NASA Press Release

NASA News Release

National Aeronautics and 
Space Administration

Goddard Space Flight Center
Office of Public Affairs
Greenbelt, Maryland 20771
(301) 286-8955

August 1, 1997
Bill Steigerwald
(Phone: 301-286-0039)

RELEASE: 97-106


Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. have developed a software tool that utilizes the Internet to completely eliminate the paperwork required to document and manage complex, widely distributed processes.
The team, led by Dr. Barry E. Jacobs of Goddard’s National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC), developed the tool, called Electronic Handbooks (EHBs), under NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program in partnership with REI Systems Inc. of Vienna, Va. " Over the past two years, we have applied Electronic Handbooks to the entire SBIR process at NASA. This effort, which manages roughly 50 percent of all of NASA's new contracts, is the largest, end-to-end, completely electronic Internet use in the Federal Government to date," said Jacobs.
Time and cost savings resulting from the use of EHBs has stimulated demand for a variety of applications. "With EHBs, we can achieve roughly a one third reduction in the time required to process 2,500 SBIR proposals, while simultaneously achieving roughly a $300,000 operational cost reduction," said Paul Mexcur, NASA’s SBIR Program Manager at Goddard.
"The time savings is especially important for the small companies in our SBIR program. Approximately two - thirds of all new technology in America is developed by small businesses like the ones in our program. Many of these companies have trouble raising funds through traditional sources like banks and stock offerings. Our SBIR contracts provide seed money to develop their innovations. If the proposal approval process gets lengthy, many of these companies can be forced to close," adds Robert Nelson, NASA’s Deputy SBIR Program Manager at Goddard.
"A major advantage of EHBs, besides paperwork elimination, is that it requires relatively little programming from developers," said Jacobs. "The tool uses standard word processors capable of generating ASCII HTML code to set up electronic forms on the Internet. This makes EHBs rapidly adaptable to any process. This is particularly true of the SBIR process which annually manages roughly 120 solicitation subtopics, 2,500 proposals, 5,000 reviews, and 600 contracts across the United States. It also becomes extremely easy to modify, which is important for process improvement and change."
"Users do not need any formal training to use EHBs and are only required to have a microcomputer with Internet access," said Shyam Salona, Vice President of REI Systems, Inc. "Users can quickly learn how to use EHBs with little assistance provided by the developers. In the SBIR process, which annually involves roughly 3,500 NASA personnel from over 10 NASA Field Centers plus thousands of firms across the United States, this results in a significant savings of time and money. This, in conjunction with the relative absence of programming requirements, makes EHBs a very low cost method for implementing an electronic office.
"Compliance with Internet standards makes EHBs inherently capable of linking widely distributed users with diverse databases. When the EHBs is implemented, file server resources are identified and allocated. Security is managed through a role-based password and encryption system, meaning that access is granted based on an individual’s role in a given process," said Salona.
"The process of writing the EHBs lends itself to a common understanding of the activity the handbook is documenting. This is a tremendous benefit because many conflicts start from different understandings of the activity and its objectives. The EHBs yields a shared vision," said Wayne Hudson, Chief of GSFC’s Technology Commercialization Office.
"This ‘faster, better, and cheaper’ method has led to interest from many other functions in NASA, and we are developing EHBs for them, including the Education Program, Partnership Agreements Management, Patents Management, Grants Management, Large Procurement Management, and Mission Management," said Nelson.
"Another application, in conjunction with Old Dominion University, is Graduate Programs Management, including admissions, coursework, and doctoral research. We expect interest from commercial areas as well, as firms seek to exploit the advantages of the Internet," said Jacobs.
"Considering insurance, medical, legal, tax, and many other applications, this technology has the potential to totally restructure the way all these processes are done," said Hudson.