Accelerating tech innovation at McLaren
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Accelerating tech innovation at McLaren

Jim Mortleman — May 2017
Craig Charlton, CIO of McLaren Technology Group, explains how IT is driving improved performance, innovation, customer experience and strategic partnerships.

As CIO of McLaren Technology Group, Craig Charlton works with engine supplier Honda to help McLaren’s performance on the track, but his main challenge is away from the race. Since joining in 2015, and while managing over 100 people, it’s his responsibility to help the group as a whole maintain its long-standing reputation for performance excellence.

McLaren Racing is just one of the UK-based group’s four businesses. There’s also McLaren Automotive, which makes high-end sports cars for the luxury market; McLaren Applied Technologies, which leverages technical innovations in racing to develop products for other markets such as healthcare, financial services and transportation; and McLaren Marketing, which showcases the group’s innovations and deepens its relationships with partners.

Charlton is working hard to establish common infrastructure across the group where appropriate, he says: “Where we need common business platforms across finance, HR and other functions, we have to ensure we deploy them well and they work well.” However, he must also focus on the businesses’ individual strategic priorities. “For Racing, it’s about what IT solutions are needed in order to win. There are 15-20,000 components in the car, and by the end of the season 85% will be different. Racing is essentially a bespoke manufacturing organization, so we have to ensure throughput remains high. Simplicity of systems and work orders are critical,” he says.

Continuing to talk about the IT requirements for the other business units, he explains: “For Automotive, it’s about ensuring the customer has a fantastic experience all the way from the website and showroom to purchasing, driving and after-sales support. For Applied Technologies, it’s about bringing technological innovation to our products and services in other markets, and supporting them right through to end consumers. And for Marketing – as well as the traditional CRM stuff – it’s about deepening and bringing to life our partnerships,” he says.

As well as working with the usual array of technology suppliers on a transactional basis, McLaren must also ensure its sponsor-partners have a meaningful working relationship with the group. “It is not just about putting a logo on a car – it’s about creating authentic technological innovations together,” he says.
Speeding ahead with cloud

Still with the different requirements in mind, sitting front and center in his group technology strategy are cloud and mobility. But he doesn’t believe cloud is simply about reducing expenditure. “It’s not a cost-saver – it’s an enabler. It’s enabling us to be more agile, improve disaster recovery and reduce our reliance on legacy technology,” he says.

“We send a prototype car round the track at 300km per hour, 21 times a year, each time in a different country. On a race weekend I need to make sure around 100GB of data from around 300 sensors on the car gets back from the track to our base in Woking, UK, where all the key decisions are made in terms of aerodynamics, car set-up and strategy. We also need a live link to Japan where Honda are monitoring the engine in real time,” he says. Strong network resiliency and a robust infrastructure are critical for race weekends. “We spin up a Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network on a Wednesday and bring it down on a Monday. I operate on 10-minute service level agreements. I also have to ensure links are secure. We’re starting to use more and more public and private cloud solutions, so we’re using a cloud management platform that allows us to orchestrate across this hybrid estate,” he says.

Finally, there’s a huge requirement for high-performance computing (HPC) at McLaren. “We bring back more than 11.8 billion pieces of data per season. I’ve got 1 trillion historical data points stretching back to 1993 that I need to be able to analyse to help make the car go faster or corner better, for example. I’ve just started a piece of work with one of our partners to look at using a secure cloud platform for HPC rather than the physical kit we currently have on site – bringing up multiple cores in an agile fashion and spinning them down again when we don’t need them,” he says.
Future technology developments

In the Automotive business, like other car companies McLaren is thinking a lot about autonomous vehicles, but in ways more befitting of a luxury sports brand. “That might mean when you take your McLaren to the track, you can turn on an AI version of our test driver Chris Goodwin, who will teach you how to drive that car round the track like a pro, gradually passing various controls over to you as you master them,” he says.

The Applied Technologies side of the business is also looking at future tech developments that could grow its arm of the organization. The technical know-how developed in Racing in terms of design, simulation and performance is being applied to other industries in innovative ways. For example, it used the group’s know-how of carbon fiber and human telemetry to co-develop the fastest, most aerodynamic racing bike in the world, in partnership with cycle manufacturer Specialized. The company is also looking at how human telemetry and high data throughput can optimize work at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. “In addition, we’re working with some large train companies to implement IoT technology, and have also created some very forward-thinking WiFi technologies for that market,” says Charlton.

Craig Charlton was speaking at Cloud Expo Europe.
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