Formula for Success

Formula for Success

Since its purchase of Jaguar Racing two years ago, automotive giant Ford has tried everything to improve the fortunes of its Formula One racing team, including the introduction of CIO James Saville. Can a data-cruncher from head office use corporate strategies to put the team on the fast track to success? Gentlemen, start your business processes . . .

A lot of CIOs talk about using IT to put themselves in front of the competition, but few mean what they say as literally as Jon Saville, the CIO of Jaguar's Formula One racing team. Staying ahead of the competition is not just critical to Saville's business, it is Saville's business.

A 29-year veteran of Ford Motor Company, Jaguar Racing's parent company since a corporate buy-out in 2000, Saville previously served as the automotive giant's global head of CAD/CAM development, where he was responsible for looking after the IT needs of some 8000 employees in 17 countries. His appointment to the position of CIO at Jaguar Racing in 2001 was not only symbolic of how integral IT is to today's brand of motorsport, but a calculated move on the part of Jaguar's owners to boost the fortunes of its high-profile F1 team.

Driver Eddie Irvine is the one with his hands on the steering wheel when the car crosses the finish line, but he wouldn't get his picture taken with Kylie Minogue at the British Music Awards without the help of the scores of experts who built the machine he operates, and who spend all their time monitoring it and adding refinements once the race season is under way. Among these experts now is Saville, whose contribution to the team is nearly three decades worth of experience gained as an IT chief in Ford's main business, automobile manufacturing.

The first race of the 2002 season took place in Australia on March 3, at Albert Park in central Melbourne. Saville, a native of the UK who began his career studying cybernetics at the University of Reading in the late 60s before rising quickly through the ranks of Ford Europe, flew in from London for the event. Two weeks later he was in Malaysia for round two of the Formula One Championship at the Sepang circuit. It will be like this for the next six months.

The Formula One racing season runs from March to October, during which time Saville and rest of the Jaguar team take part in 17 races run on tracks in four continents, each race with its own series of practice sessions and qualifying runs. Yet despite the glamour associated with his current role, Saville stresses his job responsibilities are not very different from that of any other CIO.

"Basically, the issues are all the same. How do you manage the data? How do you get the data to everybody who needs it, when they need it? These are the classic data management issues that you'll find in any engineering/ manufacturing-type company," he says. "The bread and butter stuff is the same - people want their computers to work and be consistent. The difference is that if something doesn't work in the office they'll want it replaced, whereas on the track you might find a laptop flying across the pit lane."

The way Saville sees it, the principles of using IT to support the business are universal, all that has changed for him is the time frame in which he has to get things done. Yet while there is intense pressure for Jaguar to perform on the racetrack, as well as a constant need to make swift decisions, Saville claims Formula One is actually less stressful than many of his previous jobs.

"Yes, it's a different environment. But on the other hand I've also been responsible for cars going down a production line where there's a new car every 30 seconds. In that situation, if you stop the line a lot of profits disappear," he says. "There's a lot of pressure in both roles, just of a different kind because the time scale is very compressed in Formula One. I think that kind of pressure is familiar to a lot of people. In our case if the laptops go down we can't start the car, and that's a lot of wasted time and money. But if you're dealing in finance and your system goes down for a few seconds it can also cost you a lot of money. There are situations like that in any business."

Saville insists that in many respects his time spent in the corporate world was the best training he could get for his new job as a Formula One CIO. "If anything, the production car business is probably years ahead of F1 teams in terms of the management and distribution of data," he says.

"For example, in my last job we had to upgrade the software for Ford's CAD/CAM systems. That's 8000 UNIX desktops, a couple of hundred severs, 17 countries, five continents and several time zones - all over a weekend. Not to mention that we also had to make sure some 800 suppliers were also up to date. After coordinating that, suddenly getting the team ready for Australia doesn't seem like such a big deal logistically!"

Although Saville considers his background in manufacturing to be excellent preparation for his current role, the world of F1 has presented him with plenty of new challenges. With the race team on the road six months of every year, he admits that he is never quite sure exactly where headquarters is. "With so many senior people on the road for half the year," he says. "I often think headquarters is where we are, and not the UK factory."

Similarly, Saville's IT equipment has to be extremely rugged, built to withstand the rigours of being air-freighted around the world. He also has to have contingency plans, since gear often doesn't arrive on time and occasionally doesn't arrive it all.

Saville cites the example of two customised semi-trailer trucks that are used to cart the team's vital equipment from one track to the next. One truck is owned by the race team itself, the other is an "engine truck" owned by one of Jaguar's sister companies, but both are crucial to keeping the Jaguar F1 cars on the track. In one of his first challenges as CIO, Saville and the IT staff had to figure out how to design the team's mobile IT infrastructure in such a way that it didn't matter which truck was first to arrive at the race site. "When they get there - whoever it is - they want to start work," Saville says. "They don't want to sit on their hands because they're waiting for the other truck."

Saville also claims to deal with a much narrower range of suppliers and business partners since he swapped production cars for performance cars. "In terms of interacting with our supply base we're much less sophisticated in F1 than in Ford's production car business," he says. "When I talk to a job shop these days, I might say: ‘I want this part made very quickly.' But before, when I was running the factory floor, I might've said to a production supplier: ‘I need 1000 sets of these car seats a day please.'"Experiences such as this led Saville to rethink many other aspects of how Jaguar Racing deals with its business partners. Chief among these was a new approach to service level agreements. With 17 races in a season and only four days on each track, Saville soon realised that he did not need SLAs to provide the usual 24x7x365 coverage. "What I really wanted was 7x24x68," he says. "In fact, I don't care what the service level is on the other days, but on those 68 days our escalation has to go straight through."

At the time of writing, Jaguar Racing had experienced a difficult second race in Malaysia, with no points scored towards the championship, after Irvine had scored three points in Melbourne for his fourth placing. While it is too early in the 2002 season to tell if Saville can make a difference to where Jaguar finishes on the racetrack, Saville is already starting to post some wins in another area, one that all managers recognise: the bottom line.

"Because I've been at the heart of IT, I know what IT resources the company has and how we can use them to our advantage," he says.

Case in point: sending and receiving Jaguar's race data back to the team's home base in the UK. During each practice session or race - in fact, just about any time a Formula One race car's wheels touch bitumen - a vast amount of data is gathered via sensors spread throughout the vehicle. This information is then transferred back to the Jaguar factory at the team's UK headquarters, where it is fed into simulators ("test rigs" as Saville calls them). It's a time-critical task, because the quicker the Jaguar team can get the data back to the factory, the more time the engineers have to analyse it and make adjustments to the car before the next race.

Many of Jaguar's competitors use sophisticated satellite technology to send their data, which gives them a portable, high-bandwidth link to the Net in each country. But rather than jump on the satellite bandwagon, Saville decided to commission a study first, which concluded that spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on satellite technology didn't gain the team much in the way of data-transfer benefits. Instead, he found another solution, one which not only improved reliability and performance, but also kept costs down.

"We're part of a large global organisation, the most global of all of the Formula One teams," Saville points out. "There are other manufacturers - Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Ferrari - but they're all national companies, not global."

Saville's idea was to take advantage of Ford's special position by using the global automotive giant's own corporate network to send data to Jaguar's UK factory.

"When we send the data back to the factory we're basically setting up a virtual LAN between the factory and trackside. From now on rather than use the public network, we'll be going entirely through Ford's own network," Saville says. The result is a system for transferring data back and forth between the team and its home base that is not only more reliable than the public phone network, but also costs Jaguar much less.

"Obviously there's less traffic on those lines because it's the weekend, and so we're making use of a corporate asset that otherwise would've just sat there. Typically, I figure we save £UK10-15,000 [approximately $A28-42,000] on each race by taking advantage of Ford's global resources," Saville says.

Despite his successes, Saville claims it was difficult at times to get the Formula One staff to undertake what he casually refers to as "all this what-if stuff". It's a mentality that plagues organisations of all types, not just Formula One teams. "We've never had this problem before," the thinking goes, "so why worry about it now?"

"You know what? It probably won't happen," Saville says. "But if it does I'd rather we thought about it ahead of time."

If Saville sounds a little overcautious at times, it is important to remember that sometimes IT is the crucial factor that decides the outcome of a race, or even a season. A third of the way into last year's season, for instance, Formula One's official racing body, the FIA, changed the rules for various traction controls and made other adjustments in the use of race data - all with practically no advance warning. The result was, as Saville describes it, "one of the rare times that you'll see a competition between software writers with an audience of 400 million people.

"The people who do our control systems suddenly had a completely new set of parameters that they were allowed to use," he says. "Basically it was a competition to see who could get the most sophisticated software ready within three months. It was fascinating, you could almost rank how well the teams did. Ours did very well. Benetton was probably one of the best, but some of the major teams had real problems."

Saville arrived too late for that contest, and clearly relishes another such opportunity. He views his entry into F1 as a chance to use the techniques picked up during his years as a corporate technology manager and apply them to the aggressive time frames of Formula One racing. Unfortunately, such circumstances are few and far between, and Saville spends most of his time contending with the usual issues CIOs face, like trying to get the right level of attention from the business.

"I think one of the most difficult things for a CIO in any business is getting the attention of your management and business partners and convincing them that IT can be strategically important," he says.

Saville's current struggle centres on the interpretation of race data. His goal is to use established business intelligence techniques to discern trends from the mass of data the IT staff gathers after each race. With so much data being obtained by the team, Saville is confident there are secrets waiting to be unlocked - he only has to try hard enough.

"One of the struggles I've had is trying to get people to pay attention to managing the data, to accept that there are possibilities out there beyond the transducers on the car," he says.

"Managing race data so that people can recover it when they need it - that means putting an architecture in place. But how do you sell the need for an underlying data architecture to the management of your company? Unfortunately it's usually seen as something ‘you IT guys' need to do, as opposed to forcing management to ask itself: ‘What is our business all about?'"But what exactly is the business of a Formula One racing team? A lot of businesses post results, F1 results are reported not quarterly, like the figures of most corporations, but almost every two weeks - and not in the financial press but to an audience around the world of millions of racing fans. Saville himself describes the F1 team as a "business within a business", so how does Jaguar Racing measure success? Despite the great deal of media scrutiny the team receives, Saville says that key performance indicators remain hard to come by.

"Like a lot of businesses it's very difficult to get a direct correlation between the success of IT and the success of a business," he says. "More often than not it's in negative terms: when things go wrong you can see the damage done to the business.

"I can have a perfect IT set-up but if the engineers aren't using the tools as effectively as they might, or if the driver isn't driving as well as he might, we're still not going to get the results we want on the track. So I've got to take the same line as a lot of CIOs, which is: avoid the negatives."

If being a CIO is all about avoiding the negatives, what does Saville consider to be the positives?

For one, there's the pleasure of watching Jaguar's streamlined marvel of engineering roar past on a racetrack in some exotic locale. But Saville says there is also the professional thrill of witnessing first-hand the design innovations that Formula One engineers dream up, advances in technology which eventually filter down to the cars we drive every day. Technologies like telematics - moving data to and from the car - which Saville describes as a "huge, multi-billion dollar industry, which nearly all computer companies are getting into". Saville concedes it will be quite some time before we can feed telemetry back and forth to cars in real time like F1 teams do, but nevertheless he foresees a future full of "huge opportunities which are going to make a difference to everybody's daily life".

Saville has little doubt that the technology he uses today will eventually wend its way into use on regular cars - and in other, less predictable areas. "We're pushing the design of cars to the limit, and to some extent some of the things we do push IT infrastructures and support models to the limit," he says.

"Some spin-offs will happen, but it's not black and white as to what those will be. After all, who could see we'd get non-stick frying pans from the space program?"

Push Me Pull You

Like any large company, Ford has evolved many corporate processes over time, which employees are expected to follow and are subject to audit by higher-ups, a situation not common in smaller businesses like a Formula One race team that prides itself on being mobile and independent.

"Sometimes I got a bit of pushback from the guys: ‘Do we have to do all that big corporate stuff? It's not relevant'," says Jon Saville, the CIO of Jaguar's Formula One racing team. "But I said: ‘Here's a question. When we take the race team to the track, what are the vulnerable points?' They didn't have a lot of answers.

"So I said: ‘How about trying this?' And I brought out a methodology, which was a standard methodology of Ford's for analysing infrastructure. It's like a game, really. You ask yourself a series of questions, like ‘Is this more important than that?' Gradually we built up a matrix and the guys looked at it and said: ‘Wow, we never thought that the cabling and the power supplies were the key points of vulnerability. Without that we'd lose pretty well everything.'"Saville admits that at first there was some reluctance to his introducing corporate methodologies, but he says that was only to be expected given the strong-willed individuals who make up an F1 team. He claims things became easier once people realised that he was not there to enforce corporate rules, but merely to apply them where he thought they could make a difference. "We only do it if it makes good sense," he says. "There are corporate things that don't apply to us, and we just throw them out."

The challenge facing Saville is to know when to apply these processes to Jaguar Racing's business and when to sit back and let the experts get on with the race. Recently, corporate business processes turned out to be very handy indeed when the company needed to fill a couple of vacant IT positions.

"My team is very skilled in their use of technology - they're all experts in their fields - but it wasn't until some positions came open for a new CAD/CAM job that I realised the management team who work under me were not experienced in interviewing," Saville says.

"I was kind of apologetic at first," he says, "I knew this wasn't the way they'd done it before. But in the end bringing in a structured interview technique was a godsend, because there were a lot of applicants. And that was something I just lifted straight out of my [corporate] files."

Primarily as a result of such experiences, Saville spent much of his first season in Formula One introducing what he describes as a "lessons learned" approach to managing the team's IT needs. He began by chairing regular "debrief meetings" after every race - another habit acquired during his time with Ford Global. Designed to bring race team support staff together with the people they deal with at the factory, these meetings not only analysed how the team would deal with current problems, but also tried to forecast which areas might cause them trouble in the future.

"We don't just ask what went wrong? Is it fixed? We ask: What else does this tell us? What is the underlying problem here? Let's extrapolate out and think ahead to what else might go wrong in this area," Saville says.

Business processes aren't infallible, Saville says, but he insists that identifying and ordering them is the vital first step which enables organisations to undertake healthy self-analysis. Once business processes are in place, he explains, you can review them and expose their vulnerabilities. Saville describes this as "thinking ahead of the game".

"You have to take a very vigorous approach to having your processes in place so that you can recognise where there's liable to be differences and how you'll have to deviate from your original plan. That's the trick of the thing - good equipment, good processes for using it and recognising what might go wrong.

"If you rely on being reactive and responsive at the time, you're going to lose out somehow. Be responsive, be quick to recognise that the situation around you has changed, but more importantly, see how it might change before you get there."

The Duties of an F1 CIO

A Formula One CIO's IT responsibilities divide into four distinct categories, says Jaguar Racing CIO John Saville.

THE DESIGN CYCLE This includes everything required to plan, test and manufacture Jaguar's race cars, including the software tools needed to design the car as well as simulators like the team's "virtual" wind tunnel, which uses computational fluid dynamics to recreate how air flows over the car in different race conditions.

Unlike the production cars, which roll off the assembly lines, F1 car parts are custom made. Each one is machine-tooled individually or, if part of the body, constructed from moulds. That information comes from Jaguar's design office, where parts are designed on CAD/CAM machines. After that it is up to a team of NT programmers to work out how to tell the production machines to manufacture individual parts, preparing specific instructions for computerised lathes and other machines.

TEST AND RACE Once the cars are designed and the first prototypes have been built, the Formula One racing team enters an entirely new phase of using IT - collecting and analysing data.

Around January the teams take the newly-built cars featuring the new year's design onto the race track for the first test runs. Each car has about 150 transducers (a type of transmitting sensor) on it, which are used to measure temperatures, pressures, fuel flows and a range of other metrics as the car travels around the track. These are operated at various rates, some taking as many as 100 samples a second.

Holding it all together, much like any other business environment, is a network.

"People talk about LANs and WANs, but we have a CAN - the car area network," Saville says. In fact, there are actually two CANs: the racing team's and another one for the people who do the race broadcasts, providing certain parameters to feed to the public during a race.

On the team's network, telemetry is fed back to the pit via a radio link. During a test session, practice session or race, a team of people uses an assortment of laptops and rack-mounted PCs to trace what is happening in the car as it races at speeds of more than 300 kilometres an hour. Data is converted into oscilloscope readouts and individual team members have the job of monitoring different performance indicators. This information helps technicians decide when to do things like bring the car into the pit area, based on fuel consumption, speed and other factors.

At the end of a race, data is downloaded for later analysis. Saville and his team feed this data back to Jaguar's headquarters in the UK, where it is downloaded into simulators, including cars that are used only for testing. The results of these tests at the factory are then sent to Saville and the race engineers, which they use to make decisions about how the race should be run.

THE COMMERCIAL SIDE Apart from the tireless engineering and manufacturing work that is part and parcel of keeping the racing team competitive, Saville says that IT is also central to the more commercial aspects of racing - what he calls the "hospitality and media" elements of the business.

"For example, for the launch of this year's car we set up a media centre," he says. "It was the first time I've had to do one. Journalists, particularly the photographers, mentioned they needed ISDN, and [Jaguar sponsor] HP provided us with desktop machines and a Web connection so that people could file their reports."

Jaguar Racing is also working on other projects to enhance the guest experience.

"We're looking into what we can do for a guest coming to an event," Saville says. "We're trying to give them information up front, maybe something they can download onto their pocket device or maybe when they arrive at the airport they'll be sent an SMS message to confirm that someone is waiting for them. Things like this might not seem to have a lot of business value, but they do have a huge amount of emotional value to the people that attend these events."

THE USUAL Last, but not least, is what Saville refers to as "the typical stuff" - the finance systems, HR systems and so on that are housed back at Jaguar's UK factory and are essential to running a business with some 350 employees. Saville will not reveal his annual budget but says that typically the larger teams are in the $US120-150 million range.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

More about BMW Group AustraliaFord Motor

Show Comments