by Edward Qualtrough

Arsenal FC IT director Hywel Sloman and Williams F1 CIO Graeme Hackland discuss sporting success, innovation, emerging tech, cyber security and the fan experience

Nov 01, 2017
IT LeadershipIT StrategyManufacturing Industry

Williams F1 CIO Graeme Hackland and Arsenal FC IT director Hywel Sloman shared their experiences as the business technology leaders at major sports organisations at the 2017 CIO Summit in London.

The two CIOs – both part of the 2017 CIO 100 – discussed having an impact on sporting performance, emerging technologies including AR, VR and biotech, their biggest challenges and opportunities, innovation, cyber security, improving the fan experience – and why they recommend going on a Williams F1 factory tour or Arsenal’s stadium tour at the Emirates. Sloman also features in a short video interview below.

What can CIOs in your sector do to have an impact on the organisation and its sporting performance? Hywel Sloman: Many of the challenges we have in terms of technology impacting the organisation are the same other CIOs have: revenue growth, customer focus, digitalisation. But I think we’re slightly different as an organisation for three reasons. First, we are an enormous brand. We’re possibly the biggest brand at the CIO Summit, but I’m also probably the smallest IT function today. So the challenge we have as an organisation is managing that, and the breadth of service we offer is challenging for an organisation of our size. The second challenge where technology is essential to us is for engaging with so many millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people – your relationship with your football club is possibly the second most important thing in your life, outside your nuclear family.

Personalising that interaction becomes really, really, really important – almost more than other sectors. And then thirdly everything is less important than what happens on the pitch.  Fundamentally what happens is, if 11 blokes win a football game once or twice a week, that defines the success of the business. So actually, anything we can do to help that side of things, and mitigating impact elsewhere around it.

Graeme Hackland:The focus for us is really around car performance. How do we win races, how do we get back to the front of the group? Everything we’re doing around technology is about going racing and winning.

What do you think the CIOs from other sectors can learn from some of the thinking that sports organisations use, and some of the culture and the structures that you have in the sports world? Graeme Hackland: I think it’s true that the car has been at the forefront of technology. I think sometimes we’ve lagged behind. This is my 20th season in Formula One, so I can say this: I think we have lagged behind many of the industries that are represented in this room, actually. But, in the last few years, Williams creating a CIO role for the first time, was about using technology that’s not on-car technology in order to be successful. We’re starting to see that happening now through a lot of the F1 teams. Many of the biggest technology companies are coming into Formula One and working with Formula One teams, and helping to drive the technology. We’re very, very focused. Whenever I get the opportunity to talk to CIOs, I ask, “What’s your equivalent of what makes the car quicker?”

Hywel and I have spent a lot time together, and we’ve collaborated over the years. He has a mission that he’s on. We have a very clear mission. Some of the speakers this morning have got very clear directions that they’re going in. A couple weren’t as clear with all due respect, perhaps on that one thing. So, where are you putting your money? Where are you putting your efforts? What’s the vision, the mission, that you’re on? I think if you can get that clarity, then your conversation with the board is much easier.

When I’m looking for funding into projects, the conversation used to be: “Well if we allow you to do this, you’re gonna prevent us from buying new brakes, or a new front wing on the car in Singapore. You’re going to be taking performance away from the car”. Our conversation has completely changed now to: “If we do this IT project, this is the kind of performance that you can expect from the car”. That’s what I’d encourage everyone to do.

Hywel Sloman:Graeme’s business is a very good comparison for us. Because, Formula One has been so much more advanced compared to my industry, and on-pitch, on-field, on-car technology. I suppose really we’re gaining fast, for a number of reasons. One is there is more data become available to us all the time. IoT and so on, whereas that data has been available to Graeme’s industry since 1979. So actually we can measure an awful lot more than we could five years ago, and 10 years ago. And in three years’ time, we’ll be able to measure even more.

The second thing is we’re now employing some of the brightest brains we know to actually make some intelligence of that data, to understand exactly what the long term trends are around it, from every angle. But, we’re still much more immature than Graeme’s area.

And then, the third thing is similar to what’s been said today at the CIO Summit. It’s a cultural thing. Absolutely in our industry, the end user in many cases have not come from an office background and been doing things a certain way for a certain period of time. So, that’s evolving as newer people are coming into our industry. With every generation, people are more used to technology and more want technology at their fingertips, and their expectation. But, the fourth challenge for us is that cause and effect is still much harder to prove than in Graeme’s world. So, for us, I think we’ve invested hugely in on-pitch technology in the last two or three years. I personally believe we’re the best in our industry at it.

Graeme Hackland:The human biometrics thing is interesting, and I wonder how many companies are starting to be interested in that kind of data, and how many employees are willing to share that kind of data with their companies. We did our first human biometrics project last year, to help our pit crew be the best pit crew in Formula One. But the driver, at the moment, wouldn’t give us their data. We want to expand it to the engineers sitting on the pit wall. Are they performing at their optimum every race? I wonder as we go along, are we as employees willing to give our employer human biometric data about us. You could get a few extra days of holiday because you’re fatigued, and they know that you’ve got a big project coming up, and actually you need a bit of time off, rather than just keep driving you. So the human biometric stuff we’re learning from rugby and football, the kind of things that those sports are doing with that data to drive performance.

What are some of the emerging technologies that you think are going to have the biggest impact on your organisations? Hywel Sloman: The ones we’re using, which are still at an interesting stage of maturity, is VR and AR. We are using that today with our players, so in that respect, it’s making a difference today, but then, the next interesting opportunities are for our fans. The Emirates stadium holds 60,000 a game, which is wonderful for those 60,000, but there are hundreds of millions around the world who will never watch a game in the Emirates stadium. Some of them may never even set foot in the UK. How can we use VR and AR to give those hundreds of millions of people around the world an experience, which makes them think they’re at the Emirates stadium? The technology is not there yet. If you’re a 15-year-old kid in Beijing who’s an Arsenal fan because you love Alexis Sanchez, you are probably not going to buy a HoloLens or Oculus Rift. But how that is moving is something we’re watching intently.

The other side of thing is the Emirates stadium as a tourist destination. You can’t move on the Piccadilly Line without evidence for it, and I’d highly recommend going. It’s a wonderful experience. But, how can we use technology to bring that experience to life, in a look, we want people in the dressing room to be looking up rather than on their device, but actually, I know what it’s like to be in the dressing room on a match day. I’m probably one of about 1,000 people in the world that know what that’s like. How can we bring that experience to life using technologies? That’s something we’re actively watching. It’s not there yet, but it’s not too far away.

Graeme Hackland:We have the largest privately held Formula One car collection in the world. It’s also definitely worth seeing!

We’re tracking probably the same things. A number of people have mentioned them today. The AR and VR tech is interesting but we think probably quite a few years away for driver development. However, for fan engagement, we think that there’s potential there, and we know that the new owners of Formula One are looking at that kind of technology to make the experience for the fans who are at a Grand Prix, who’ve got less data than someone sitting at home, which is clearly wrong. We are looking at how we can make it better for the people who have paid all that money to go to a Grand Prix.

Furthermore, how can we make it better through the TV companies for people at home? 3D printing and manufacturing using 3D is also important; can we print a fair amount of the car at the track, to give our designers longer and longer to add performance to the car? Rather than manufacturing parts that we then ship to Malaysia where the race is. That will allow us to change things on a Friday, based on the data. And then a lot around data analytics, and does AI play a role in the future? We’ve had conversations with a number of the vendors around taking the Formula One rule book, combining that with the real-time video analytics of what’s going on on the track at that moment. Driver comments that’s coming over the air, so adding voice. Bringing all those things together, along with weather and everything else, and trying to get us to make the right decision more often.

Back at base, we have a manufacturing capability, which is different for some of the sports and sporting CIOs that I work with – how can we turn our factory into a true smart factory, so that if the car crashes, we know which parts got damaged, and the machine that’s making something else stops, and makes the component that’s just been broken without human intervention.

I’ve predicted that by 2020, we’ll call a pit stop. The driver will come in and go out, and no human will have made that call. The technology will allow it, because I think we’re close. We’re almost there, but I’m not sure the humans will allow it, so we’ll see.

What is the strategy, thinking and drive behind the Arsenal Innovation Lab? Hywel Sloman: It’s very hard to innovate. You’re getting X number of emails a day from suppliers. You’re never going to read them all. There are some really great ideas you’re not seeing, and the organisation is quite good at saying: “No, we’ve tried that, it doesn’t really work.” These are challenges we all face.

We need to come up with new ideas. The Arsenal Innovation Lab is about bringing in new ideas from parallel industries. We’re a retailer, we have three stores, but those stores are about as busy as any retailer could possibly imagine 26 times a year, and for 340 days a year they’re relatively quiet.

What ideas can we get from the retail sector that can help our business, because I don’t think we’ll get help from the football sector at all. So, that really was the launch of the Arsenal Innovation Lab.

Graeme Hackland:I think Arsenal’s initiative is great. Like a lot of CIOs have mentioned I spend my day avoiding about 60 approaches from companies who have the next best thing that is going make a big difference to me. Hywel shared it with me just before they launched it, and I’m really impressed with it. We use our partner ecosystem, so we partner with people like BT who work at Adastral Park with lots of startups. We try and tap into it there. Microsoft have these days where you can go and meet various startups. I find it quite difficult to find who are the people that Gartner left out of the Magic Quadrant. I’m hoping that Hywel’s going to keep sharing with me over the next few months how the Arsenal Innovation Lab goes, and what companies are there. That’s where I’m really interested in, and whether that’s something we could do as well.

What are some of the biggest challenges where you would like to source some insight from the CIO community? Graeme Hackland: Fan sentiment for us; but I’m not sure anyone’s doing it well yet. We’ve started to do some work around what do people feel about Williams. When we have a good season, it’s obvious. I think you’d know whether or not your fans are happy with you, Hywel!

If any CIOs are doing anything around sentiment we would like to know. I wonder if anyone’s doing that well, I’d be really interested in knowing about that.

Hywel Sloman:How do you best engage our hundreds of millions of fans? Much of what we offer is access to the Emirates Stadium, which isn’t really relevant to the vast majority of those 700 million.

There’s a second challenge, which is actually much more prosaic, but it’s been touched on again quite a lot today, is cybersecurity. We’re a small function, a nine-to-five function. How do we manage the growing threat of cyber in a small organisation? It’s one that absolutely keeps me awake at night.

Graeme Hackland:WannaCry is a good example. That was a race weekend for us. We never touch our systems on a race weekend. And we patched our systems. We wouldn’t let our engineers on the network on Saturday morning of qualifying until we’d patched their machines. Then we found out that actually the people at the track wouldn’t have been affected because they were running Windows 10, so that would have been fine.

That information came afterwards. You seem very calm about it. The three Formula One CIOs I was in contact with were all panicking.

You can see more about upcoming CIO UK events here