Watching the first Formula 1 race of the year in Australia in March, a global television audience of more than 200 million will have been blissfully unaware of the astounding undertaking involved in getting the cars on to the grid. Constructing, testing and fine-tuning F1 machines can cost each team more than US$60m a season, as 400 staff fret over the precise alignment of 11,500 components.
Every detail matters because victory is measured in 1/100ths of a second. And far-thinking FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) multinationals have now realized the technology behind the world’s most popular motor sport can put them ahead in their own equally frantic race. UK-based McLaren (eight-times winner of the constructors’ championship) has seized the opportunity to share lessons with corporates.
Early customers have included Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline. “With digitization, our goal is to standardize, automate and integrate systems and data so we can create a real-time operating and decision-making environment,” says P&G CEO Bob McDonald.
With more than 500 sensors feeding over a billion data points from drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in the course of a Grand Prix weekend, McLaren ought to know a thing or two about the subject. Though P&G is keeping its cards close to its chest, the F1 expertise could help it improve demand forecasting and competitor price monitoring – allowing it to dynamically adjust stock or pricing on the fly in the same way McLaren’s trackside team might instruct a driver to alter his traction control mid-race. New data modeling tools could be developed to feed into business intelligence systems.
Within P&G, the project is being led by the company’s information and decisions solutions (IDS) division, which is tasked with driving business simplification, increasing efficiency and delivering technology-enabled innovation. “McLaren are the benchmark for taking incredibly large, complex sets of real-time data and turning them into very simple but effective visuals for rapid decision-making,” says Dave Ubachs, CIO and Shared Services Manager for P&G UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. “We’re learning to spend less time looking in the rear-view mirror and focus on predicting the future with advance simulation and scenario planning to keep us ahead of the competition.”
P&G has gained insight from the culture of a very different organization. “We have seen their fantastic discipline in analyzing and capturing knowledge and then reapplying it. There is no better demonstration of this discipline than the in-depth after-race reviews conducted as soon as the drivers leave the podium,” adds Ubachs. It might be a stretch for FMCG product managers to see themselves in a similar light to super-fit drivers facing the same physical forces as a fighter pilot. But when it comes to winning, every second counts.