NASA sets example for making shared services work

As agencies get pushed toward more use of shared services, NASA through a partnership with CSRA and ServiceNow has set an example by consolidating and automating 50 back-office functions.

For an agency defined by innovation and advancement throughout its history, NASA faced many of the same hurdles its government counterparts dealt with in efforts to change the way it does business.

Under a shared services model, one part of an organization or group provides one or more of those same services to other parts of that team. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget issued in April highlights shared services as a tool for agencies in their restructuring and cost management efforts.

NASA embarked on its effort nearly a decade ago to standardize its business processes and in conjunction achieve both consolidation and cost savings in back-office functions. Step one involved the opening of its Shared Service Center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to act as a hybrid shared services delivery organization.

One immediate gain NASA cites from its move to shared services is improvement in transaction data quality, NSSC Director Mark Glorioso told Washington Technology.

 “You do a lot of transactions, therefore your data has a higher quality and your transaction and error rate goes way down,” Glorioso said.

CSRA has partnered with NASA to run the Shared Services Center since 2005, when the agency selected its predecessor Computer Sciences Corp. as the prime contractor. The NSSC moved to a ServiceNow cloud environment in 2015 to consolidate and automate 50 back-office functions.

This comes as the Office of Management and Budget and Defense Department have started to increasingly look at shared services and automation as a way to achieve back-office savings. CSRA’s chief executive and technology officers gave their perspective on what is in store for automation to a media roundtable last week.

Today, NSSC handles responsibilities for 10 business functions previously done at 10 separate locations. Those were highly repeated functions but in different organizations across the agency, CSRA NASA account manager Sharon Hays told Washington Technology.

“Each center did it slightly differently and had their own crew of people to do it,” Hays said. “It’s putting them together in the NSSC so that you get automated processes and one team of people doing it again and again.”

“You have a whole lot less overhead when you have one single centralized group doing accounts payables for instance,” Glorioso said. “If that’s spread all over the agencies, they all do them a bit differently and also don’t do as many. The cost-per transaction also goes down due to the economies of scale.”

Consolidation of back-office functions presents agencies an opportunity to reallocate financial resources away from costs in those “low-hanging fruit” areas, CSRA’s Commerce Department account manager Christopher Hegedus told Washington Technology.

CSRA supported a similar shared services adoption effort at Commerce

“We’re in a world where budgets are moving downward and agencies are looking for every opportunity to increase their efficiency,” Hegedus said.

“For every dollar I save on how I pay bills or process travel vouchers or buy equipment, I put that back into things like facilities management or even the mission to Mars,” Glorioso said. “It lessens the burden on the government for the things we have to do and gives that money back into the mission.”

Using ServiceNow’s cloud platform, CSRA processes nearly 40 percent of NASA’s financial management transactions and handles one-quarter of human resource management responsibilities in that company-agency partnership.