IT transformation to fuel Williams F1 racing success

Avanade app unlocks real-time data for racing team at Melbourne Grand Prix

Williams has added a tyre optimisation app through a partnership with Avanade.

Williams has added a tyre optimisation app through a partnership with Avanade.

Williams Martini Racing believes an IT transformation can help get its Formula One racers back into pole position, according to the team’s IT manager.

During the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, Computerworld Australia spoke to Williams Martini Racing IT director Graeme Hackland about progress on an IT overhaul started last year.

Hackland joined the Williams F1 Team in January 2014 after working for 16 and a half years for the F1 team that variously went under the names Benetton, Renault and Lotus.

Hackland was hired followed a decision by Williams in the middle of 2013 to transform the business, he said.

The leadership were “refusing to accept Williams running around at the back of the grid, or that Williams might not exist in the future,” he said.

While Hackland was asked to head up a five-year IT transformation strategy for Williams F1, the IT director said he has pushed for a rolling three-year plan.

Over the last 13 months, Hackland has made structural changes to IT to make it much more customer focused and brought in new technology to improve the user experience, he said.

“There hadn’t been enough focus in the past on the end user and what it was like for them to use the systems.”

A major change has been the company’s approach to IT risk, he said: “I’ve really focussed on audit as opposed to blocking and restricting like [other] people do.”

The overhaul has also included getting rid of dated software. “I think it’s really bad that Williams was on Lotus Notes,” he said. “The email worked fine but I don’t think the mobility piece worked very well.”

The company has moved to Office 365 and Lync, which has provided much better communication within and outside the business, he said.

Mobility has been a big part of the IT transformation at Williams, said Hackland.

Back at the team’s campus in the UK, Hackland has put in a new wireless network that includes a self-service visitor network and allows employees to easily connect their own personal devices.

Williams now offers 'bring your own device' (BYOD) as an option for employees, though it still provides corporate devices to some staff.

“We’ve really started a journey to self-provision and caring for the data rather than the infrastructure.”

Williams F1 has this year announced technology partnerships with BT for cloud services, and Avanade for applications that can help improve race car performance.

The team used its first Avanade-built application, a tyre optimisation app, at this weekend’s Grand Prix, Hackland said.

This and future apps will help unlock data that engineers can analyse to make improvements to the F1 car, he said.

“The data exists, but the tools they have at the moment wouldn’t have been able to analyse it in real-time.

"I hate the fact that last year, data was generated during the course of a race weekend – either by our car or by the data we get from GPS or weather – that our engineers couldn’t use. That really was criminal.”

The Avanade partnership will allow Williams F1 to quickly make enhancements to its apps, he added.

“Going forward, what we want to be able to do is rapidly iterate and deploy new features to all of these applications race by race.”

Avanade also assisted Williams F1 in developing a new website that went live just before the Melbourne Grand Prix, he said.

Hackland reported that the Williams F1 team has been excited to embrace technology changes under the IT transformation.

“There’s such a huge willingness to change,” he said, giving the Office 365 deployment as an example. “I’ve never done a project where you’ve got people lining up to be part of the pilot … Everybody was just so keen.”

At the Melbourne Grand Prix this weekend, Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finished fourth and eighteenth, respectively.

For more about the IT behind F1 racing, check out our article and photo gallery about Infiniti Red Bull Racing and how the team relies on the AT&T network before, during and after the race.

Adam Bender flew to Melbourne as a guest of AT&T.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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