A racing certainty

The Jordan Formula One racing team is depending on IT to change its fortunes on the track by improving its organisational...

The Jordan Formula One racing team is depending on IT to change its fortunes on the track by improving its organisational effectiveness, design process and supplier management. Julia Vowler reports

In the corporate world, companies can hide poor performance for months on end, until quarterly or half-yearly results are published. In Formula One motor racing poor performance is a lot more obvious.

"Every two weeks, 350 million people see us win or lose," says Mark Gallagher, marketing director at Jordan.

Even worse, the world can see Jordan's cars left on the grid or its drivers crash.

"Jordan has been in Formula One for 10 years, and though we had some successes in 1998 and 1999, we've been dropping behind," says Gallagher.

But that is set to change. For the past year, consultants at Celerant have been scrutinising the team. On the basis of their findings Gallagher has been championing a top-to-toe revamp of the way Jordan operates as a Formula One team, and IT has played a critical role.

"IT is the engine of the company," says Gallagher, "Everything we do at Jordan depends on IT. We can't even start the engines without having a laptop plugged in.

"IT has been very much involved from day one [in the transformation programme]. Jordan's philosophy is that IT is very much a central part of how to form and implement decisions, rather than something we just pick and put down at will," says Gallagher. "IT and the use of technology is underpinning the programme and processes."

The range of the revamp has been sweeping, focusing on dramatically improving organisational effectiveness, the design process and supplier management.

"To a large extent we're re-inventing the company," says Gallagher. Until now, he says, "Jordan has been a bit like a cottage industry. We've had one-to-one relationships with suppliers, and its been very incestuous - but change has had to happen. There's no point running a Formula One team as if it was still 1985."

Key to being successful in Formula One, says Gallagher, is "speed and reliability".

The latter, he admits, has been a bugbear. "A fundamental problem for Jordan has been reliability - it has been a significant issue over the past two seasons and we're determined to get to the bottom of it," he says.

To that end, says Gallagher, "we've put in a number of different systems [to help tackle it]".

Fault-logging, for example, has been taken right to the track-side. "Some 18 months ago, [if a car was faulty on the track] engineer A had to remember to tell engineer B what the problem was, and then bring in someone in manufacturing to make the change," says Gallagher.

Manual communication could be slow and unreliable.

Now, with track-side fault logging - using traditional IT helpdesk software customised for logging faults on cars, not computers - the whole process of detecting and fixing faults has been nailed down much more tightly and visibly.

"A senior engineer can go in [to the system], to check out, for example, a gear box that had broken because of a hydraulic failure at a Grand Prix, he can call the person who took ownership of fixing it, track the changes, see if it was closed off or whether the file is still open and the fault unresolved," says Gallagher.

IT is also being used to address Jordan's problems earlier in the process of getting a car past the chequered flag, preferably with some championship points. Unlike larger teams, Jordan has about 70% of the Honda EJ12 car manufactured externally. Supply chain management is, therefore, a key issue.

Armed with the new trackside fault reporting system, Jordan is able to demonstrate unequivocally what failed and why.

"We can show a supplier the raw data from telemetry and fault logging, and he can't argue," says Gallagher, unlike the old days when discussions could last for months. "We can prove, for example, that 'this bearing failed in fourth gear at 16rpm and it shouldn't have'. It's critical to have this data for supply chain management."

The team is also set to deploy online supply chain management via a secure extranet.

"We already use one for our sponsors," says Gallagher, "so that if a sponsor in New York, for example, wants to order more hospitality tickets they can do so immediately whatever the time difference.

"We're the first and only Formula One team to offer this and our sponsors love it," he says.

For supply chain management, Gallagher says, online ordering will help Jordan to "pinpoint its top 50 suppliers, so that it can specify product and price, and perhaps even do tendering out online to several suppliers."

Another critical issue for Jordan, says Gallagher, is to break down of the barriers that hinder collaborative working. What the team does not want, he says, is for an engineer to work flat out for four months, only to lift his head from his desk and discover the part he has designed does not quite fit with something else on the car.

"We quickly saw how IT could play a role in improving cross-functional communication, and dissolve the silo mentality between the drawing office, research and development and manufacturing, to get them to sing from the same hymn sheet," says Gallagher.

"It may be simple and obvious, but what has proved very worthwhile is our intranet, where everyone can see who is on what projects, and get IT to improve our data and communication flows far more effectively."

How has IT helped Jordan?
  • Track-side logging/ helpdesk software - tracking and fixing faults

  • Online supply chain - pinning down best prices and components and catering to clients worldwide

  • Collaborative working tools enable Jordan's design and engineering teams to work together.

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