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GCN : March 2015
THE DIGITAL OFFICE GOING PAPERLESS It’s not rocket science to know that digi- tizing paper-based processes can save money and time, but a NASA field cen- ter is setting an example for how to best tackle the task. The Acquisition Division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has digitized hundreds of thousands of documents as part of its plan to make the procurement process paperless. The project began as “Work Different” in October 2012, and 20 months later the Interactive Acquisition Network (IAN) was rolled out. “We chose paper-less, not paper-free because there’s always going to be some amount of paper,” said Martin Johnson, manager of the Acquisition Strategic Planning Office. IAN is built on three Microsoft tools that were already part of JPL: Office 2013, SharePoint 2013 and OneNote 2013. Working with the JPL Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), the di- vision created a system that electronically manages from start to finish all procure- ment packages. “Subcontract packages are built on OneNote template-driven forms, then routed though SharePoint workflow us- ing InfoPath 2013 forms to gather re- views, comments and approvals,” Steve Simpson, the acquisition technical lead for Work Different, and Wayne Wong, an enterprise apps software engineer at JPL, wrote in an announcement. “The system allows for reassignments, rework and resubmittals. Once the ap- provals have been gathered, the acquisi- tion subcontract manager files the ap- provals and can then submit the final OneNote package for internal signature workflow – with external signature to be rolled out in the new fiscal year.” Before IAN, workers created binders filled with tabs and printouts. “If there’s a mistake, heaven forbid, they had to reprint and redo,” Johnson said. Now “we’re able to take that information while it’s done on your system and just drop it into an actual e-binder.... It looks very much like the binders, but it’s all done digitally now.” A routing process for signatures was important, he added, because sometimes a trip to physically bring paper to be signed took 750 steps one way. “We had people walking files around for somebody to look at and review,” Johnson said. “Now the system techno- logically allows us to route things to vari- ous levels and once it releases from one, it goes to the next [and] to the next, and if they have to send it back, it sends it back all within the system.” Another benefit has been data access and control. Because everything is in a unified location with a unified naming convention, JPL can provide access per- mission to anybody across the lab based on need. Since IAN launched on June 2, 2014, JPL has digitized 320,000 to 350,000 doc- uments, and more than 5,000 subcontract packages have gone through the process. Currently, JPL does not use cloud storage or mobile access for the system, although much of the work is done on laptop computers, Johnson added, which lends an aspect of mobility. To gauge the success of the program, even the commodities section of the di- vision is saving about $30,000 a year be- cause of fewer printer and copier leases and less need for ink. To encourage cultural support, employ- ees were integral to IAN from the start. At any point in time, at least 40 percent of staff was involved in subteams building this, he said. Executive support, leadership from the business side – rather than the informa- tion technology department – and solid processes were also key enablers. “You need to have highly skilled OCIO people embedded into the project,” John- son said. “They’re managed and pushed by the business side, but they’re enabled by the technical side.” • Executive support and solid processes were key enablers of JPL’s plan to go paperless NASA launches ‘paper- less’ procurement BY STEPHANIE KANOWITZ “We chose paper-less, not paper-free because there’s always going to be some amount of paper.” – MA R T IN JOHNSON, ACQUISITION STRATEGIC PLANNING OFFICE GCN MARCH 2015 • GCN.COM 31 0315gcn_031.indd 31 3/2/15 12:15 PM