Nasa’s take on technology’s role in human resources

Brady Pyle
HR Executive
NASA
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Over at NASA, technology is unquestionably at the heart of the organisation. This is a body that put people on the moon when computing memory was modest to say the least, and today they drive innovation in sectors and specialties across the world.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that NASA has its ear to the ground when it comes to technology’s role in evolving human resources. Brady Pyle is NASA’s Director of Human Resources for the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Pyle is tasked with ensuring workforce capabilities – which primarily involves securing the right people and developing the needed skills for today’s International Space Station and tomorrow’s Journey to Mars. He equally stands as a steward of centre culture, promoting an inclusive work environment that generates unique innovation, and he serves as an advisor to senior leadership, guiding a team of nearly 100 members in the design, development, and delivery of a variety of HR strategies, initiatives, programs, and services for NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

In other words, Pyle knows the intersection of HR convention and technological progress well. “Over the past year in particular, chief HR officers are pointing to some significant trends that are informing changes we’re making organisationally within NASA,” Pyle offers. “These trends include: leveraging HR data and tools to create business solutions; measuring engagement and connecting it to business results; and developing best practices for predictive analytics.

“At NASA, we are enhancing our capabilities in talent analytics, augmenting our HR staff with data scientists and PhDs in industrial and organisational psychology to ensure data-driven HR initiatives and investments. HR organisations who are not leveraging data and analytics to inform their investments will find it increasingly difficult to make business cases for HR programmes and workforce initiatives of the future.”

Over at GE, Doug Scott, Leader, Executive Leadership, equally sees that it is vital those in HR and leadership move to embrace technology – particularly automation – so as to have more capacity to do the work that really requires a human touch. “I see HR leaders who are brilliant, and I see HR leaders who are as much a leader as I am a supermodel (and I’m not very attractive),” says Scott, with a self-deprecating chuckle.

“The difference is that some HR leaders churn stuff. They churn things like on-boarding, pay-review and just get it turned around. Some of these things, you need to have the meetings about before hand. Some of the churn can be automated, or sent somewhere cheaper, so off-shoring it. A lot of very talented human resources leaders are held back because they are swamped by that volume of churn stuff. You have to turn that stuff around, but it can get in the way. That is where automation technology will help.”

Many tools – from software to computing hardware – identified by HR influencers as important, are part of the rising significance of data and automation working in tandem – largely through artificial intelligence – as a part of human resource practice. AI can be used in many ways to automate. Outside of HR experiments in advanced AI are seeing it used to do something very human; be creative. Writing copy, editing video footage and even conceiving and developing video games is all within the reach of AI automation today; even if the results are as-of-yet unrefined. And billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban has stated at SXSW his belief that the world’s first trillionaire will be an AI innovator. Accountancy, manufacturing and even teaching have been highlighted as rich grounds for artificial intelligence to muscle out humans, aping the process of the original industrial revolution that gave rise to HR.

As HR is connected to everything to do with work, it is inevitable that understanding automation through AI will become core to the craft. Of course, there is much talk today about automating HR itself. The term ‘robots’ – often shortened to ‘bots’ – is frequently applied to AI and automation technology in HR.


Download the full report The Rise of the Machines: HR, Technology and Change to find out how other HRDs are approaching the evolving conventions of good practice.

Despite HR being a human-centric discipline, technology is rapidly evolving the conventions of good practice. We have put together a free 11 page e-book which includes:

– NASA’s perspective on the rise of the bots
– ‘Getting social’ with Deutsche Telecom

– Karen Brown at Baker McKenzie address humanised technology
– The concept of human robotic partnership

You can sign-up for your copy here.

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