Cloud solutions that support data analytics have had a big impact on Williams under Graeme Hackland. Human biometrics, implementing Microsoft Dynamics AX in Azure, running critical computation while the F1 race car is still out on track – all have helped the business to continue to grow and take advantage of the elastic capability of the cloud to meet peak demand (something it was never able to do with purely on-premise solutions). What’s next? Well, there’s AR for driver simulators, VR for the F1 fan experience, AI for the full F1 car lifecycle, and robotics and IoT sensors for the smart factory.
Chief information officer
Williams Grand Prix Engineering
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), which commercialises the knowledge and know-how from the Williams F1 team, currently runs over 40 customer projects in the energy-efficient performance arena. I serve on the investment board for WAE, ensuring we apply technology to complex business problems wherever possible. I also advise on IT risks the projects and project teams may be subjected to.
In F1 we are focused across the entire lifecycle of the F1 car (aerodynamics, design, manufacturing and race engineering) on the customer experience with the applications we develop with our partner Avanade. In the past Williams IT has not always focused on the customer experience. I’ve asked my management team to consider what life will be like for our technology users before deploying any new solutions
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
While we have needed to refresh our technology platforms, it is the move towards cloud solutions to expand our data analytics capability that has made the biggest impact on Williams. From our first human biometrics project to implementing Microsoft Dynamics AX in Azure to our F1 race team running critical computation in the cloud while the car is out on track to help Williams set the fastest pitstop times in 2016 – it’s all allowed our advanced engineering business to continue to grow at a phenomenal rate (while keeping customer data secure) and take advantage of the elastic capability of the cloud to meet peak demand (which we were never able to do with purely on-premise solutions).
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
Through the WAE investment board, I’ve contributed to the products and projects Williams is working on beyond F1, providing advice and guidance on areas for investment to support the growth of WAE and the focus on profitability.
We continue to evolve as a business as we diversify. As a member of the executive committee, I contribute the changes Williams have made over the past three years in how we’re structured and where we apply technology. An example is in manufacturing where the lack of accurate data affected the new car build every year. I’ve worked with the operations director to identify technologies that can play a part in helping process improvement to reduce waste and shorten manufacturing time (which in turn lengthens design time). By implementing a new quality system, we have helped to break down the silos between aero/design and manufacturing.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
In IT I have focused on a customer service ethic, which I felt was missing, as well as an IT risk-aware culture which was patently missing.
Across the wider Williams group I’ve ensured IT’s reputation is enhanced with education programmes and a single, clear communication – including transparency around what goes well and the lessons we learn when things don’t go well.
Williams’ core values are honesty, integrity, transparency and excellence, and I’ve ensured the IT strategy is built on these.
I meet every new starter to the business as well as present at the regular all-staff town halls to ensure our staff are aware of the risks they face.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
I meet annually with the board and weekly with the CEO to review the digital transformation progress. We are three years into a five-year plan and have made significant progress by implementing mobility and collaboration tools (eg Office 365, Skype for Business, BT MeetMe with Dolby Voice, and SharePoint).
In 2016 I presented to the board the four trends I believed we need to track for exploiting in F1 or for commercialising our experience through Williams Advanced Engineering: data analytics, robotics/AI, internet of things (F1 has been using sensors on the connected car since 1979), and 3D printing (F1 has been printing wind-tunnel models since the late 1990s and manufacturing for the full-size car since the early 2000s).
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
A big part of my role is to acquire technology partners for Williams: BT for networking (including security) and communications, Avanade for digital application development, Symantec for IT security, Thales for cloud encryption technology, and Dtex for audit.
From a vendor perspective, working with Microsoft and eBECS on the Dynamics AX implementation has been rewarding.
In 2016 I did attend a number of forums showcasing startups and seeking out technology the other F1 teams would not have access to. I believe this can give us a competitive advantage as we cannot simply outspend the bigger, better-funded teams.
I’ve also worked with a number of academic institutions to get access to technology or some of the brightest minds to work on our challenges.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
Having a diverse workforce is very important to the whole of the Williams group. We work in schools and universities on our STEM program, have STEM ambassadors and encourage young women into engineering.
Claire Williams’ view (which I support) is that we should always hire the best person for the job regardless of gender. However, we want to make sure young women from school age get an insight into the world of F1 and the role they can play.
I have appointed four women to the IT function in my time here, but again I would want to stress that their capability got them the role rather than their gender.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
I combined IT operations and support into a single function, expanded the remit of the CAD support group to engineering systems, and established an IT project programme office. All these changes were to meet the needs of our business.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
- BT for networking (including security) and communications, enabling us to expand our engineering functions on a race weekend, and allowing engineers away from the track to have real-time access to data, voice and video
- Avanade for digital application development, including SharePoint projects, race strategy systems, an application in our wind tunnel which saves 300 person hours a year, and a quality system to improve manufacturing of the 2017 F1 car
- Symantec for IT security to protect our datacentres, cloud infrastructure and endpoints
- Thales on our defence project to provide cloud encryption technology.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
Some elements of the strategy remain confidential but at a high level we will implement IT services that make the F1 car quicker and allow our advanced engineering business to grow. The main focus for our funding is data analytics, but we will run projects in IoT, AI/robotics and 3D printing.
We constantly ask ourselves if we are helping the car go quicker. If the answer is no, we will stop the activity and move on to something else.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
As a company we have not made any public statements on Brexit. We have a cross-functional working group including IT, legal, HR and finance to address Brexit implications for the Williams group.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
None. We still centralise through the IT function, although there is a digital function within marketing.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
In 2016 the split was 85%/15%, but in 2017 it’s 70%/30% with some major investment and partner activities focused on innovation.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Analyst houses
- Industry bodies
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
No, I am responsible for IT risk across the Williams group.
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence
- devices (mobile)
- 3D printing.
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
We’re looking at AR for driver simulators (probably three to five years out depending on technology progress), VR for the F1 fan experience, and AI for full F1 car lifecycle (cognitive computing discussions fall in this area for us). We also have a working group on smart factory (incorporating robotics and IoT sensors).
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?