a greater understanding of how the mission continues to be relatable to today’s community needs.

NASA’s is an example of the impact that can come from developing a strategy that uses automated workflow rules to bring information into a single view, connect programs, and fuel data-driven decisions. 


More Resources



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