There’s a saying in Formula 1 (F1) racing that if you’re not innovating, you’re moving backward. With a relentless rate of development and discovery, F1 pioneer McLaren Group has lived by this credo for more than 50 years to the tune of 20 F1 World Championships and eight Constructors’ Championships. And while the McLaren name is synonymous with racing success, the company has parlayed its many technological and innovative breakthroughs in motorsports into the McLaren Group conglomerate made up of four core businesses: McLaren Racing, McLaren Automotive, McLaren Applied Technologies, and McLaren Marketing.
To remain a racing and technology leader for the next 50 years and beyond, McLaren Group decided to retire a host of legacy IT systems and consolidate the four businesses onto a single core IT platform. In racing lingo, this consolidation was akin to an aerodynamics redesign to reduce drag and increase performance; eliminating superfluous infrastructure would likewise clear the road for increased speed and performance, and ultimately drive innovation.
McLaren Group growth was a key driver for an infrastructure overhaul, particularly when in 2011 McLaren Automotive launched the MP4-12C — its first mainstream non-race vehicle — through to now where they manufacture more than 4,000 cars per year. “Existing support systems could not cope with the business requirements demanded by that level of growth,” says Craig Charlton, McLaren Technology Group CIO.
Those support systems included a patchwork of homegrown and legacy on-premise systems, and a small cloud footprint including a human resources application. Legacy systems were a roadblock to sustained growth for McLaren Group for many reasons, not the least of which was that they were designed around complex, non-standard processes and thus limited visibility between the business divisions. Without having seamless insights, it was difficult to leverage learnings from one division to another. Streamlining processes around a centralized platform would help ensure shared innovation. In short, McLaren Group needed the technology of its business to match that of its racing cars.
“Having four very different and diverse businesses requires a different approach to IT in how we deliver core solutions and core platforms,” Charlton says. “While consumption may be different, it’s all about getting those standards right and also in creating winning partnerships. Once we deliver on the core platforms and business solutions, then we can move up the stack and look at differentiating services for competitive edge.”
In parallel with the decision to consolidate its infrastructure, McLaren Group also saw an opportunity to drive innovation by hosting its new ERP platform in a private cloud to free the IT department from maintenance and upkeep, and instead provide it with a mandate to work more closely with the business to explore avenues to enhance efficiency and drive business outcomes. A private, hosted cloud model would also reduce total cost of ownership (TCO), provide reliability and availability benchmarks, and provide a pay-as-you-go scalable costing model.
On McLaren Group’s short list of potential technology partners was SAP, and after exploring several options, McLaren Group decided to leverage SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud as it migrated off its legacy systems to SAP Business Suite optimized for SAP HANA.
“We are wall-to-wall SAP, all the way through the supply chain, and we needed to have a central platform to enable what was for us a relatively new concept of being a global business with rapid growth,” Charlton says. “We were reaching the limit of where we could go with old technologies, and SAP HANA has enabled growth in a massive way.”
As for the decision to leverage SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud to quickly deploy its SAP Business Suite applications, Charlton used an analogy familiar within McLaren circles. “If you buy a car, you want to buy the warranty that comes from the car company,” he says. “If you’re implementing SAP, then SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud is the obvious choice. You could go somewhere else, but with SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, you know you’re getting the people who designed a bullet-proof solution that has proven performance, cost transparency, and resiliency.”
While these criteria were important for each business division, Charlton singles out McLaren Automotive to illustrate precisely why the move was necessary. “SAP runs the production line, and our cars cost $200,000-plus,” he says. “If we had to stop manufacturing, that would cost us a lot of money in lost production. We don’t want to be in a situation where we would have to compromise like that.”
We were reaching the limit of where we could go with old technologies, and SAP HANA has enabled growth in a massive way.
– Craig Charlton, CIO, McLaren Technology Group
New Model, New Look
Because of the large scope of the project, McLaren Group divided the project into two major phases. This first phase, which started in 2013, focused on finance, human resources, and other shared services such as procurement. The next phase involved the business ramping up manufacturing and product lifecycle management processes within McLaren Automotive in 2016, which it followed by launching full end-to-end supply chain processes in early 2017.
“It may seem like a long roadmap, but it was a complex project with a lot of legacy solutions in place, and it coincided with massive business growth and change — so it took a bit of time to work through it and get it right,” Charlton says. “It’s also worth spending the time to clean the data, because otherwise, once you start on the new system, you would spend all your time correcting it.”
Executive sponsorship and change management were also key factors in helping to ensure minimal disruption to the business during the cutover, according to Charlton. Production downtime was minimized despite many business process changes after the blueprint phase. “It’s not just the cutover that’s important, but there’s also cultural change and a desire to want to switch over to the new system,” he says. “On day 1, it was great to see line operators interacting with the new SAP interface developed with SAP Fiori. They were eager to learn and to understand how it was going to work.”
Users on the production line and across other business areas were excited by what went away with consolidation under a centralized SAP ERP, namely manual and spreadsheet-based processes, multiple reconciliations, and an overall lack of data transparency. And with SAP HANA as the in-memory database underneath the entire application suite, more robust reporting was made possible because McLaren Group can now process high data volumes across the business divisions in a fraction of the time than was possible in the previous environment.
“We now have data integrity all the way from design through manufacture and after-sales,” Charlton says. “Having that platform, data transparency, and data flow is a critical point for reporting.”
Beyond enhanced reporting and better data integrity, the SAP HANA platform is a key part of the McLaren Group’s ambition to extend its use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, specifically using sensors on its race cars and analyzing the data in real time to make adjustments and enhance performance. Analyzing sensor data is not new to McLaren, however. “We like to say we invented the connected car back in 1993,” Charlton says. “We’ve been collecting data off race cars since then.”
What has changed over time is the number of sensors, the amount of data collected, and the ability — with an assist from SAP HANA — to make sense of all that data. McLaren Group has over 1 trillion data points from its connected race vehicles. It collects more than 12 billion data points every racing season and around 100 gigabytes each race weekend that is delivered to SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. “We built a natural query language with SAP that sits on an SAP HANA in-memory back end in SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud, and that enables us to query about 12 billion data points at a time,” Charlton says.
At each race, the system loads the data from the previous year’s race. After a qualifying session, engineers in the garage have access to millions of data points from the session to compare to the previous year’s race on the same track. The natural query system returns answers to their questions in mere seconds, and they use the information to make necessary adjustments before the next race session.
“You have data that shows how fast a car went around a certain corner, and you can see the brake temperatures, suspension ride heights, and tire pressures and know how you need to adjust the car for the next session,” Charlton says. “You can even query the G-forces exhibited on the McLaren F1 drivers’ bodies when they are cornering — and it returns an answer in one-to-two seconds.”
Even though McLaren Group has been analyzing sensor data for more than 20 years, it had never had this speed or the processing power to analyze billions of data points in mere seconds. “We couldn’t do it before because, traditionally, it involved making a query against the data warehouse — and processing in a data cube could take up to 48 hours for those kinds of data volumes,” says Charlton. “Loading it into SAP HANA using a natural query language for response times of anywhere between one-to-eight seconds is phenomenal and has transformed how we prepare on race weekends.”